In 2012, the Oakland Athletics made a surprise run to the playoffs with the help of platooning multiple positions in their lineup. It was deemed the “New Moneyball” as the A’s used platoons at four different positions: first base, second base, catcher and designated hitter.
In 2014, the Chicago Cubs have used the platoon advantage at five different positions. The only three regulars in the lineup have been Starlin Castro at shortstop, Anthony Rizzo at first base and Welington Castillo at catcher. While Emilio Bonfiacio has played every game, he has split time between center field and second base to ensure the platoon advantage.
For fans, the Cubs’ use of platoons so far in 2014 is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it’s great that the team is doing everything it can to gain an advantage to win more games. On the other hand, young players such as Mike Olt and Junior Lake have been relegated to part-time duty.
In Olt’s case, this season was supposed to be about the Cubs figuring out whether or not he could be the long-term answer at third base. They cannot determine that with Olt sitting on the bench.
The same situation applies to Lake. After a strong showing with the Cubs in the second half of the season last year, it was all but assumed that Lake would see regular playing time in 2014 to determine what his future will be with the Cubs. The problem is that with Ryan Kalish added to the outfield mix there are less at-bats to go around. With Kalish’s strong day at the plate on Sunday, Lake has been further cemented into a platoon role for the time being.
While it may seem that the development of the younger players is being put at risk, in the end manager Rick Renteria is simply putting his players in the best position to succeed. This should lead to more victories for the Cubs and a more equal share of at-bats for the players as a whole. While it’s unfortunate for Olt and Lake, it’s also a blessing for players such as Luis Valbuena and Kalish who have proved to this point that they deserve to have their names written into the starting lineup against a right-handed pitcher.
Throughout the course of the season the players will separate themselves from the pack as trends emerge and injuries arise. Using a platoon at five different positions may be extreme, but it also may be temporary as Renteria determines how to most effectively deploy his players. It would be unfortunate if Lake and Olt were stuck in a platoon all season long, but if it ultimately helps the Cubs win more games then everyone should be on board.
Using the platoon advantage, the Oakland A’s took a $55 million roster and rode it to the playoffs despite being in a division with the Los Angeles Angels ($154.9 million payroll) and the Texas Rangers ($120.5 million payroll). The Cubs may not have as much success as Oakland did in 2012, but by using platoons to the extreme the team should at least be more entertaining to watch in 2014.