Friday Rockpile: The Platoonic Ideal

Dustin Bradford

The Rockies appear to be assembling a roster heavy on players with significant platoon splits. Will strict platoons be the modus operandi for 2014?

It has been a very busy off-season so far for the Colorado Rockies, as they come off a second consecutive last place season. The Front Office seems to be of the mindset of, "if it's broke, fix it." To that end, they've jettisoned Dexter Fowler, various under-performing pitchers (both relievers and starters), Jonny Herrera, and Todd Helton.

Their position player replacements (Justin Morneau, Drew Stubbs, and Brandon Barnes) don't look spectacular on the surface. None of the three are coming off great years, and each has significant red flags (Morneau's concussion; Stubbs' strikeout rate; Barnes' general badness). What they have in common, though, is significant platoon splits.

Avg OBP SLG wRC+
Justin Morneau vs. lefties (2013) 0.207 0.247 0.278 42
Justin Morneau vs. lefties (career) 0.25 0.298 0.411 86
Justin Morneau vs. righties (2013) 0.28 0.352 0.467 126
Justin Morneau vs. righties (career) 0.292 0.372 0.52 133

Avg OBP SLG wRC+
Drew Stubbs vs. lefties (2013) 0.266 0.361 0.357 107
Drew Stubbs vs. lefties (career) 0.274 0.349 0.448 117
Drew Stubbs vs. righties (2013) 0.216 0.275 0.362 78
Drew Stubbs vs. righties (career) 0.226 0.296 0.356 78

I'm not going to make a table for Barnes since he seems to be destined for AAA or at the most 5th outfielder, but he's a career 106 wRC+ against lefties and a 49 wRC+ against righties. Just so we're all on the same page, wRC+ measures offense relative to league average, so 106 is 6% better than average; 49 is 51% worse.

So these guys, particularly Stubbs and Morneau, are very effective hitters against opposite-handed pitchers. Meanwhile, they are borderline unplayable against same-handers. If these guys end up being the last of the Rockies' major additions, then it would seem that the team has hitched their wagon to a platoon strategy.

How might this shake out when Walt Weiss constructs lineups come opening day? It's hard to tell for sure right now, since we are still waiting to see who the Rockies acquire to be the backup catcher and utility infielder (RIP Jonny Herrera). But if we assume that A) Wilin Rosario gets the majority of starts behind the dish and not at first and B) the outfield consists of Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, and Charlie Blackmon, then it might go something like this:

Starting lineup vs. lefties

1. Drew Stubbs (LF or CF) (117 career wRC+)

2. DJ LeMahieu(?) (2B) (65)

3. Carlos Gonzalez (LF or CF) (101)

4. Troy Tulowitzki (SS) (134)

5. Michael Cuddyer (1B) (129)

6. Wilin Rosario (C) (162)

7. Nolan Arenado (3B) (120)

8. Corey Dickerson/Charlie Blackmon (RF) (49/108)

9. Pitcher (P) (lousy)

Starting lineup vs. righties

1. Corey Dickerson/Charlie Blackmon (RF) (109/81)

2. DJ LeMahieu (2B) (75)

3. Carlos Gonzalez (CF) (137)

4. Troy Tulowitzki (SS) (119)

5. Michael Cuddyer (RF) (106)

6. Justin Morneau (1B) (133)

7. Wilin Rosario (C) (82)

8. Nolan Arenado (3B) (63)

9. Pitcher (P) (bunt)

Now the wisdom of these lineups can be debated; maybe you think Josh Rutledge will take the 2B job from DJ. Regardless of whom the second baseman is, he might get dropped to 7th or 8th instead of second. Anyway, that's mostly cosmetic stuff; these lineups ought to have all the starters.

First impressions: we should kill lefties. Stubbs, Tulo, Cuddyer, Nolan, and especially Rosario rock lefties. I was surprised Cargo's wRC+ against southpaws was only 101, but he's obviously still dangerous. Charlie Blackmon has an interesting reverse platoon split, and Dickerson doesn't have very good career numbers yet, but both those guys are operating on a pretty small sample size, so it's hard to judge either way. I don't think either guy will be useless against lefties. Also, this seems like an optimal defensive alignment (ie, Cuddyer is at first).

Against righties (which are more frequent opponents) the bats of Arenado, Rosario, and Cuddyer will be slightly neutralized, and Stubbs will be pushed to the bench. Meanwhile, Cargo gets a huge boost. And, obviously, Justin Morneau will enter the fray with his 133 career mark (126 last year). I would imagine Dickerson will get the majority of righty starts in left field, and I'm excited to see what he can do.

So against lefties we can basically count on 6 above average bats (I'm not counting Blackmon yet; I want to see a bigger body of work first). Against righties we can count on 5 above average bats (I'm going to count Dickerson though, because I'm a blind optimist).

Furthermore, the bench should be vastly improved. Having Morneau, Stubbs, and Blackmon in the wings provides three solid bats to trot out in advantageous situations. That certainly beats last year when our big pinch hit threats were Charlie Culberson, Jonathan Herrera, and Jordan Pacheco.

Juggling rest days and injuries could (will) mess with the puzzle somewhat, but outfield depth now appears to be something of a strength of the Rockies', as they can recall Barnes or plug in Dickerson/Blackmon on those occasions. Additionally, we now have three bats that could take reps at first base (Morneau, Cuddyer, Rosario). Roles might not be particularly settled, but maybe that's a good thing. Flexibility, baby.

So it appears that the Rockies' 2014 season will involve a lot of rearranging of deck chairs. Hopefully this occurs aboard a cruise ship to the playoffs, and not the Titanic, but only time will tell.

LINKS

The Rockies were named the Topps organization of the year. This might strike you as strange, considering we're coming off back-to-back last place finishes, but, well, there ya go. The award is given to the team that amasses the most points via earning Topps awards in both the Majors and Minors. It's not a World Series victory, but it's nice, I guess.

Dick Monfort's most recent email to season ticket holders.

Bill Geivett talks Rockies with the guys at MLB Network. It's an interesting little conversation, though there aren't any big revelations.

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