Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates faced the Atlanta Braves and their tough lefty starter Mike Minor. Minor boasts a sub-2.00 ERA against left-handed batters, which led Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to attempt to platoon out as many left-handed hitters as he could.
Hurdle benched left-handed hitting 1B Garrett Jones in favor of the right-handed Gaby Sanchez. Hurdle even benched left-handed hitting RF Travis Snider in favor of catcher Russell Martin. Though Martin is very athletic, according to Hurdle, this precarious decision is representative of Hurdle’s efforts to remove all left-handed bats from the lineup. Minor is in the top three in all of baseball in ERA since the 2012 All-Star Break, and he dominates left-handed hitters.
After all of his platoon efforts, however, Hurdle bafflingly left 3B Pedro Alvarez in the lineup. Alvarez has been plagued by an inability to hit left-handed pitching for the entirety of his career, and the platoon splits – higher strikeout rate, lower batting average, lower home run rate – depict his struggles. With right-handed hitting Brandon Inge on the bench, an experienced 3B, it is indefensible to leave Alvarez in the lineup.
Alvarez did hit a home run off of Minor, but I am criticizing the process and not the results. Alvarez’s 1,500 career at-bats are more indicative of his abilities and tendencies than a one-game sample. The only plausible explanation for Hurdle’s decision to leave Alvarez in the lineup is if it is a concerted effort to help Alvarez improve against left-handed pitching. It is possible that the Pirates believe the best way to aid Alvarez’s development is to leave him in the lineup every day. This, however, is what the minor leagues are for. You do not put a player in a position in which they are not likely to succeed when you are contending for a playoff berth. If the Pirates want Alvarez to gain experience and confidence against left-handed pitching, they should utilize their player development procedures in the minor leagues.
No contending team continually puts themselves at a disadvantage, from a competitive perspective, for the effort of skill development. If Hurdle believes that allowing Alvarez to face left-handed pitching is best for his development, he must also believe that missing the playoffs is best for his job security.
Gabe Isaacson is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeisaacson.