The Potential Of The Platoons, And Why They Were The Answer

It's been an unusual offseason for the Boston Red Sox. Constrained by an unusually rigid financial situation, Ben Cherington has had to jump through hoops to make the smallest changes to the roster. More than anything, it's been a year where any new acquisition requires a significant sacrifice to be made. Most notably, in order to replace the departing Jonathan Papelbon and (presumably) shore up the starting rotation, the team has had to part ways with both their starting shortstop and starting right fielder.

While it's not generall advisable to sacrifice a starting position player for a reliever, the philosophy behind the moves is becoming clear as the 25-man roster approaches completion. Ben Cherington is betting the season on the platoon. In right field, at shortstop, and even behind the plate, the Sox have lined up players with some pretty heavy platoon splits on the cheap, hoping that when put together, they'll prove to be worth quite a bit more than their combined salaries.

Let's take a look at some of the numbers:

Right Field


PA AVG OBP SLG BB K
Ryan Sweeney 2011 Vs. RHP: 249 .286 .365 .377 28 37
Ryan Sweeney Career Vs. RHP: 1319 .296 .352 .402 106 169

PA AVG OBP SLG BB K
Cody Ross 2011 Vs. LHP: 110 .234 .336 .362 14 23
Cody Ross Career Vs. LHP: 759 .282 .349 .563 67 134

Shortstop

PA AVG OBP SLG BB K
Nick Punto 2011 Vs. RHP: 109 ..281 ..387 .427 16 16
Nick Punto Career Vs. RHP: 2022 244 .326 .326 220 369

PA AVG OBP SLG BB K
Mike Aviles 2011 Vs. LHP: 93 .318 .348 .576 4 11
Mike Aviles Career Vs. LHP: 416 .299 .344 .470 27 46

Catcher

PA AVG OBP SLG BB K
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 2011 Vs. RHP: 263 .247 .304 .481 17 87
Jarrod Saltalamacchia Career Vs. RHP: 833 .265 .331 .441 70 251

PA AVG OBP SLG BB K
Kelly Shoppach 2011 Vs. LHP: 125 .241 .344 .444 13 32
Kelly Shoppach Career Vs. LHP: 487 .274 .373 .536 51 145

On the surfacce, it actually paints a fairly encouraging picture.

Last year, in right field, the Red Sox' right fielders contributed a .292 wOBA (.233/.302/.369) to the team. Even if we just look at their diminished 2011 seasons, Sweeney and Ross can be expected to outproduce that. Given their career numbers, they have the potential to do a lot more. They may not carry quite the same level of potential as Josh Reddick did on the whole, but so long as Sweeney doesn't cede too many plate appearances against righties to Cody Ross, who seems to be unfairly viewed as the marquee name in right, Sox fans shouldn't be missing him too terribly much come July.

Behind the plate the improvement is more obvious, since it's just a matter of switching Shoppach's ridiculous performance against lefties in for Varitek's. The losses are more centered in areas that are difficult to measure and possibly not terribly impactful, but then again it will be nice to have someone with an arm that won't tempt Vladimir Guerrero to take his chances on the basepaths, too.

The player who really sticks out like a sore thumb in all this is Nick Punto and his .652 OPS against righties. In fact, even Mike Aviles is better! Marc covered this particular platoon a couple days back, and as he pointed out the real draw with Punto is that he's got a decent glove at a tough position, especially compared to Aviles. In that piece, Marc suggests the possibility of a platoon based more on our pitcher than the opponent's. A player like Clay Buchholz who induces a lot of ground balls would bring a start for Punto, while someone like Josh Beckett would pull Aviles.

There are some issues, of course. For one, platoon splits require some pretty significant sample sizes before they can really be depended on. Of the players listed above, only Nick Punto has the sort of experience required. A player like Kelly Shoppach, with a massive 100 point platoon split in wOBA, isn't really likely to bring a .389 wOBA to the party even if he hits exclusively against lefties. On the whole, results should be diminished from what you would get simply by smashing the two players at each position together, with weights applied for the number of righties and lefties in the league.

Then there's the simple matter that we aren't going to be seeing a perfect implementation in all likelihood. How often is Bobby V. going to be willing to bring his backup catcher into the game in the seventh inning against a reliever? Is Cody Ross really going to take only about 25% of the starts in right field? That's another hit to the numbers. Some of this can be made up for by moving players like Sweeney (who so often goes opposite field) and Aviles to Fenway, of course.

On the whole, the platoons aren't likely to provide a perfect replacement to the players we lost. It won't be hard to improve on last year's right field output, but I find it hard to believe that Punto and Aviles will actually match Scutaro without Aviles putting on a show like he did in 2008 and 2010.

But the fact of the matter is that given the club's financial situation, there was no perfect answer, and finding one at all was quite the tall task. The question is not so much whether Punto and Aviles are as good as Marco Scutaro as it is if Punto and Aviles are closer to Marco Scutaro than a $1.5 million starter is to a Gavin Floyd or Roy Oswalt. For my money, the answer is clearly "yes".

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