The New Look Outfield

With Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence gone, the Phillies will be looking at their remaining set of outfielders, including veterans Juan Pierre and Laynce Nix, recent acquisition Nate Schierholtz, as well as John Mayberry and recent call-up Domonic Brown. It’s a crowded bunch and none of them are guaranteed any playing time in 2013, so they will all be playing for a job in these final two months. It should make for some interesting baseball — at least as interesting as it can be with a team that is coming off of five consecutive division titles.

Each spot comes with intrigue. The Phillies may be in the market for a free agent center fielder in the off-season, such as Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, and Angel Pagan. Brown figures to have a spot in either corner, but his playing time will depend on how he looks in the 200 or so plate appearances he should garner between now and the end of the season. Finally, the performance of Mayberry and Schierholtz  may determine their role in a platoon, as each compliments the other.

The latter situation is particularly interesting because platoons are rare, and effective platoons even more rare. The 1993 Phillies were famous for them, but even the most mundane of players have complained about a lack of regular playing time, so managers have preferred to run some players out for 600-plus trips to the dish even if as many as two-thirds of them are in unfavorable match-ups.

With San Francisco, Schierholtz took roughly four times as many hacks against right-handed pitching than against lefties (1,051 PA to 265, to be exact). Although he has an even split over his career, there have been drastic differences in the last two years. In 2011, he posted an .801 OPS against RHP and .562 against LHP; this year, he’s at .850 against RHP and .483 against LHP. To put that type of production in perspective, this season, there are only two qualified right fielders — Carlos Beltran and Corey Hart — who have posted an OPS above .830. Since the league sees between two and three times as many PA against RHP than LHP, by limiting Schierholtz to RHP only, the production from right field can be impacted greatly.

Mayberry had a breakout year last season, but hasn’t been able to quite replicate it in 2012. In both years, however, one thing was constant: he hit lefties very well, and right-handers not as well. Last year, his OPS against LHP was .953 and .785 against RHP. This year, he’s at .836 against LHP and .533 against RHP.

Realistically, if Schierholtz and Mayberry are applied correctly, the Phillies can get as much production out of right field as they were getting with Pence, and perhaps even more. The kicker is that they would be getting that production at a fraction of the cost. Pence is earning north of $10 million this year and is projected to earn $14 million in his final go in arbitration after the season. Comparatively, Schierholtz is earning $1.3 million this year and has three more years of arbitration ahead of him, while Mayberry is earning $495,000 and will enter his first year of arbitration after the season.

The Phillies should give a Schierholtz-Mayberry platoon a serious consideration and, if all goes well, they will have right field solidified well and cheaply, leaving them plenty of time and money to address other areas of need, such as center field and third base. It is a joke in Saber circles to say something is “the new market inefficiency” as it is a reference to Moneyball, but platoons may just be a market inefficiency and the Phillies have one staring them right in the face.

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