And you may find yourself letting the days go by as spring training inches closer and closer. And you may find yourself looking at the Mets roster. And you may ask yourself, “Why should the 2010 Mets settle on just one sub-par first baseman, when they could instead try to weld two sub-par first baseman into one slightly-less-sub-par first baseman?” And you may ask yourself, “How do I work this?”
Well, the same as it ever was – by platooning your lesser first basemen into an ugly two-headed platoon monster.
Let’s dive into the possibilities.
But first, an explanation of methods. Skip this part if you don’t care. To better examine the platoon possibilities for first base, I took the career OPS righty/lefty splits for the major leaguers (Murphy, Jacobs, Tatis, Catalanatto), and the career major league equivalent (MLE) righty/lefty splits of the mostly minor leaguers stats (Green, Davis, Evans, Carter). Then, I added a really simple age adjustment to compensate for the fact that older players are likely to get worse, and younger players are likely to improve. Basically, how ever many years younger than 29 the player will be in 2010, his stats are improved that much. Daniel Murphy is 25, four years younger than 29, so his stats are upped 4%. Ike Davis is 23, so his stats are bumped up 6%.
For players older than 29, their stats are decreased 1% for every year older than 29 they are – Frank Catalanatto, who will be 36 in 2010, has his numbers decreased 7%.
On the charts, the first column is the actual OPS for that platoon split, and the second column is the age adjusted version of that number. The MLE are in italics, actual major league numbers are not. Pretty straightforward, even if it may unfairly penalizes someone like Tatis. That’s why I left both numbers on the chart.
One other thing: I have no idea what to make of Chris Carter. CHONE projects him to be the best hitter among the Mets 1B candidates, but his MLE are not impressive at all. I’m lost.
Numbers Say: Mike Jacobs
Why That Makes Sense: Jacobs has a career .830 OPS against righties.
Why That Doesn’t Make Sense: Mike Jacobs is the best option against righties only if you want to ignore defense completely. Despite his slugging prowess against righties, Jacobs gives back defensively about whatever he adds offensively, even if he only faces right-handed pitching. His power against righties is simply not enough by first base standards to compensate for his poor fielding.
To put it another way, Jacobs is called a first baseman only because when he’s in the field, he stands closest to the first base bag. You could also put an eye patch and a grisly beard on him and rightly call him a pirate by that same logic. He’s no more a first baseman than he is a pirate – he’s a platoon designated hitter who can mash righties. Like Bill James said, if you could split Rickey Henderson in two and have two Hall-of-Famers, then you could split Mike Jacobs into three and wind up with one useful player and two useless ones.
On that flip side, it would benefit all parties involved if Mike Jacobs never got another plate appearance against a left-handed pitcher. Jacobs has hit .221/.269/.374 against lefties for his career, striking out 31% of the time. The underlying problem may be that Jacobs can’t hit sliders – his Fangraphs’ page shows that he hits fastballs and curveballs about as well as the rest of the league, destroys changeups, but is miserable against sliders. Generally, pitches breaking away from the batter – such as sliders from a left-handed pitcher to a lefty batter like Jacobs – are more difficult to hit than pitches breaking into the batter. Thus, someone who struggles against breaking balls to being with may be more susceptible to heavier platoon splits.
Jacobs is a bad ball hitter who struggles against lefties and power pitchers – so how has he fared against a lefty power pitcher with a good slider? Sound like anyone familiar?
Mike Jacobs vs. Oliver Perez, career: 14 PA, 1-12 with a single, walk and plunk, six strikeouts.
Who It Should Really Be: Daniel Murphy. Because of Jacobs’ fielding issues, the best option for a first base platoon against right-handers is either Frank Catalanatto or Daniel Murphy, both of who are better fielders. Because young players are likely to improve and older ones are likely to decline, Murphy should get the nod for his age and defense. Though notice that Ike Davis climbs all the way to third place with the simple age adjustment . . .
Numbers say: Uh, Daniel Murphy?
Why That Makes Sense: Oh boy. Nobody breaks the .800 OPS barrier in either column. Murphy may come as a surprise selection to some, possibly because his platoon split has been overstated. A 40 point OPS platoon gap does exists for Murphy, who struggles against lefties, but that’s nothing compared to the 200 point gaps for players that really, really can’t hit lefties, such as Catalanatto and Jacobs. Again, Murphy is young. He’s likely to improve against both lefties and righties, perhaps enough to make a platoon pointless.
Why That Doesn’t Make Sense: And it’s no, nay, never for the Irish wild rover. Murphy a .732 OPS against lefties last year. That’s not very good.
Who It Should Really Be: Fernando Tatis is the Mets’ best bet against lefties, if you don’t want to adjust for age – and you might not want to with someone like Tatis. He posted a .797 OPS against lefties in 2009, and there’s no reason he can’t do it again. Some players maintain their offensive abilities with age, and Tatis appears to be one of them, putting up two solid offensive years at age 33 and 34.
A Tatis/Murphy platoon works best at first. They’re both average hitters, plus-defenders, and Tatis is viable at multiple positions, adding to his value on the bench. Plus, this is a post about platoons, which would be rendered pointless if I came to the conclusion that it shouldn’t be a platoon.
Murphy/Tatis it is – a two-headed monster named Franiel Taturphy, if you will.