Pittsburgh Pirates Should Consider a Platoon at Third Base

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The flavor of the week seems to be centered around who will platoon with Gaby Sanchez at first base, but the Pittsburgh Pirates have not given any indication whether a platoon situation will be considered at third base with Pedro Alvarez. Why not?

Alvarez is horrible — let me make sure you got that — he is awful against left handed pitching. Ever hear of the  Mendoza Line?  In case you haven’t, it is considered to be the cutoff point for batting average, where should a player’s batting average drop below said line (.200), that player’s presence in the lineup cannot be justified. Yeah, well Alvarez is 30 points below that against left-handed starters.  He becomes a hole in the heart of the order against lefties.  So, why haven’t the Pirates mentioned anything about a possible platoon?

Well, there are a couple of reasons, really. Most importantly, they don’t have any other options. Josh Harrison is the listed backup on the depth chart.  Not an abysmal option by comparison to Alvarez, but he’s a career slash of .247/.279/.402 against lefties.  There is a problem, though. Harrison is a utility player at best.  He’s listed as the backup at second base as well, so if Neil Walker goes down, your platoon may be shot in the foot.

Another reason is quite simply financially motivated. The Pirates didn’t want to pay A.J. Burnett, so why would they pay someone to play third base who is any good, especially when fan satisfaction with Alvarez is high?  They won’t.  That’s a good business decision if you are only considered with your profitability — cost minimization and such.

So, why not find a decent candidate for a platoon?  Well, there’s a great reason for this one actually.  The free agent market is very thin for third basemen presently, and this year in general. Paired with the Yankees losing Alex Rodriguez, which consumes one of the free agents, there are really no other options besides a trade, and this would not be a good return on investment, especially if you have to give up a quality arm to get this person.

Next season, or this coming offseason rather, looks a bit more ripe with free agent third basemen. Perhaps it’s not the right time now.  Maybe the Pirates want to see how Alvarez is going to shake out this season.  In any event, the Pirates had better start considering some options in the short term, because the data show that you don’t want Alvarez in the lineup against a lefty, especially in a one-game wildcard series for example.

Vinny Gala is a Pittsburgh Pirates writer for RantSports.Com  Follow him on Twitter.

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  • Sec.143RowMSeat24

    I would imagine the problem is roster space. Figure 5 guys make up the bench on most teams. Stewart the back-up catcher. Sanchez/Lambo (whichever isn’t starting at 1B). Barmes as back-up SS. Snider/Tabata (whichever isn’t starting in RF). Harrison as the utility guy/back-up 2B you already alluded to. It also could be said Harrison should platoon with Walker who is equally awful vs. LHP. Not much room to have a platoon partner with Pedro.

    • Vinny Gala

      Absolutely correct, but if you look at the offensive numbers, a platoon at third should take precedence over first base and right field, especially if Polanco is the savior everyone thinks he’s going to be.

      • Sec.143RowMSeat24

        If you want to go even further the case can be made a platoon at every INF position is needed as Pedro,Walker, Sanchez, Mercer all struggle mightily against opposite handed pitching with Walker’s numbers actually being worse against LHP than Pedro’s. Do you platoon say Harrison with Pedro? Then you have to start Walker at 2B against LHP which he’s not good against, which is the exact same problem you have as starting Pedro.

        Also, I wasn’t calling for a platoon in RF. Bringing in Polanco later just removes either Tabata or Snider (assuming he doesn’t get beaten out by Dickerson) from the roster but that 25-man roster spot still goes to a 4th OF.

        • Vinny Gala

          To your point about infield platoons, all I am saying is that a platoon with Pedro should take some priority. Mercer actually has homered more against left handed pitching than Pedro and has a higher average to boot. Walker is bad but he strikes out less and he’s less of a defensive liability.

          There are many uncertainties about first base, specifically Lambo. This is key to a platoon at first and/or third. Maybe you platoon both positions if everyone is healthy and Lambo is hitting. Harrison to third but his defense leaves much to be desired. Could also drop snider and tabata from 25-man if Polanco pans out and Lambo is raking.

          All good points from you.

    • Vinny Gala

      Thanks for reading too.