Platoons Will be the Key for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013

By Jeff Moore
Charles LeClaire – US PRESSWIRE

The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have the payroll of teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers to go and fill all of their holes with starters each off-season, so many times they have to attempt to piece together a few flawed players into one productive major leaguer.

You see, filling out a roster isn’t always about finding a player that can be penciled into the starting lineup for all 162 games in a season. Those players are expensive and teams like the Pirates can’t afford to fill all of their starting spots with them. But sometimes, two players can complement each other’s abilities perfectly, and together, then can replicate the production of one star player.

It’s not the prettiest way of going about things, but it can be just as productive.

In case you didn’t recognize the description, I’m describing the platoon – a lost art among many major league rosters, but one that is coming back in vogue as less emphasis is being put on power and more is being put on defense and base running.

The main platoon the Pirates plan to implement is at first base, where Garrett Jones will get the majority of the at-bats as the left-handed portion (given that there are about two right-handed pitchers to every one left-handed pitcher in the league), but he will be spelled against lefties by Gaby Sanchez. Jones is a talented but very flawed player, and he is at his most productive when not over-exposed, as was evidenced in 2012.

Jones is a good enough hitter to bat near the center of a decent major league lineup – but only against right-handed pitchers. He doesn’t walk enough so on a better team he wouldn’t hit fourth like he does on the Pirates, but his .852 career OPS against righties is still good enough to warrant playing time at first base. But against lefties, he’s a totally different hitter with a putrid .590 OPS. It’s one of the biggest platoon splits in baseball.

Enter Sanchez.

Acquired from the Miami Marlins last summer after struggling and being sent down to the minors, Sanchez is to lefties what Jones is to righties. For his career, Sanchez has an OPS of .869 against left-handed pitchers but drops down to just .712 against righties. His platoon split isn’t as drastic as Jones’, but since his bad side is against righties whom he will face the majority of the time, it makes him a weak overall hitter. He is, however, the perfect fit to complement Jones.

If used properly, there’s no reason the Pirates can’t get an .850 OPS out of their first basemen in 2013. For reference, only seven first basemen in the majors were better than that in 2012.

It’s not pretty, but these are they types of strategies the Pirates have to take in order to compete. Their roster isn’t perfect, but their first base situation isn’t as ugly as it seems.

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