Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's a Platoon Party!

Must to the angst of a chunk of Red Sox Nation, the team will not be sporting All Stars at every position this year. Instead, it seems that the team will employ platoons (GASP!) in right field, as well as at shortstop. Last season, right field was occupied by a combination of JD Drew (possibly on the verge of retirement), Josh Reddick (Traded to Oakland in deal for Andrew Bailey), Darnell McDonald (still here), and Mike Cameron (Lol). Also, lest we forget, Adrian Gonzalez played two games there during interleague. Shortstop was played by Marco Scutaro (Traded to Colorado for Clay Mortensen) and Jed Lowrie (Traded to Houston for Mark Melancon), with Scutaro getting the majority of the playing time. This year, there will be some less sexy names, but let's see if the results will really vary as much as we may think.

Starting with right field, Ryan Kalish figured to be a big part of the team's solution at that position in 2012. However, that idea took a turn for the worse before Spring Training even started, as he had to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in November, and will likely be on the sidelines until June. In his place, the Red Sox will likely lean on two recently acquired outfielders. One is Ryan Sweeney, acquired along with Bailey in the Reddick trade. The other is Cody Ross, who was signed on Monday on a one year deal. With Carl Crawford possibly missing some time to start the season due to a wrist injury, Darnell McDonald could get some time in right as well. However, the Sweeney/Ross platoon is the one to focus on, with Kalish joining in midseason.

Sweeney is a light hitting right fielder, but can still provide some value. Although UZR has been slightly down on him the past couple of years, he had previously rated as one of the top right fielders in the game. As for offensively, the left handed bat walks at about a league average rate, while striking out at a rate a few percentage points below the league average. However, he has very little power with a .096 ISO. Keeping true to most platoons, though, Bobby Valentine is expected to play Sweeney mainly against right handed pitching. In his career, he has hit significantly better against righties than lefties. He strikes out less (12.8% vs. 18.2%) and hits for more power (.106 ISO vs. .056). This all leads to much more total productivity, leading to a 160-point gap in OPS, 60-point gap in wOBA, and a remarkable 41 point gap in wRC+. Kalish has not had as much big league experience, but should provide even more offensive firepower from the left side of the plate upon his return. These two, combined with Cody Ross hitting against lefties (which I discussed yesterday), the Red Sox should surpass the measly 0.7 fWAR put up by their right fielders a season ago.

Shortstop will be the harder position to replace. Last year, with Scutaro playing the bulk of the innings, with Lowrie filling in as well, the Red Sox finished 15th in fWAR with +3.0 wins. To replace the aforementioned combination in 2012, the team will employ a different kind of platoon than the one in right. Here, they will be playing a combination of Mike Aviles, who is a much better hitter than fielder, and Nick Punto, who has a much better glove than bat. The first member of that pairing is seemingly morally against walks, talking his base in just about 4% of his plate appearances over his career. He also strikes out below the league average, with a career rate of 13.4%. His BABIP and ISO has fluctuated year-to-year throughout his four-year stint in the Majors, but assuming they regress to the mean, he should end up as a league-average hitter, which provides very good value at a premium position like shortstop. However, his defense falls short, although both UZR and DRS rank him as very average. However, Fans Scouting Reports (via Fangraphs) ranks him as well below average, and I tend to agree with that assessment.

As for Nick Punto, he may be a guy that has been ridiculed so much for his "scrappiness" and "grit" that he has become slightly underrated. Over the last three years, he has been a solid 1.5-win player in limited action, thanks a lot to his defense. UZR has ranked him as an above average defender at third, short and second, as did DRS. Fan Scouting Reports ranked him as a 67 on the 20-80 scale last year. On top of his defense, Punto can provide slight value on offense in a limited role. He walks above league average, which will work to the team's advantage with as potent of an offense as they have. However, other than that he doesn't offer much more than singles with some nice base running skills. The Aviles/Punto combination may not match Scutaro and Lowrie's production, but it shouldn't fall too short. I would say somewhere between 1.5-2 WAR at the position is a reasonable expectation.

A lot of the success of the platoons will be hinged upon how Bobby Valentine decides to utilize them. Right field should be pretty straight forward, with Sweeney playing the bulk of the games against righties and coming in as a defensive replacement, and Ross getting virtually all of the starts against lefties. At shortstop, I'd imagine that Aviles will be seeing the field more often regardless of pitcher. Punto will likely be called upon when guys like Clay Buchholz take the mound, since he lets up more contact, and specifically ground balls. However you slice it, the Red Sox shouldn't lose too much value, if any at all, with this platoon party.

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