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Inside the Numbers: Platoons Galore?

Inside the Numbers: Platoons Galore?
February 27, 2012
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Two weeks ago, I painted a pretty rosy picture of the Indians offense: right around the top-10 in MLB and primed to improve with prospect growth and return from injuries. Many that read that article responded with a collective: "You have got to be kidding me...."

I still standby the idea that the Indians have a potent offense. However, that optimism comes with a “few”, “small” caveats: full AND productive seasons from Jason Kipnis (rookie), Grady Sizemore (injury), Shin-soo Choo (injury/mental), Travis Hafner (injury) and Casey Kotchman (career-year). Clearly, having the Indians best players perform well and do so consistently is a huge “if” going into the season. The one thing we can say with certainty is that these players won't have their names written in 162 times in 2012, and the Indians, like all teams, will have to rely upon their backups a great deal. [Update: With Sizemore already out, this need is already glaringly apparent]

The Indians have the additional challenge of going into this season with known liabilities. In all likelihood,  Hafner and Sizemore will need to rest a couple of games per week, even when they are “healthy” (read: not on DL). While the youth of Carlos Santana, and the occasional DH or 1B game, will ease the wear and tear of playing behind the plate, he will still need some days off as well. Even the young-ish and healthy-ish players manning non-catching positions (Brantley, Choo and Cabrera) will need rest over the long-grind of a season. The importance of the Indians bench and the game-to-game management will play a big role in 2012 (bigger than most years on most teams).

Last time, I showed you the Indians starting lineup and did not account for handedness of the pitchers opposing them. Now, I am adding in both the Indians bench as well as the career platoon splits and some projected platoon splits so we can start to get an idea about how and when to combine all the position players at Manny Acta’s disposal:

POS
Player
  *Proj. wOBA  
  Career wOBA vs. L  
  Career wOBA vs. R  
C Carlos Santana 0.366 0.383 0.343
1B Casey Kotchman 0.326 0.299 0.329
2B Jason Kipnis* 0.350 0.332 0.374
3B Jack Hannahan 0.305 0.305 0.300
SS Asdrubal Cabrera 0.342 0.343 0.328
LF Michael Brantley 0.315 0.300 0.330
CF Grady Sizemore** 0.330 0.271 0.341
RF Shin-Soo Choo 0.364 0.326 0.391
DH Travis Hafner** 0.346 0.301 0.375
OF Ezequiel Carrera^ 0.305 0.285 0.302
IF
Jason Donald^^ 0.315 0.365 0.281
1B Matt LaPorta 0.311 0.282 0.317
1B, OF Shelley Duncan 0.337 0.332 0.324
3B Lonnie Chisenhall^ 0.312 0.285 0.326
OF Aaron Cunningham 0.305 0.320 0.273
C Lou Marson 0.294 0.341 0.243
*Kipnis' Minor League splits are .349/.393, which back-up the ML split.
**Past 3 seasons averaged
^90%-scaled Minor league stats, taken from data at www.minorleaguesplits.com
^^Donald has amassed some PA's, but I went with the lower of his MiLB/MLB splits

From this, we can see there are some serious platoon splits going on. I have come up with a Lineup-Right and Lineup-Left that the Indians could go with, and right away you can see how certain players deployed at certain times can be extremely valuable. I tried to create the lineups within reality (health limitations, positionality, defense, etc.), but please comment if you think there is a better combination available, (or if you think I have my head in the clouds and/or need to pull my head out of my...):

Lineup-Right

POS
Lineup Vs. R
  wOBA vs. R  
  wOBA vs. L  
  Split "Gain"  
DH Travis Hafner** 0.375 0.301 0.075
CF Grady Sizemore** 0.341 0.271 0.070
RF Shin-Soo Choo 0.391 0.326 0.065
2B Jason Kipnis* 0.374 0.332 0.042
1B Casey Kotchman 0.329 0.299 0.030
LF Michael Brantley 0.330 0.300 0.030
3B Jack Hannahan 0.300 0.305 -0.005
SS Asdrubal Cabrera 0.328 0.343 -0.015
C Carlos Santana 0.343 0.383 -0.040
  Average 0.346 0.318 0.028

This is the lineup that most Indians fans think of as "everyday players" and with good reason, around 70% of starting pitchers are right-handed. The Indians look good through this lens: Sizemore, Hafner, Choo, Kipnis, Kotchman and Brantley all have better than .030 points of wOBA "gain" between their vsLHP and vsRHP splits. The biggest gain from the lineup is having Grady and Hafner avoid lefties: even with scaled-back statistics from the previous 3 seasons, they can still mash right-handed pitching pretty well.

Lineup-Left:

POS
Lineup Vs. L
  wOBA vs. L  
  wOBA vs. R  
  Split "Gain"  
C Lou Marson 0.341 0.243 0.098
3B Jason Donald^^ 0.365 0.281 0.084
LF Aaron Cunningham 0.320 0.273 0.047
1B Carlos Santana 0.383 0.343 0.040
SS Asdrubal Cabrera 0.343 0.328 0.015
DH Shelley Duncan 0.332 0.324 0.008
CF Michael Brantley 0.300 0.330 -0.030
2B Jason Kipnis* 0.332 0.374 -0.042
RF Shin-Soo Choo 0.326 0.391 -0.065
  Average 0.338 0.321 0.017

It will surprise some, I certainly was, that Lou Marson and Jason Donald just torch left-handed pitching. Considering that Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall (so far) have trouble handling lefties, why not play Jason Donald? While fragile, he can be deployed against lefties (only around 30% of the games) and he suddenly turns into a well-above average hitter. His minor league splits all look good (.346/.365), but he beat up lefties more so than righties, so it definitely stands that his splits should continue. Lou Marson will be with the club as long as he is healthy because back-up catchers are valuable on their gloves alone, but his bat isn't so wimpy against lefties and that glove plays no matter what.

Thinking Strategically:

The Indians have capable lineups against both left-handed and right-handed starting pitchers. Correct deployment of the players available to Manny Acta will yield better offensive results if we can trust the previous performance of all the players available. If the Indians were to follow this tactic, there is a side benefit: you build in plenty of rest days for Grady and Hafner. Assuming a 70%/30% RHP/LHP split, they could both play against 90% of the RHP and that would put that would put them right at 100 games, which is the most we can hope for out of either of them anyways. Why not save those games and plate appearances for when they can do the most damage?

Let's Be Reasonable:

Of course, I am not here to say that the Indians organization has an easy task ahead of them. Lonnie Chisenhall would receive 0 MLB at bats in 2012 if Manny Acta went this route. Clearly, that will  not happen as long as Lonnie is healthy. Jason Donald has played 3B before, but has a miniscule number of innings (30.1) that he has actually played there, so open-mindedness is required from management and players alike.

The issue, and why front-offices and managers have difficult jobs, is that players need to be developed by batting (and failing) against ML pitching, injuries occur to players who are "durable", slumps happen and there are any one of a hundred things that will go wrong and that make baseball a fickle thing to "plan". I just hope (and think) that the Indians are going to be able to squeeze every last run out of a lineup that is (improperly) maligned at times.

Next time, I am going to take this a step further and try to incorpoarte some defensive measures (statistics just isn't the right word, be sure to read Jeff Ellis' piece on UZR for more) and show how these lineups stack up defensively.

POS Player *Proj. wOBA Career wOBA vs. L Career wOBA vs. R
C Carlos Santana 0.366 0.383 0.343
1B Casey Kotchman 0.326 0.299 0.329
2B Jason Kipnis* 0.350 0.332 0.374
3B Jack Hannahan 0.305 0.305 0.300
SS Asdrubal Cabrera 0.342 0.343 0.328
LF Michael Brantley 0.315 0.300 0.330
CF Grady Sizemore** 0.330 0.271 0.341
RF Shin-Soo Choo 0.364 0.326 0.391
DH Travis Hafner** 0.346 0.301 0.375
OF Ezequiel Carrera*** 0.305 0.285 0.302
2B, SS Jason DonaldX 0.315 0.365 0.281
1B Matt LaPorta 0.311 0.282 0.317
1B, LF, RF Shelley Duncan 0.337 0.332 0.324
3B Lonnie Chisenhall*** 0.312 0.285 0.326
LF, RF Aaron Cunningham 0.305 0.320 0.273
C Lou Marson 0.294 0.341 0.243
*Kipnis' Minor League splits are .349/.393, which back-up the ML split.
**Past 3 seasons averaged
***90%-scaled Minor league stats, taken from data at www.minorleaguesplits.com
XDonald has amassed some PA's, but I went with the lower of his MiLB/MLB splits

User Comments

Charlie
February 29, 2012 - 11:11 PM EST
Matt,
I will concede that having a player like Cabrera (the 2nd best hitter in the game) would benefit the Indians, and every other team for that matter. I have not advocated Kotchman as an above-average player, merely stating that up to this point in his career he has proven himself better than LaPorta (the 2nd best option). In fact, I wrote a piece proposing that the Indians ]not sign Kotchman, or Pena, or any 1B this year because there is little point: http://tinyurl.com/6r2ans2

Also in regards to your full-proof, fear-factor/run-producer argument: I give you the following 2011 RBI totals:
Michael Young - 106
Miguel Cabrera - 105
jose Bautista - 103
Albert Pujols - 99
Therefore, Michael Young is a better and more feared hitter than the 3 best hitters in the game.

Listen, I want a vaunted bat in the middle of the lineup more than anything and I sincerely wished that LaPorta was that guy, he sure looked like it at the time (7th overall pick, crushing all levels of Minors), but it didn't work out that way. If you are implying that the Indians front-office should be fired, then so be it, but the facts are that the Indians are a small-market team, they are required to be smart and lucky in order to compete and so far, by my estimation, they have only been mostly smart and have been relatively unlucky.
Matt
February 29, 2012 - 5:27 PM EST
Mark Shapiro...or I mean Charlie (as you go by),
Miguel Cabrera is not a good player because of the "guys in front of him", he is flat out a great hitter or run producer! Who would you rather have with bases loaded, Miguel Cabrera or Kotchman? Run producers make everyone in the lineup better as they force pitchers to throw meatballs to the guys in front of them because they don't want to face guys like Cabrera! That is something your little "metrics' don't talk about and that is what the Tribe needs, if they had a guy like that it would only make Santana, Kipnis, etc. better as they would see better pitches to hit. That is my point about having run producers, and good teams have them, they build their lineup around them. Right now, the Tribe does not have any and for a team that said they only have a "2-year window" did not make any moves other than a re-tread first baseman that you keep trying to sell us on as good player. The trades of Sabathia and Lee probably should have netted us a player like that but they did not yet no one in ownership holds them accountable for that.
Charlie
February 29, 2012 - 11:51 AM EST
Secret,
I have Hannahan with a .305 wOBA against lefties and .300 against righties, so we are in agreement that he has a reverse platoon split.

The point is that he is bad against both of them and thus his whole value is in his defense.

If you want to conclude that the Indians 51-40 record with Hannahan starting is due solely to Hannahan and his spectacular glove, then you are welcome to do so. I credit the flukey 30-15 start.
secret asian man
February 29, 2012 - 3:50 AM EST
that's hannahan, not kotchman
secret asian man
February 29, 2012 - 3:49 AM EST
WTF stats are you looking at for kotchman? kotchman is actually BETTER against LHP than RHP

season: .250 .331 .388 .719
RHP .226 .314 .358 .673
LHP .296 .367 .444 .811

more significantly, the indians were 51-40 with hannahan in the lineup and given that the difference in offense was minimal.

.263 .359 .436 .795
.234 .295 .326 .621
.
i'd say the difference was his *defense*.
Bric
February 29, 2012 - 2:40 AM EST
Great dialogue.
Charlie, you misunderstood me. I wasn't blaming
the Indians for signing "unsignables" or for injuries.
I was pointing out that they have gambled, and the
gambles often failed due to no fault of the Indians.
Matt, you are absolutely correct about the "sabremetrics"
that only one in 100 can understand, but 97 of 100 pretend to.
For over 50 years, I have been noting the "Jhonny Peralta"
syndrome of players suddenly hitting way over their heads
when they have Big Ugly Guys in the lineup with them.
Mantle had Moose, Yogi, Cerv, Lopez, Maris etc.
Mays had McCovey, Alou,; Aaron had Adcock, Eddie Mathews, Wes Covington, Carty.
Mike Schmidt had nobody after the "Bull", and that is why his
stats are so remarkable.
Indians with Thome, Belle, Sexson, Manny, Alomars, & Omar, Lofton & Robbie to get on base, were the perfect offensive team.
Current tribe should have gone after Miguel Cabrera, problems and all, a while back.
Santana, maybe LaPorta one day, maybe Weglarz, can be the Big Ugly Guys we need to raise everybody's perfromance.
Charlie
February 29, 2012 - 1:01 AM EST
Matt,
One more thing, I think there is a high possibility that teams are in the playoffs BECAUSE they have a team that can create enough situations where the "run-producers" can knock them in, in the first pace. Then you need your "run-producers" to be healthy enough to be there all season and actually hit when those runners are on.
Charlie
February 29, 2012 - 12:48 AM EST
Matt,
I wish I was related to someone in the organization...maybe they could give me the preferential treatment and give me a job. Instead, I'll have to settle for IPI and the continued graces of eating at Mr. Lastoria's table.

In regards to Casey Kotchman, i am just not seeing where I indicated he was a slugging "run-producer". He is a high-contact, glove-friendly 1B that the Indians picked up because no other 1B has been deemed playable. They paid $3mil for some certainty, Kotchman will be more likely to provide some value than LaPorta or other options.

I think pitchers, if they aren't already, will be afraid of Carlos Santana this year. And call me crazy, but it's hard to get amped up about having a guy that pitchers are afraid of, should we bring back Albert Belle? He is more suited for scaring 2B though...

Eduardo perez for Asdrubal Cabrera.
Ben Broussard for Shin-Soo Choo.
Einar Diaz/Ryan Drese for Travis Hafner.
Mark DeRosa's corpse for Chris Perez.

We could play tennis with these, but the Indians are extremely adept at trading for prospects, people just remember the last 2 which haven't worked out EXACTLY as expected. Please remember that if the Indians let them go to Free Agency they would have gotten a supplemental pick, one pick, instead of all the prospects.

Colon trade may have been 10 years ago, but the pieces acquired are still in the majors and still producing, The Indians did get a Cy Young season out of Lee and did get 3 seasons of MVP-caliber performance out of Grady.The hardest part to swallow is that they aren't for the Indians. The Phillips trade still KILLS me....I blame Wedge for never giving him the keys, we weren't winning anyways.

In regards to the worth of RBI's I give you this from Keith Law, but could give you a thousand other examples:

"Q: Do you really think that RBIs are useless, rather than just overvalued?

Keith Law: "Totally useless. In terms of measuring the value of a player’s performance, I find them absolutely useless because 1) it’s determined by how many opportunities you get — the guys who hit in front of you in the lineup, how often did they get on base; and 2) there’s no particular skill to driving runs in. There’s no such thing as a hitter who is significantly better in RBI opportunities. Guys might do that over a year or two over the course of their careers, but you are not seeing guys who are just substantially better than the norm with runners in scoring position. Obviously all hitters hit a little bit better with men on base and pitchers working out of the stretch, maybe he doesn’t generate the same velocity. But in general, a hitter’s a hitter, whether there’s nobody on base or there are guys on second and third."

Q: Some guys take advantage of those opportunities that are there for them, and some don’t. Some guys have a knack for driving people in.

Keith Law: "I disagree with that. I do not think that’s true, that there are guys out there who take extra advantage of those opportunities. Over the course of the season, yes, absolutely, there will be players who will be significantly better than the norm in knocking in runs or performing in clutch situations, which has been a sabermetric debate for 20 years, whether there is such a thing as a “clutch hitter.” There’s clutch hitting, obviously, but is there an individual animal who you could call a clutch hitter? I fall on the side that says no, there’s not really a guy who’s better in the clutch. There’s not really a guy out there who’s better in RBI situations. If you’re in an RBI situation, if you’re in a clutch situation, the guy you want at the plate is just your best hitter, period – the guy who’s going to produce the most offensively or give you the least chance of making an out, because obviously in a clutch situation, in an RBI situation, the last thing you want is an out. So get me the guy up there who’s the least likely to make an out or who’s most likely to get that extra-base hit, regardless of what the situation is, because I think if you really look deep down into it, over the course of multiple seasons, you won’t find that those guys who you’re talking about who step up in big situations really exist."
Charlie
February 29, 2012 - 12:23 AM EST
Grover,

Appreciate the feedback, and I know I am long-winded, but the point is to show that the Indians have some valuable pieces, I made no claim that they could and will be put together to create a winner. That is why Manny Acta compiles lineups, and Chris Antonetti manages rosters and they are both paid well for it.

Your comments in order:
Hannahan does hit LHP better than RHP, but his career OPS against righties is .673 and against lefties is .681. He can't hit, no matter what hand the opposing pitcher decides to throw with. Glove plays though....just hard to justify at 3B.

In regards to Donald's fielding, we simply don't know if he can or can't play 3B. Same with Chisenhall for that matter.

Did not indicate that this is a 25-man roster, in fact I paid respect to the fact that GM's must make the hard-decisions about what to give up in order to pare it down to 25.

I know you couldn't bother to read this, but if you had, you would read the following: "Lonnie Chisenhall would receive 0 MLB at bats in 2012 if Manny Acta went this route. Clearly, that will not happen as long as Lonnie is healthy."

Hope you come back to read the piece that attempts to bring defense into the equation.
Matt
February 28, 2012 - 9:59 PM EST
Charlie,
Call me old-fashioned, but RBi's is one of the key stats in baseball not some fancy name for a random metric. Winning teams have run producers, every playoff team this year had at least 1-3 in every lineup. the Indians do not have any and please don't tell me Choo is one. Not one pitcher in baseball is afraid of any player in this lineup. And I will say it again, getting a guy who simply puts a bat on a ball is not a run producer noted by Kotchman's whopping 48 RBI. Not too mention he hit less than .200 2 years ago, so saying this a quality major leaguer simply isn't true, i would say average at best and certainly not a run producer

As for the Sabathia and Lee trades, not one major publication said the Indians made a good trade at the time. Every ESPN and FOX columnist said they got fleeced particularly Lee as Philly didn't even give up one of their TOP 4 prospects! Also sorry to break it to you but the Tribe has not been "fleecing people for years" in fact it has been the other way. Brandon Phillips for Stevens was a good trade? Kouz for Barfield? already mentioned Lee and Sabathia and coming soon Big U, will be one to regret. it is ridiculous still referencing the Colon trade it was 10 years ago! I wish I could only be right once every 10 years at my job (also playoffs once in 10 years) and still make VP! Apparently you are related to the front office so I won't go on but when this team hits .247 again, no 100 rbi or 30 hr guys and scores 3 runs or less more than 50% of the time again and the offense reason they are below.500, I will be sure to remind you!
Grover
February 28, 2012 - 9:05 PM EST
Hannahan did hit LHP. Donald can't field at 3B. You have 27 guys on your roster and Chisenhall isn't one of them. Can't believe I bothered to read this.
Charlie
February 28, 2012 - 10:08 AM EST
Bric,
The ability for small--market teams to go over-slot and sign "unsignable" players is typically viewed as the #1 way for small market teams to get "bang for their buck". The players that are viewed as unsignable typically have a scholarship offer from a top-school and want to play their way into a higher draft pick (and thus more money) a couple years down the road. The Indians, and basically every other team in the MLB, cut out the middle man and attempt to get the guys they believe in, into their system as quickly as possible.

Injuries are flukes and nobody has more interest in keeping their players healthy than the teams that employ them for millions of dollars. If you are highly interested in the science of injuries and how they affect performance, how players recover and how much this costs teams, I would highly recommend checking out Will Carroll's body of work over at Baseball Prospectus (he has since moved on to Si.com and has to bring the work to a wider audience) http://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/?author=58

The money spent on he draft is a small component of overall budget. With the exception of extremely high-profile signings (Strasburg, Harper) the budget of a team is not overly affected by draft-pick signings. Rather teams have a strategy of WHERE to spend in a draft, as opposed to HOW MUCH they are going to spend. For comparison: Lindor signed for $2.9mm and will be under team control for at least the next 5 years. Casey Kotchman signed for $3mm and we get him for a year, and he actually was a proven, valuable MLB--ready player.

It's frustrating, but it is the results that are to be upset over, not the process that led to them.
Charlie
February 28, 2012 - 9:51 AM EST
Matt,
The point of wOBA is that it accounts for basically every offensive action that a player takes, speed included. The wOBA stat also takes into account the difference between a K and a GB, because a GB has a certainly likelihood of turning into a double-play (negative) but also a likelihood of advancing runners (positive).

Kotchman isn't really a guy that walks all that much (his career BB% is 8.3% which puts him outside the top 100 for qualified players in just about any given year). RBI's do NOT matter at all, they are purely contextual and have more to do with the players that hit immediately before.

In regards to the Indians brass, it is definitely your call. They are typically viewed positively within the industry and while their drafting from Sabathia up until about 3 years ago was horrible, you can't really fault them for Chisenhall, Kipnis, Pomeranz and White (latter two becoming Ubaldo). Obviously, the 2011 draft class is up in the air, though many believe Lindor will make them look smart. Front-offices make plans on top of plans, but they can't actually play the games, sometimes good plans go awry.

In regards to the trades, the Indians have been fleecing teams for years in trades (Bartolo=Grady, Cliff, Phillips....Blake=Santana), and both the Sabathia and Lee deals were seen as wins at the time. Regardless, both deals were the best on the table when the Indians needed to trade them and they did NEED to trade them. Neither player was going to stay in the long-run (the Indians offered $100mm for Sabathia anyways) and this is just a small market-team's reality.

As I mentioned in my previous article, this is not to say the Indians have a great lineup and will outscore the Tigers and Red Sox, it is to say that the Indians have some fascinating pieces that put together in certain ways looks "not so bad".
Bric
February 28, 2012 - 4:55 AM EST
Joel Zumaya is done at 27.
The Indians, like all teams, have had plans ruined by injury.
Why are all these injuries happening?
Playing 80 games a year in childhood, and throwing all winter in indoor facilities, endless batting cage work, weights, PED's being used in middle school; it all adds up.
The Indians sought to overcome the salary handicap imposed by an owner who doesn't understand how you get fans to attend, buy merchandise, etc.
They drafted players who were considered "unsignable."
These players had to be convinced to sign by the Indians paying more than appropriate money.
Unfortunately, that money compromised the ability to sign free agents, retain players, and compensate for the incredible streak of bad luck the team has suffered.
Adam Miller, Grady, Hafner, Knapp, Barnes, Rondon, & many others have been injured.
Then there is the Carmona incident, and the failure to develop of several, highly regarded young players.
Matt
February 27, 2012 - 9:49 PM EST
First, I do appreciate all the hard work and information you bring on this site, but this is basically the same team as last year and even when everyone was healthy couldn't score runs. The platoon system has not worked on this team at all for years. This team does not have speed power or discipline which will still result in strikeouts and double plays. Simply thinking this lineup is better because they added a first-baseman who "walks" is ridiculous. LaPorta actually drove in more runs than that clown. We are simply stuck with this team due to poor front office trades for Sabathia and Lee of which they still don't hold themselves accountable for and also horrible drafting. How Mirabelli is still in the organization and yet a VP just shows how bad this front office is. I have never seen an organization give VP titles to undeserving personnel and the "Moneyball" movie hits in right on the head for showing what a bunch of boneheads run this organization.

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