For as good as the Oliver Stone film Platoon is, the baseball platoon is even better. The idea is to use a particular player only in situations that highlight his strengths, and use his positional partner in other situations. For instance, the 1993 Phillies famously and successfully utilized platoons as I described in this post from a year ago:

Manager Jim Fregosi squeezed additional runs out of his team by utilizing platoons in left and right field as well as second base and shortstop. As a result, the Phillies had the best OPS in the league against right-handed pitching (.765) and the second-highest OPS against lefties (.802). In left field, Pete Incaviglia handled lefties (.904 OPS) while Milt Thompson faced mostly right-handers (.745 OPS). In right field, Jim Eisenreich faced right-handers (.816) and Wes Chamberlain faced lefties (.986). Although Mariano Duncan didn’t have much of a platoon split (.721 vs. RHP/.720 vs. LHP), he spent time at both second base and shortstop. Second baseman Mickey Morandini‘s .688 OPS was more than 100 points higher than against lefties whom he faced only about 25 percent of the time. At shortstop, the switch-hitting Kevin Stocker hit lefties well (.936) but faced them at about half the rate as right-handers (.780).

The Phillies finished with the fifth-highest percentage of plate appearances with the platoon advantage (65 percent) despite having only two switch-hitters rack up 100 or more trips to the dish.

The Oakland Athletics, which surged into the post-season with a 51-25 second-half record, are yet another team using platoons and making it work. They have used platoons at four positions: catcher, first base, second base, and designated hitter. Their offensive gains aren’t nearly as pronounced as the ’93 Phillies, but the A’s would have been dreadful without smart player deployment. As a team, the A’s have the second-worst batting average and third-worst on-base percentage, but with some changes in personnel and strategy, their second-half OPS was nearly 100 points higher than their first-half OPS.

Here’s a look at how the A’s got it done:

The platoons at catcher and second base aren’t impressive, but you do what you can with your personnel. The Phillies, going into 2013, should look at what the A’s have done and strongly consider utilizing platoons at several positions if possible: third base, right field, and first base. Let’s address those in reverse order.

First Base

Yes, the Phillies should consider platooning their star first baseman to whom they owe $105 million. Howard will turn 33 years old in November and is coming off of the worst offensive showing of his excellent career. He has shown a severe platoon split over his career, but it wasn’t an issue earlier on because he hit right-handed pitching so prodigiously. As he aged and the league caught up to him, however, his performance against right-handers declined and so too did the Phillies’ tolerance for his inability to hit left-handed pitching. The following line graph illustrates the changes:

2006 1.164 .923 .241
2007 1.072 .826 .246
2008 .966 .746 .220
2009 1.088 .653 .435
2010 .876 .826 .050
2011 .921 .634 .287
2012 .784 .604 .180

Howard has earned the right to have an opportunity to redeem himself after a disappointing and injury-plagued 2012 — his torn Achilles and broken toe acted as bookends on his 71 uninspiring games. He should be the full-time first baseman to start the season, but if the Phillies observe no legitimate improvement, they should consider benching Howard against southpaws while utilizing someone like John Mayberry (.811 OPS vs. LHP in 2012), Erik Kratz (.877), or even Darin Ruf (1.325 in Double-A Reading; 1.326 OPS in 16 MLB plate appearances).

To put the situation in the context or runs above average, let us use wOBA as the run conversion is rather simple. Mayberry has hit lefties for a .370 wOBA since 2010 while Howard has mustered only a .310 mark in that same period of time. To convert the wOBA difference into runs, we divide the .060 difference by 1.15, then multiply it by the 225 plate appearances of Howard’s Mayberry would theoretically take. (.060/1.15)*225 comes out to 12 runs, or about 1.2 wins. Will an extra win likely make the difference between the Phillies reaching the post-season and sitting home in October? Probably not, but this more efficient use of personnel, coupled with the same strategy at other positions, plus more intelligent decision-making elsewhere (e.g. using Jonathan Papelbon in a tie game on the road) can give the Phillies a few extra wins in the standings just like the A’s.

Right Field

With the Phillies owing $125 million to seven players going into 2013, there is some impetus to solve some problems on the cheap when possible. As demonstrated this past regular season, the bullpen is a great and easy way to do that, but for the Phillies next season, right field could be just as simple. Some are saying the Phillies should target someone like Nick Swisher along with one of the many available center fielders, but equivalent solutions are available right now for a fraction of the cost. Nate Schierholtz, used almost exclusively against right-handed pitching while with the San Francisco Giants, could pair up with Mayberry or a cheap free agent to provide above-average production for under $5 million.

Schierholtz has taken 631 trips to the plate in the past two seasons with 495 of them (78%) coming against right-handers. Against them, Schierholtz posted a respectable .349 wOBA while playing above average defense in right field:

The Phillies could pair Schierholtz with a free agent like Matt Diaz, who is recovering from thumb surgery but is expected to make a recovery. Diaz will turn 35 in March but has long been a noted lefty-killer, with a career .370 wOBA against them over his career. That is Yoenis Cespedeslevel offense specifically against southpaws. Scott Hairston could work as well. Between Schierholtz and their right-handed hitter of choice, they could recapture and exceed the production they had with Hunter Pence for one-third of the cost.

Third Base

Yesterday’s article looked at the Phillies’ options at third base, concluding that a realistic solution would involve Kevin Frandsen despite his probable mean-regression. Some of you who commented left some creative ideas that make sense. For instance, John Stolnis of That Ball’s Outta Here suggested free agent Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger, 33 in April, has shown a drastic platoon split over his career, with an .864 OPS against left-handed pitching and .680 against right-handed pitching. The difference was even more drastic this past season alone. He earned just over $1.5 million with the Rays on a one-year deal, so he could come at a rather cheap price.

Eric Chavez would make a nice platoon partner with Keppinger. With the New York Yankees, Chavez tagged right-handers for a .908 OPS and was used almost exclusively against them. It has been a renaissance year for the soon-to-be 35-year-old Chavez, who played in a grand total of 122 games between 2008-11. The Yankees signed him to a one-year, $900,000 deal in February. With his limited usefulness and age, he is due for only a small raise if he gets one at all, so a potential Chavez-Keppinger platoon would come in well under $5 million. Such a platoon would also be infinitely more favorable than hoping that Frandsen’s 2012 showing wasn’t an illusion and/or that Freddy Galvis will acquire the ability to handle Major League pitching at an above-replacement level.

Few teams make use of platoons, but it should be standard practice when you don’t have a quality balanced player at a certain position (e.g. Chase Utley). Of course, politics and player management are issues to consider as well, as it doesn’t exactly look cool to announce to fans that your $125 million first baseman is going to sit against the Mike Minors and Paul Maholms of the baseball world. Two press releases announcing one-year deals for third basemen in their mid-30’s isn’t as sexy as “Phillies sign Mark Reynolds to three-year, $45 million deal”. But in the end, what matters is gaining those small advantages to push your team north in the standings, and the Phillies have a very high chance of doing that with platoons than hoping a big free agent signing pans out or their bottled lightning players from a year prior are legitimate.

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  1. Dante

    October 09, 2012 07:40 AM

    Absolutely amazed that you mention signing a Diaz to play RF with Nate, while we have a perfectly good platoon bat already – Mayberry! You are dismissing the need to to address a CFer (I’d prefer BJ at this point), and also failing to mention we have a 5th OFer in Nix already on the payroll. You also are assuming Chavez will be healthy enough to start 120 or so games at 3B (remember, the Yanks played him at DH a bunch too, with only 50 starts at 3B due to A-Rod’s injury). I’d much rather get a cheap, versatile, high floor player like Scutaro to play 3B than commit the same money to an all BA guy in Keppinger and an injury risk in Chavez.

  2. Bill Baer

    October 09, 2012 07:43 AM

    Mayberry was already mentioned. As he does not exist in two separate realities, I decided to leave him at one position.

  3. Dante

    October 09, 2012 07:51 AM

    To that point, perhaps Howard can start against the soft tossing lefties like Minor, but be benched against the Sabbathia types? Essentially, forego strict platooning by taking the lesser of two evils. Would you rather have 6 OFers (Brown, CFer, Nate, Mayberry, Nix, Diaz) or let Howard hit against mediocre lefties and sit Nate?

  4. Dante

    October 09, 2012 07:53 AM

    To counter your point, Mayberry can capably play both RF and 1B, why can’t he be discussed for both positions? Perhaps the answer is they let Hoawrd play most of the time at 1B and he is more of a strict platoon answer in RF? That is likely closer to what they will do anyway.

  5. Dante

    October 09, 2012 07:53 AM

    “He” being Mayberry.

  6. Dante

    October 09, 2012 08:00 AM

    Apologize for being overeager to express my points. All I’m saying is he’s a legitimate answer for both platoon situations, so if you are trying to solve each problem, he should be discussed.

  7. JM

    October 09, 2012 08:18 AM

    RAJ has shown a dislike for positional expectations, i.e. a 3b has to hit home runs. I think Frandsen fits this mold, even if he regresses to a .285-.290 hitter. keep him in the 2 hole, and he fulfills what we hoped to get from Polly for 3 yrs. Table setters score runs, and he has the ability, even with regression, to get on more often than Rollins. Spend money on a LF that thumps. Let Mayberry/Brown hold down RF, and for goodness sake birng back Victorino(no one seems to be talking about him)…

  8. Ryan

    October 09, 2012 09:04 AM

    Very nice post, Bill. I think that platoons are the way to go unless they decide to somehow trade for a player like Headley who would look so good hitting fourth or fifth in our lineup. Not making longer signings of free agents will help keep our payroll flexible for the future instead of locking in guys for a long time and then watching them regress/get injured.

    I’m still looking at Victorino as a really good value in center. His price tag oughta be reduced because of the crappy season he had–mostly due to his wrist injury.

    Galvis would be fantastic as our utility guy. He basically provides what Minimart was supposed to but really hasn’t–good defense and baserunning (great defense and base running in Galvis’ case)with a replacement levelish bat.

    I think that we need to leave the free agent relievers alone and pickup some starting pitching depth (Edwin Jackson types please). Who knows how Halladay and Worley will recover? Will Kendrick regress? We need more insurance than Tyler Cloyd.

  9. nik

    October 09, 2012 09:13 AM

    Victorino may be done, unfortunately. His arm and range have been in decline for years and now it appears his hitting deciding to take a dive off a cliff as well. Victorino is not the answer in CF. My platoon-centric offseason shopping wish list is the following: Cody Ross, BJ Upton, Chavez, Madson.

    We will have an OF platoon mix of Brown (L), Schierholtz (L), Ross (R), Mayberry (R). It strengthens the bench and provides injury insurance. I try to dump Nix on someone to clear a roster spot. 3rd base is a Frandsen/Chavez platoon with a close eye on Cody Asche in Lehigh Valley. If Chavez goes down as he is apt to do, Galvis takes over against Righties. Brown gets the long platoon until he can actually prove he’s an everyday player. So far I’m not convinced.

    Darin Ruf gets the last bench spot to spell Howard against tough lefties and be another bench/DH bat if he proves that LF is too much for him to handle over the winter. Otherwise he’ll get a handful of starts in left as well.

    Finally Madson needs to rebuild his value so I could see him coming back here on a 1 year deal for 5-6 million bucks. I’d stay away from Mike Adams, rumblings about his shoulder don’t give me the warm and fuzzies.

  10. hk

    October 09, 2012 11:24 AM


    I’m on board with your plan except for the part about Cody Ross, who I assume will be looking for more years and dollars than he will be worth if the plan is to use him in a corner OF platoon. I think there would be more cost effective ways of handling that role (i.e. Bill’s suggestion of Matt Diaz).

  11. Brendan

    October 09, 2012 11:36 AM

    Supposing we went after the ideal platoons listed in the article, how much does that raise overall runs and win expectancy? I saw the first split gave us ideally 1.2 wins, but what about the other two?

  12. Bill Baer

    October 09, 2012 11:52 AM

    @ Brendan

    It depends on what you’re comparing it to. We could compare Schierholtz/whoever to Pence if we ballpark their production. Let’s assume a .350 wOBA from Schierholtz, .370 from the RH platoon partner, and .350 overall from Pence.

    We know the .350’s cancel each other out, so all we’re concerned with is the .370 from RH in 475 PA.

    ((.370-.350)/1.15)*475 = 8.3 runs

    Third base, we could compare to Polanco? Let’s assume a .300 wOBA for him over a full season, as well as .330 for Frandsen vs. LHP and .360 from Chavez vs. RHP in 475 PA.

    ((.330-.300/1.15)*225 = 5.9 runs

    ((.360-.300/1.15)*475 = 24.8 runs

    So a Frandsen/Chavez platoon would be about three wins better offensively than Polanco, assuming all of my ballpark estimates are close to accurate. I don’t do projections, which is why I’m eyeballing averages on the past three or so seasons.

    Of course, if you are comparing Frandsen/Chavez to something else, like Chase Headley for instance, then it doesn’t come out as great.

  13. LTG

    October 09, 2012 12:11 PM

    Let’s put Cody Ross at 3B!

  14. nik

    October 09, 2012 12:15 PM

    I also like the Hairston idea. He’ll be a good RH bat, but also will save Hamels about a quarter of a run off his ERA and will allow Scott Franzke to live a longer, happier life.

  15. Ryan

    October 09, 2012 12:16 PM


    BJ Upton(



    Base Running:

    Shane Victorino (



    Base Running:

    If anything, Upton is regressing in the field and on the bases, not Victorino who simply came back to earth after an incredible 2011 season. I feel strongly that Shane’s bat will bounce back once he’s healthy. I would NOT sign Upton unless it’s a really reasonable deal–3 years or less, $14m/season or less which I don’t think is in the cards. Victorino is the value play here on a reasonable one or two year deal at $10-$12m/season.

  16. nik

    October 09, 2012 12:30 PM

    The one thing Victorino has going that Upton will not is the fact that he wont cost us a draft pick. Pagan shouldn’t either. So yeah I guess I’ll be alright with Vic as long as it a 2 year deal – max.

  17. Ryan

    October 09, 2012 12:58 PM

    Ahh…I forgot about the draft pick. That makes bringing back Victorino even more attractive.

  18. LTG

    October 09, 2012 01:26 PM

    SSS on the UZR numbers, but we at least should compare the two at the same position. Shane was -2.4 UZR/150 in CF and +19.3 in LF (where he played for the Dodgers who don’t understand that Matt Kemp is bad enough at CF that they should hurt his feelings.)

    So, the 2012 UZR/15 line for Shane in Ryan’s post should be (-2.4) not 4.3.

    Given the error bars around advanced defensive metrics, we can just take note that both Upton and Shane went from positive to negative in both UZR and DRS in CF from last season to this season. It looks like the metrics say they are both losing some defensive chops and are more or less of equal defensive value in CF.

  19. hk

    October 09, 2012 01:30 PM

    The supply of free agent CF’s (Hamilton, Bourn, Upton, Victorino, Pagan and Melky) seems likely to outweigh the demand for them – the big spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers have the position filled – which should enable at least one shrewd and patient GM to get a great value to fill the position. At the right price (in both $ and years), I would not mind the Phils signing any of those listed above.

  20. Dante

    October 09, 2012 02:58 PM

    hk – And the only guy that will definitely cost them a pick is Hamilton. Upton is no guarantee, as he was only paid $7 mil last year, and a qualifying offer will be around $13 mil. I agree tho that there are plenty of defensable options. Melky and Victorino would be the buy-low guys, and Bourn is likely to be the most over priced (depending on how you feel about Hamilton).

  21. nik

    October 09, 2012 03:02 PM

    Bourn and Upton are getting qualifying offers, no question about it. Rays would have positive trade value with him if he accepted it.

  22. Patrick Sullivan

    October 09, 2012 05:00 PM

    Since the Phillies mgmt is sort of old school, maybe you guys should print out your posts and mail them to the ballpark so that they are read by someone on Ruben’s staff.

    Think of it like an old school RSS feed.

  23. Rich

    October 10, 2012 06:49 AM

    The 1993 Phillies were a freak team, they had a certain chemistry which is why they got as far as they did.

    Was platooning a part of it? Yes, but was it the reason they did so well?

    No one even picked them to do well in Spring Training, they just had that magic that the 2008 team had, which isn’t the guys we have on the Phillies today.

    Platooning can only go so far, if the players platooning don’t produce, you have nothing. The Mayberry/Brown experiment should be over (but it isn’t due to them being so young and not earning a ton of money), they’ve had plenty of chances, and have proved that they aren’t everyday players in the MLB.

  24. Ryan

    October 10, 2012 09:24 AM

    Platooning, health, and career years were a much bigger deal than chemistry. The team’s MVP, Lenny Dykstra, was never again healthy enough to play more than 84 games in a season. This all occurred despite Dykstra having signed a four year deal, with an option for a fifth year, during the 1993 season which offered almost no return for the Phillies. He was second in the MVP balloting during the 1993 season. He would have been the World Series MVP if the Phillies won as he hit .348 with 4 home runs, 7 walks, and 4 steals.

    Darren Daulton, a 1993 all-star who finished seventh in the MVP voting, also broke down following the 1993 season and only played over 100 games once for the rest of his career mainly due to knee injuries (he had more than seven knee surgeries). He signed a four year extension in 1992.

    Curt Schilling was also injured for much of the 1994 and 1995 seasons. Tommy Greene, who threw 200 innings in 1993, never again threw more than 36.

    Injuries are why the 1993 Phillies fell apart. Chemistry didn’t have much to do with it.

  25. nik

    October 10, 2012 09:49 AM

    Its interesting to look at the WAR numbers of the 93 squad. I was shocked to see that the best pitcher that year wasn’t Greene or Schilling, but it was actually Terry Mulholland. The team actually gave up more runs than they did in 1992. The entire reason they won was hitting – the career years from Dykstra and Daulton and the healthy contributions for guys like Incaviglia and Chamberlain in their platoon roles.

  26. LTG

    October 10, 2012 10:56 AM

    Chemistry had a lot to do with it, just not interpersonal chemistry.

    Most overrated Stone film:
    a) Platoon
    b) JFK
    c) all of them

  27. Ryan

    October 10, 2012 02:26 PM

    If I recall correctly, Terry Muhlholland started the all-star game that year but kind of faded down the stretch a bit while Schilling and Tommy Greene came on. Daulton was actually having a better year in 1994 when he blew out his good knee mid-season (he originally blew the other one out in 1986 and had finally recovered) and was never the same after that.

  28. Phillie697

    October 10, 2012 02:42 PM

    Gotta love the “they had that magic” argument. I have that magic too, believe it or not. You don’t believe me? Prove me wrong then.

  29. Smitty

    October 10, 2012 02:44 PM

    The big free agents be damned……and the winners of the free agent sweepstakes : Keppinger, Willingham, Brandon Moss (yes the same one from LHV), the Tampa Ray closer,our very own Chad Durbin (who without him the Braves would have burned up the pen again), the great Grilli (2nd all star year with Pirates), Travis Blackney (A’s pitcher-former Phils minor league free agent), and a host of others. See Juan Pierre also. This is all emblematic of a game that enjoys a very high level of proficiency and the difference between good and very good can be very slim ! But rarely worth 100’s of millions of dollars…

  30. nik

    October 10, 2012 04:18 PM

    Picking and choosing former scrubs that ‘made it’ isnt productive. For every Grilli there are 20 Zagurskys.

  31. mac

    October 10, 2012 05:45 PM

    all well and good, except the phillies dont need to do what the A’s have to do. The phillies can spend a lot of money unlike the A’s, they got under the luxury tax this past season for that reason. they’re going to spend, this platoon stuff is mostly pointless, whether it’s the right or wrong move, the platoon thing won’t happen, probably at 3B cause no one’s out there, but i’d be stunned if they didnt spend on the OF.

    buying expensive players doesnt guarantee anything, but at least you’re hopefully spending it on a player that’s already shown ability for success, platooning mediocre players is damn risky and usually doesnt work.

    It worked for the A’s this season, but they’ve probably been trying the same thing since the last time they made the playoffs which was what? 2006.

    With the age of the phillies players, they can’t afford to chance it with hoping that mediocre talent works out well dependent on matchups. Best thing to do is to invest in proven talent. Whether or not it works, at least up front you know the talent capability is there so there’s a better chance for success.

  32. Phillie697

    October 10, 2012 06:50 PM


    All well and good. So please provide us, in your opinion, 1) how much money you think the Phillies have to spend THIS off-season, considering we have something like $125M tied to just 7 players; and 2) who you would spend this supposedly large amount (at least I’m assuming that’s what you meant) on that would be that much more productive and/or reliable than the platoons mentioned here.

    Easy to criticize based on theory; it’s a lot harder when you have to put it into practice.

  33. Tavian

    October 10, 2012 07:34 PM

    Great article that makes a lot of sense (Platooning) and does not break the bank for the Phils. Cody Ross is my choice for a CFer.

  34. Greg

    October 11, 2012 12:10 AM

    They only way I want the phils to sign Cody Ross is if, immediately after signing him, they offer to give him a ride home, and send the car off the Walt Whitman Bridge.

  35. Winchimp

    October 11, 2012 11:02 AM

    So if you’re platooning Howard, do you pinch hit for him every time a lefty reliever enters the game? Sitting him against lefty starters assures that he will be less effective against any lefty. In business terms, so much of baseball success is creating value. Seems to me this is the opposite of creating value.

  36. Brendan Keeler

    October 11, 2012 11:07 AM

    Thanks for the breakdown Bill.

  37. BobSmith75

    October 11, 2012 11:12 AM

    It does make sense to sit Howard vs. some LHP starters (especially hard-throwing LHP with a good slider). Won’t happen though at this point.

    Why do you keep insisting that the Phils’ younger prospects in the bullpen worked well this season? You can slice it any way you want to selectively make your point but on the whole it didn’t if you include all of the young arms the Phils used. Big reason the Phils are home this year in Oct was the mediocre middle relief they got most of the year.

  38. Phillie697

    October 11, 2012 02:52 PM


    You know what creating value for the sake of creating value does? Makes you miss the playoffs. For a very obvious example, see Well, Vernon, The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

  39. Rich

    October 11, 2012 07:31 PM

    Though it can be argued, I am still thinking that some sort of good chemistry is usually present. This quote from a recent article on that on

    Paul Konerko, on his way to another big season with the White Sox, comes down on the other side of the chemistry issue. When his 2005 South Siders rolled to a World Series title, the first baseman was convinced their collective attitude was the difference.

    “When we left Spring Training,” Konerko recalled, “no one thought we were a good team. Everyone on that team thought we had a solid team. We hung out together and started winning games, and it kind of took off. That was a team that had fun together, and it carried over to the field.

    “We had a lot of close games. We didn’t bomb a lot of people and put games away. We didn’t score a ton of runs, but we put together rallies and won games late. Some of that has to come from being on the same page and pulling together. You have to believe in chemistry when you go through something like that.”

    “We’ve seen examples where teams don’t get along and win. Look at the A’s [in the ’70s], the Yankees with Reggie and [Thurman] Munson going at it, even the Dodgers. You might not like somebody, but you respect what he does on the field.

    Sure, chemistry makes for an easier environment to work together. But do you really think guys think about chemistry when they’re on the field? Come on.”
    — Davey Lopes

    Skip Schumaker is one of those guys you can visualize managing in the Major Leagues. A versatile catalyst in the Cardinals’ successful run the past seven seasons, he has absorbed all the elements that go into the making of a champion. Chemistry, he concludes, is an essential component.

    “It’s 100-percent chemistry,” Schumaker said. “Our general manager, John Mozeliak, has done a great job of identifying not just good players, but good clubhouse guys. A lot of our guys hang out after games. It’s easier to win when you like each other.

    “Young guys come up and feel they belong. We have a really good blend of veterans and young guys. You have to make them feel comfortable on the field and in the clubhouse.”

    The Cardinals have been going through myriad transitions with the departures of manager Tony La Russa, pitching coach Dave Duncan and superstar Albert Pujols. Carlos Beltran, signed as the primary Pujols replacement in the lineup, has flourished the way Lance Berkman did when he arrived in 2011.

    “I didn’t know how good Berkman and Beltran were in the clubhouse until they got here,” Schumaker said. “We’ve had strong veteran leaders since I’ve been here, and those guys fit right in.”

    Just something to chew on with the ‘chemistry’ bit, all great teams have chemistry… most of the time this season we seen a lot of heaviness and long faces which of course losing with bring too…

  40. Bill Baer

    October 11, 2012 07:35 PM

    Baseball players and coaches are actually dead last on the list of people whose opinions I’d trust on the meaningfulness or presence/absence of chemistry.

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