05 November 2013

Platoon Prospects and Matt Wieters

Platoons are not one of the incredibly interesting or attractive things in baseball.  Recently, it has been a meme that Billy Beane is rearing the mystique of Moneyball again.  This time it will surely confuse the already confused as Moneyball is not about on base percentage.  It really has not been for a while.  That boat left the dock around 2002.  From there, Moneyball went to defense, then speed, and now sits somewhere around homeruns and platooning.  However, it is likely Moneyball will soon be shifting away from platooning if it hasn't already done so.

In fact, Beane was discussing the platooning situation a year ago.  Mind you, two things tend to dictate the value of a front office: (1) the ability to collect and utilize data and (2) the ability not to share anything with anyone.  On the latter point, knowledge is power.  It is one of those things that can separate teams.  If you are openly telling the public what the new black is, it likely is no longer the new black.  You are probably simply letting people know something they should have already figured out and that the surplus value there really is not there anymore.  Which is really what Moneyball is, finding a part of the market that is being overlooked or, more popularly phrased, finding the inefficiencies in the market.

Now, platooning is not a new idea.  Earl Weaver was a king of platoons when it fit what he needed.  You will often find kernals of the sabermetric movement in ideas that came up convergently with Weaver.  That said, Weaver had his forebears with front office men like Branch Rickey and the originator of the box score Henry Chadwick.  I often find it humorous when people mention how the folks today are playing make believe games using all of these advanced metrics when they subscribe to simply a different set of numbers.  A rose is a rose is a rose, sometimes.

Going Yard | photo by Keith Allison
However, I wish to move back toward something a little more concrete and a lot more directed to the Orioles.  That item is going to focus on the batting splits of Matt Wieters who some have now christened as the Switch Hitting False Messiah (previously he was known in some local circuits as Switch Hitting Jesus due to the inaccurate Davenport Translations affecting his astronomical PECOTA projection before his rookie year).  Anyway, here are Wieters' wOBA (from Fangraphs) over his career by split and year.

vs L vs R
2009 .301 .350
2010 .246 .326
2011 .474 .291
2012 .393 .310
2013 .371 .272

As you can see, Wieters is an absolutely beast when facing left handed pitchers these past three years (as opposed to the completely opposite platoon he showed his first two seasons), but shrinks to a wall flower against right handers.  This past season was particularly exceptional in how poor he was batting left handed.  He struggled so much that it would have been a good idea to give him rest against righties simply because he showed little aptitude in hitting them.  Previously, I wrote about this and wondered whether it was a single year fluke because the batted ball distribution seemed different this year as compared to latter years and whether it was a conscious attempt by him to beat the shift.  Although 2013's split was atrocious, one should not make a habit always to think the future is based solely on the past year.  In other words, a forced platoon might be a bit much here to set Wieters in.  However, it might be a good idea to choose to sit him against right handers who may be more difficult for him to hit.  I think that was in part Dan Duquette's idea when he acquired Steve Clevenger who has shown an aptitude to hitting right handers (2013 AAA numbers: .386 R wOBA in 95 PA and .435 L wOBA in 44 PA).

Are there others out there who need a platoon partner or perhaps could be good platoon partners?

Southpaw Maulers

Derek Norris | photo by Keith Allison
One thing not readily found in catchers are guys who maul lefties.  This seems kind of strange to me at first because catchers, being right handed, are for the most part natural right handed batters and should have a platoon tendency against lefties.  However, that seems not to be the case.  Maybe it is something that will show up time and time again as we move through the positions.  Anyway, here are a list of lefties whose MLB wOBA is 10% better than average (.339 vs. .308) and at least 120 PA against lefties (120 PA is used because that is the fewest amount of PAs to result in something meaningful for offense, which in this case is walk rate) in 2013:

Age Team L wOBA R wOBA

Derek Norris 24 Oakland .431 .221
Buster Posey 26 San Francisco .411 .368
Wilin Rosario 24 Colorado .396 .337
Carlos Santana 27 Cleveland .396 .362
Joe Mauer 30 Minnesota .390 .391
Matt Wieters 27 Baltimore .380 .284
Jonathan Lucroy 27 Milwaukee .373 .360
Chris Iannetta 30 LAAA .357 .318
Salvador Perez 23 Kansas City .342 .319
A.J. Pierzynski 37 Texas .339 .332 FA
Of these players who performed noticeably better than the average catcher against lefties, only A.J. Pierzynski is a free agent.  Further illustrating the scarcity, no AAA catcher showed up in this analysis.  For MiL catcher, I noted a 20% increase to be something newsworthy.  Of the players above, only Baltimore's own Matt Wieters and Beane's Derek Norris look like catchers in need of a mate who can tee off of right handed pitchers.  The others displayed above average bats no matter the pitcher's handedness.

So who can hit right handers?

Joe Mauer | Photo by Keith Allison
Using the same guidelines as above (120 PA vs. RHP, .339 wOBA), here is the complementary platoon list:

Age Team L wOBA R wOBA

Joe Mauer 30 Minnesota .390 .391
Brayan Pena 31 Detroit .268 .386 FA
Jason Castro 26 Houston .328 .380
John Jaso 30 Oakland .209 .377
Yadier Molina 31 St. Louis .382 .372
Buster Posey 26 San Francisco .411 .368
Yan Gomes 26 Cleveland .398 .363
J. Saltalamacchia  28 Boston .298 .362 FA
Carlos Santana 27 Cleveland .396 .362
Jonathan Lucroy 27 Milwaukee .373 .360
Jose Lobaton 29 Tampa Bay .287 .359
Wilson Ramos 26 Washington .310 .357
Welington Castillo 26 Chicago .316 .354
Russell Martin 30 Pittsburgh .282 .348
Dioner Navarro 29 Chicago .478 .341 FA
Hank Conger 25 LAAA .292 .339
Wilin Rosario 24 Colorado .396 .337
Miguel Montero 30 Arizona .226 .333
A.J. Pierzynski 37 Texas .339 .332 FA
If one is looking for a partner to pair with Wieters, you are going to have to cross off Salty and Pierzynski.  They obviously will get the lion's share of any battery duty behind the plate.  Dioner Navarro had a stellar season in limited at bats and can probably find himself a situation where he will find more playing time than he would with the stalwart Wieters in tandem.  Brayan Pena could be a player to target.  I believe he came into the Tigers camp as a Minor League free agent with an invite.  He has also really picked them up while Avila was struggling.  If the Tigers value him or he carries that playoff mystique, he may not be available on the cheap and be out of the Orioles range of salary they would feel comfortable with for a backup catcher.

There are also several minor league options available:

Age Team L wOBA R wOBA

Josh Phegley 25 Chicago .409 .421
Matt McBride 28 Colorado .450 .416
Josh Thole  27 Toronto .378 .396
Stephen Vogt 27 Oakland .345 .395
Bryan Anderson 27 Chicago .172 .372
Tony Sanchez 25 Pittsburgh .416 .372
Johnny Monell 27 San Francisco .331 .366
Robinzon Diaz 30 Milwaukee .338 .362
Brett Hayes 29 Kansas City .197 .361
Kris Watts 29 Washington .192 .359
I would not think about giving any of these players the key to the castle (aka a 40 man contract).  However, I would be very interested in what scouts would think of guys like Bryan Anderson, Robinzon Diaz, Brett Hayes, and Kris Watts.  All four of those players stand a good chance of being Minor League free agents this off season.  The other names would be good ones to remember if there is an existing deal and the team wants to broaden out their risk probability.  Phegley and Sanchez still have some shine to them, but the others stand as second or third tier prospects.


Steve Clevenger (far right) | Photo by Keith Allison
For the Orioles, I would hold onto Clevenger and have him compete for the backup catcher position.  I would also look to sign as a MiL Free Agent someone on the above list who winds up qualifying as such as competition.  It may well be that Wieters' weakness against right handers may be largely the result of a certain plus pitch (i.e., fastball, off speed, breaking ball) and perhaps his rest could be positioned around those kinds of pitchers.  It may be that a platoon worthy AAAA catcher stands little chance improving upon what Wieters can do from his weak side, but it may not be that much of a difference.  It might even improve his confidence against righties that he matches up better against because he would not face as many events where he fails.  Of course, this could be a one year blips and he bounces back to being average against righties.

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