Tribe added roughly two wins by platooning players in 2013

Ryan Raburn


Were you one of those Tribe fans who, upon looking at the team’s batting order on a given day, was left scratching your head when you saw names like “Raburn” batting clean-up? Turns out that all of those ostensibly random platoon moves of 2013 may have been one of the many integral decisions that landed the Cleveland Indians in the postseason.

In his latest column for ESPN The Magazine, Peter Keating discussed the value of platooning throughout an MLB season. Natrually, Oakland and their Moneyball approach led the narrative, but it was this bit from Keating that caught this scribe’s eye:

The proportion of plate appearances in which Oakland hitters batted with the platoon advantage has climbed in each of the past four years, from 54.2 percent in 2009 to 70.4 percent in 2013. And the A’s have won back-to-back AL West titles.

Indians batters had the platoon advantage even more often than Oakland in 2013, in a league-leading 70.5 percent of plate appearances. Terry Francona platooned or substituted at three spots and regularly used switch-hitters at two more. The result: Eleven Indians had at least 300 plate appearances, and even though none of them hit .300, had 25 homers or drove in 85 runs, Cleveland scored 745 runs, fourth most in the AL.

Overall, hitting with the platoon advantage in MLB has inched up from 54 percent in 2010 to 55.5 percent last season, the highest proportion since 1995 but far below the 60 percent range of the late 1980s. Switching one plate appearance to gain the platoon advantage yields about 0.03 of a run, according to research by Bojan Koprivica of the Hardball Times. So teams like Oakland and Cleveland are adding at least two wins a year by platooning.

Each individual game may appear marginal on the cover, but those minor advantages undeniably add up over the course of a full season. Those two wins, assuming the analysis holds true, seemingly meant the difference between postseason baseball and another lost season.

This coming season appears to have more of the same tactics in store. Last season, Jason Giambi took 173 of his 186 total at-bats against right-handed pitchers. Raburn, in 2013, provided a slash line of .308/.403/.617 (1.020 OPS) against left-handed pitchers. In 2014, he’ll be sharing right field with David Murphy, a player who, over the last three years, has produced .271/.338/.451 (.789 OPS) against right-handers. Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera are switch-hitters; Santana will likely see plenty of time at third base in the event a left-hander is on the hill as Lonnie Chisenhall han an OPS of .408 against southpaws in 2013. If all goes to plan, all of these switch-hitters and platooned players will once again have something to play for once the calendar changes to October.

(Photo: @MarkShapiro, Cleveland Indians)

  • mgbode

    It definitely appears to be the plan with Santana learning 3B and signing Murphy that we will be going even more platoon-heavy this season. I love the thought process and think it is a great idea to get the most out of some of the more average players (making them slightly above average players by platooning).

    It only works if the guys are good at their platoon splits though. No amount of platooning would have saved some of the OF rotations from 2008-2012. And, as shown above, no amount of platooning will save Giambi’s career (hey, you knew it was coming and I didn’t want to disappoint).

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Interesting. I used to try platooning in fantasy as a value proposition, and it was pretty effective in the sense that playing matchups when you’re able to should add up to some value, so it’s cool to see it quantified in the real world.

    The Q becomes whether as a general rule that holds, however – obviously if there’s no player available full time platooning matchups can help, but if for the price as those two players you could have had a full-time starter and a weaker bench player do you truly come out ahead? If so, are we looking at a future of teams with a couple stars and a whole bunch of platoon options to maximize value within each game?

  • Steve

    “If so, are we looking at a future of teams with a couple stars and a whole bunch of platoon options to maximize value within each game?”

    Not really a future, Earl Weaver was on top of this idea a long time ago. I’m not sure why it took so long to get some notice again.

  • nj0

    Santana at 3B isn’t going very well.

  • mgbode

    thanks for the update. hadn’t seen much on it. but, the fact that we would even try it shows that Tito is very much moving forward with his heavy platoon thought process.

  • Ed Carroll

    Still early, but I will be really surprised if Santana gets even half the starts at 3B – think he’s gonna be part-time there, maybe 10-20 starts, tops, when they can hide him depending on who’s starting.

  • mgbode

    if things go well, then the plan I thought was only 3B vs. LHP. that would mean less than 25% of the starts, right? and even then, likely not all those games. so, maybe 20%? that would be 32games if he can handle the position defensively. it could be a bigger boost since it would help the offense (due to no Chisenhall v. LHP).

  • Ed Carroll

    Completely agree with your overall point (though I do want Chisenhall to get starts here and there vs. LHP, need to make sure he’s not just a platoon guy), but concerned 32 games could still be too many at 3B. I just get the feeling his defense will be BAD. And considering nobody but Swisher can field in the infield, and the Indians have an extreme groundball pitcher in a guy like Masterson, it’s a concern.

    But as a flexibility option to keep Santana’s bat in the lineup (where it should always be, since he’s pretty much the team’s best offensive player)? Down with that.