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Article: Twins To Deploy More Platoons In 2017?


The ever-shrinking bench of an American League team may seem limiting, but there are still a number of things a team can try to accomplish when building a bench. The only real requirement is to have a backup catcher and enough flexibility from the other guys to provide insurance elsewhere. Beyond that, a bench can be used to stash guys: one-dimensional players, Rule 5 picks, players who are out of options, veterans or good clubhouse guys.

 

Another option is to round out a bench with a platoon player or two. With platooning continuing to gain traction among managers, one thing that is going out of style is carrying players who are strictly bench guys. But even that can be done with success.Back in 2015, the Twins had a very defined bench. Both Eduardo Nunez and Shane Robinson spent nearly the entire season on the 25-man roster, yet neither started 50 games. And between them, and your ever-present backup catcher (either Chris Herrmann or Eric Fryer that season), Paul Molitor had insurance at virtually every position on the field. Robinson even pitched a scoreless inning. It was a nice security blanket for the first-year manager.

 

But it's not easy to have such a steady bench, a lot has to go right in order for that to work out. One thing that permitted the bench to be so defined in 2015 was the relative stability of the starting lineup. That season, the Twins rolled out 98 different defensive lineups, using their most common configuration 22 times (C-Suzuki, 1B-Mauer, 2B-Dozier, 3B-Plouffe, SS-Escobar, LF-Rosario, CF-Hicks, RF-Hunter, DH-Sano).

 

That may sound like a lot of lineups, but last season Molitor deployed 135 different defensive lineups. The most any one lineup was used was just six times (C-Suzuki, 1B-Mauer, 2B-Dozier, 3B-Plouffe, SS-Nunez, LF-Grossman, CF-Buxton, RF-Kepler, DH-Park). The '15 Twins had five positions in which one player accounted for at least 120 games started. Last season, only Brian Dozier accomplished that feat.

 

Another issue with defined bench roles is the players have to buy into it. Both Nunez and Robinson had been around the block, and while I'm sure they would have preferred more playing time, both were professionals who understood their roles on the roster. While that bench arrangement seemed to suit the '15 Twins, looking ahead to next season it would appear the team is more well suited to use its projected bench players in platoon roles.

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Molitor has already hinted at one potential platoon. In a recent article Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press wrote that Molitor "will continue to look for ways to keep Mauer as fresh as possible over the course of the long season, including more frequent rests against rough left-handed starters."

 

At this point, there's really no reason for Joe Mauer to be facing lefties on a consistent basis; he had a .224/.291/.319 slash line against them last season. To be fair, that poor performance was over a sample of just 127 plate appearances, but Mauer's career OPS is 146 points higher against right-handed pitchers (.885 OPS vs. RHP, .739 OPS vs. LHP).

 

Byungho Park is right handed, and while Kennys Vargas is a switch hitter, he has done a lot more damage against lefties (career OPS of .834 vs. LHP, just .693 vs. RHP). So it would seem one of those two would benefit from Mauer sitting out against tough southpaw. But first base isn't the only platoon opportunity on the current roster.

 

Robbie Grossman excels against lefties, posting a.289/.351/.425 line against them over his career. He could help protect Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler against same-side pitching. And this could be a year in which the backup catcher isn't there to simply provide relief for the starter.

 

The newly-acquired Jason Castro, a lefty hitter, figures to get the lion's share of the work behind the plate, but he has been much more dangerous against right-handers over his career (.753 OPS vs. RHP, .536 vs. LHP). Given the rigors of catching, Castro will obviously just need days off to rest, but it would seem to benefit the team if those came with a lefty on the hill as often as possible. Potential backups John Ryan Murphy, Mitch Garver and Chris Gimenez all hit right handed.

 

One spot that does not, however, appear have a platoon advantage opportunity is shortstop. Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar, both switch hitters, have done more damage against lefties.

 

Twins hitters held the platoon advantage in 58 percent of their at-bats last season, which is about five percent above the average. That shouldn't come as a surprise, considering lefties Mauer, Kepler and Rosario along with switch hitters Escobar and Grossman all got at least 300 plate appearances. But Cleveland led the league with a platoon advantage percentage at 70, so there could be room for improvement for the Twins in 2017.

 

A lot of how the bench is built will depend on the health and performance of the starters, but watching how the bench unfolds will be one of the more interesting stories to follow in spring training. How do you think the Twins should build and use their bench?

 

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The most obvious platoon is first base and DH being between Park, Mauer and Vargas. 

Rosario's splits are not that great against LH pitchers, but they are better than Kepler's.

 

I agree with tobi0040 though. Still not sure of any options Molitor might take advantage of.

Edited by Oldgoat_MN
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The most obvious platoon is first base and DH being between Park, Mauer and Vargas. 

Rosario's splits are not that great against LH pitchers, but they are better than Kepler's.

 

I agree with tobi0040 though. Still not sure of any options Molitor might take advantage of.

I think taking turns sitting the two vs LHP is good idea, especially with their ages. That way they can continue to get some work vs LHP, but not have their confidence and numbers dragged down as much by facing them as often. 

 

I would also think a smarter analytics department can make the decisions of who sits between these two by using information on which one of these guys struggles or succeeds more vs whatever pitches that LHP uses the most. 

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Making Grossman the everyday DH may be better than platooning him with Rosario or Kepler. Rosario hasn't shown a huge platoon split in the majors so far, and Kepler just needs to stay on the field. I know this probably means you would need Granite or Palka on the bench instead of Park, and that Vargas would get fewer at bats, and I'm OK with that.

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Stephen Drew would make a nice lefty half of a SS platoon.

He would, but Dozier needs to go first.

 

Trying to squeeze Drew, Escobar, and Polanco into 1.5 positions (full-time SS, part of 3B) is a tall order.

 

If Dozier is gone and Polanco slides to second, I'd wholly endorse that move.

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Platooning is a concept long, LONG overdue at Target Field. 

 

Last year, Vargas had a 1.262 OPS versus lefties. Mauer had a .793 OPS versus righties (which would have been higher, probably, but for his late season injury). Put them together and you have a stud corner infielder. 

While I agree the Twins should try a 1B platoon, we shouldn't expect too much from it.

 

Vargas didn't have extreme splits in MiLB. He was slightly better against RHP most seasons, actually.

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While I agree the Twins should try a 1B platoon, we shouldn't expect too much from it.

 

Vargas didn't have extreme splits in MiLB. He was slightly better against RHP most seasons, actually.

 

Last year was likely due to small sample size, but Vargas is still much better v lefties than righties (by like 140 points) and after last season deserves a shot to have at least a platoon role with the team. 

 

If Vargas can at least hold up his career average against lefties and Mauer does .800 or better against righties, which he should, then you do have a pretty solid everyday first baseman. And if Vargas can repeat what he did last year, or at least have some proximation of those numbers, then you indeed have a stud corner infielder. 

 

The overarching point, however, is that by putting players in situations where they can perform best, then you are going to get better overall production. There is no point to having Mauer play first base against lefthanded pitchers at this point in his career when he has injury problems and an OPS of less than .700 when there's a guy on the team who plays first base and who last year completely destroyed those lefties.

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That 135 different lineups had a lot to do with the Twins being a horrible defensive team.  Both infielders (mostly) and outfielders (bit less) need to spend considerable time together and learn each others' play for a defense to gel.  I would have no problem with rotation of Mauer/Park/Vargas at 1B/DH (with Vargas being the everyday guy as switch hitter) and sitting Castro against LHP, but the rest is tough to platoon.  Sano and Polanco need to play every day at 3B and SS to develop.  Whoever is the second baseman also needs to be there most of the time, so the double play combination clicks.  With only Buxton the projected RH OF and the best centerfielder it will be hard to platoon the corners, unless one gets a RH bat as Grossman's replacement. 

 

I see 2017 all for development and other than the 2 mentioned, there is not place for many platoons.

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Making Grossman the everyday DH may be better than platooning him with Rosario or Kepler. Rosario hasn't shown a huge platoon split in the majors so far, and Kepler just needs to stay on the field. I know this probably means you would need Granite or Palka on the bench instead of Park, and that Vargas would get fewer at bats, and I'm OK with that.

Correct, Rosario has a .724 OPS vs. LHP, Kepler's is .590. Grossman probably deserves to be getting regular at bats one way or anthoer. Among players with at least 350 PAs last year his .386 OBP ranked 14th, right between Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant.

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Regarding the SS platoon void:

 

Engelb Vielma (on the 40-man) also is a switch-hitter on the 40-man roster, who also hits better vs. lefties. 

 

But help may be on the way. Nick Gordon, who was in A-ball, expected to be at AA this season, hit .315/.356/.431/.787 vs. right-handers as a lefty batter in 2016.

 

Danny Santana hit .265/.301/.357/.658 as a left-handed hitter vs. right-handed pitchers in 2016. IF he was a defensive specialist that might be tolerable, but he's not. I don't see him making the team heading north. 

 

Benji Gonzales, whom the Twins signed as a minor league free agent (SS) and who is invited to spring training, was in AA ball last year, and hit .289/.348/.446/.795 as a left-handed hitter vs. righties. Hitting the other way, he did not quite as well: .265/.340/.367/.708. He just celebrated his 26th birthday (Jan. 15). Happy Birthday!

 

The only other SS on the Twins' non-roster list for spring training is Leonardo Reginatto, who bats right-handed, and did worse against righties. 

 

(All these stats are from Baseball-Reference.com)

 

It'll take spring training to determine if a left-handed hitting SS is worthy of making the team in a possible platoon situation (Gonzalez or Gordon, or someone else). But the Twins might also look for a short-term solution until Gordon or Gonzalez is ready.

 

 

 

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I argued for a couple years that the ideal outfielder would have been Hicks and Arcia as a platoon.   Hicks was great against lefties and Arcia was great against righties and so would start most games but Hicks could play most late innings of games.    Mauer not facing lefties makes a lot of sense now also.   So does the catching spot.   None of these are so special anymore that you want them to get at bats against same siders. regardless of results.

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All of these ideas will be great when teams go back to 10 man pitching staffs.

Platooning has become very difficult with the ever expanding pitching staffs, no doubt.

 

But at least for a position or two, not impossible. Every team will carry at least 4 outfielders, there's no reason a GM can't set it up so a platoon advantage exists for his weakest offensive outfielder. Every team carries two catchers, and a spare infielder. Same deal.

 

Of course, the manager has to take advantage of his roster...

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They could also leave roster size the same and put a limit on the amount of pitchers a team can have on the roster.

Problem is, once the 5th starter was introduced, it hurt the bench and once the DH was introduced, it hurt the bench in the AL.  And that was before teams started using, and expanding, bullpens more.

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They could also leave roster size the same and put a limit on the amount of pitchers a team can have on the roster.

Leave the roster size alone, or maybe expand by one. Put no restrictions on positions. Heck, let 15 man staffs evolve.

 

If reducing the bullpen and expanding the bench is really an advantage, let some smart GM/manager use it to their advantage. Let "market inefficiencies" resolve the issue.

 

Let baseball be baseball. The last thing I want to see is baseball become more like football, with offense, defense, special teams, nickel packages, etc etc ad nauseam.

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Problem is, once the 5th starter was introduced, it hurt the bench and once the DH was introduced, it hurt the bench in the AL.  And that was before teams started using, and expanding, bullpens more.

 

Leave the roster size alone, or maybe expand by one. Put no restrictions on positions. Heck, let 15 man staffs evolve.

If reducing the bullpen and expanding the bench is really an advantage, let some smart GM/manager use it to their advantage. Let "market inefficiencies" resolve the issue.

Let baseball be baseball. The last thing I want to see is baseball become more like football, with offense, defense, special teams, nickel packages, etc etc ad nauseam.

Baseball has already become that way with shifts, relief one batter specialists,  more relievers at expense of position players.   Which market efficiencies are you talking about?   The multiple relievers in an inning might increase odds of winning while also fueling the slower pace of a game which is still a complaint of some fans which put butts in stadiums.   Roster size or expanding by one are already restrictions and rather arbitrary.     Reducing the roster size might inspire market efficiencies to go back to 4 man rotations and other things.  Expanding might lead to 6 man rotations and other thinigs.    Its all rather arbitrary and I was really just pointing out possibilities rather than advocating anything.     I am not a fan of 4 pitcher innings and I like platooning of players where it makes sense but neither are big on my list of peeves.

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If some teams don't know how to manage a roster it's their own faults. All teams are dealt the same hand. Every manager would love an extra roster spot but this won't solve the problem. Every team would simply stash another pitcher on the roster and keep starving the position player side.

 

As for the Twins platooning, if they don't do it they are simply being stubborn. They have a glut of C-level DH and 1B players who could become B-level players if platooned. With some luck, maybe they even get A- production out of somebody and can flip him for a more solid player later on. In the meantime, they could freely stock the rest of the bench with defensive specialists as they would always have a capable bat on the bench that is reasonably warmed up.

Edited by Doomtints
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Leave the roster size alone, or maybe expand by one. Put no restrictions on positions. Heck, let 15 man staffs evolve.

If reducing the bullpen and expanding the bench is really an advantage, let some smart GM/manager use it to their advantage. Let "market inefficiencies" resolve the issue.

Let baseball be baseball. The last thing I want to see is baseball become more like football, with offense, defense, special teams, nickel packages, etc etc ad nauseam.

Yes. The only caveat is that I'm open to adding the DH to the NL and expanding rosters to 26 across baseball.

 

With the DH and relievers, 25 men is a bit cramped. Adding one guy would make for better baseball, not worse.

 

But 28 men? No way. I can only imagine how someone like Terry Francona would manage that roster. We'd see the first seven hour nine inning baseball game.

 

Giving the managers a touch more flexibility is fine, letting them go hog-wild with substitutions and pitching changes is not.

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