Tommy and I have mentioned this on Twitter in recent days, so I may as well make it official. It looks like Casey Kotchman and Dan Johnson are in a strict platoon. How strict? Going back to when Johnny Damon returned to the lineup (4/21), thus eliminating both in the lineup, here are the first base starting assignments:
Now, here is that same information with an added twist—the throwing designation for the game’s opposing starting pitcher:
4/21: Kotchman (RH)
4/22: Johnson (LH)
4/23: Kotchman (RH)
4/24: Johnson (LH)
4/27: Johnson (LH)
4/28: Kotchman (RH)
4/28: Kotchman (RH)
4/29: Kotchman (RH)
4/30: Kotchman (RH)
The platoon is evident. I suppose there is a chance that Joe Maddon randomly picked the same guys to face all pitchers of the same throwing arm, but the odds of that are low. Spotting the platoon is easy, but figuring out why proves more difficult in this case.
Back when the Rays signed Kotchman, I went through to see if a platoon made sense. The graphic held in this post breaks down their career performances against lefties, righties, groundball, and flyball pitchers. No platoon was evident, although perhaps adding in minor league data would change that. Still, I’m not so sure I understand why this platoon is in effect based on the data available to me.
Even last season, Johnson hit lefties well (.235/.391/.471). Kotchman, on the other hand, was horrendous against lefties (.179/.252/.208). That part of the platoon checks out based on multiple-year and one-year samples (and one should never, not ever make a decision based on one-year of platoon data unless other information gels with the conclusion). As for Kotchman versus righties, well, again, I don’t get it. Johnson didn’t hit them well last season (.191/.333/.404), but his career OPS is 744. You have to go back to 2009 to find a season in which Kotchman posted an OPS of at least 750 versus righties, and back to 2007 to find a season over 800.
The Rays don’t tend to do things just to do them, so believe there is a method to the madness. I do wonder, though, if this is less about performance maximization (i.e. why they platoon Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce) and more about performance evaluation. By giving Kotchman the righty side of the platoon, they guarantee he will get most of the starts while also holding a better chance of success, thus giving the club a chance to see if he’s the same guy that bombed out with a few other teams, or if he’s worth attempting to hold onto.
The Rays first baseman? For now, it depends on the pitchers hand.