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)