Spring is here. After months of sitting without on-field action, teams have reported, the weather is nice, and the giddy feeling ignoring the world from seven until ten every night for the next half-year is bubbling. At the same time, there can be no time more boring and pointless in the world of analysis than the first few weeks of March. The hot stove is cold and the games –at least to this point– are much more process and health than results.
Instead of sifting through the reports of players being in great shape and pitchers having outstanding side sessions, I decided to put my Joe Maddon glasses on and think of potential strategies we could see employed in 2011. The Rays’ slogan is “another way” –as in, they must find a different approach in order to win this season—, but in reality, they will need a variety of ways. Platoon usage has been a hot topic recently and one thing is certain: The Rays will employ several platoons this season based on various factors. Pitcher handedness is often the most transparent and discussed, but platoons based on batted ball tendencies may come into vogue soon enough.
Last season the Rays employed two shortstops: the right-handed Jason Bartlett and the left-handed Reid Brignac. Even though the two looked like a natural platoon on paper – Bartlett against lefties and Brignac for the righties – MVB was the shortstop de jour on most days including those when a RHP stood on the mound. It was clear other factors played a role in Maddon’s decision making.
The Rays employed two shortstops last season, the right-handed Jason Bartlett and the lefty Reid Brignac. The two appeared to be a natural platoon pairing on paper –with Bartlett attacking lefties and Brignac stepping in against righties—but MVB was the shortstop on most days, even with a righty on the mound. Other factors were in play (as the research of FreeZorilla first showed). The Rays were not only factoring in a pitcher’s hand, but also batted ball data. If a right-handed pitcher with flyball tendencies was starting, Bartlett would most likely start. If a worm burner was on the mound, then Brignac would have a better chance of being freed.
With the entire organization believing in the Extra 2% philosophy, it would not come as a surprise to see some line-up changes based on batted-ball data in 2011. Of course, some players are clearly exempt from platoon duty. Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Johnny Damon, and Manny Ramirez should be in the lineup as often as their bodies allow them. Ben Zobrist is also an everyday player, although he’ll be standing in a different spot. That leaves a handful of players who can be moved around based on their strengths and weakness against certain types of pitchers.
- A few programming notes with the most important being sample size. In the case of young players, the sample selection is extremely limited, so sprinkle some salt on that. In regards to groundballs, the majority of balls hit on the ground will turn into outs unless the player has speed, is lucky, or has fantastic aim.
- While some feel that there is a competition at first base, Dan Johnson once against beats Casey Kotchman when we look at this set of data. Everyone is willing to give Kotchman a defensive edge, but Johnson continues to look like the better overall package.
- With Jason Bartlett in San Diego, the Rays will have to make a decision on Brignac. Let the free-swinger take his hacks – literally – against flyball pitchers or opt for a middle infield made up from Sean Rodriguez, Felipe Lopez, Zobrist or others on those days. In most cases the Rays will probably let their young SS sink or swim versus FB-types, but if pitcher like Brian Matusz – left handed and flyball happy – is on the mound perhaps that would be a good opportunity for Rodriguez to start at short. Conversely, if a groundballer like Ricky Romero is on the mound Brignac might get some licks based on his groundball hitting ability and Romero’s reverse platoon splits.
- At the catcher position, it looks like lefty/righty platoon is still the best case. Jaso did really well versus groundball pitchers last year, but in a small sample size. Of course, if Jaso could use a rest after a few nights of catching, using Shoppach against a neutral right-hander might work in small spurts.
While it may not always work, batted-ball data is just another bit if information to remember when you’re trying to figure out what exactly is Joe Maddon thinking. Good luck!