Sunday, April 6, 2014

Looking, statistically, at the Dodgers' potential outfield platoons

The first day Don Mattingly got the chance to deal with the four outfielder situation, a tough lefty was on the mound and he actually sat Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. It was kind of obvious to sit one or the other so Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig could play. But going the extra step and playing Scott Van Slyke in left field was a surprising move.

If you take a look at each player's career splits, the SVS/Kemp/Puig outfield is by far the best Dodger fans can do against left-handed pitching. I'm going to use a stat called wRC+ (weight runs created) here which wraps up all you do at the plate and compares it to a league-average hitter (100 is average).

Ethier and Crawford are terrible hitters vs. lefties -- each in the 75-80 range (think Eric Young/Zack Cozart). Kemp and Puig are monsters against LHP, around 170 (think Mike Trout/Chris Davis) and Van Slyke, so far, has been about 20 percent better than league-average (Jay Bruce/Adam Jones). The comparisons I'm making are in terms of the players' overall line, not their split against lefties.

Against Righties, Puig and Ethier are by far the two best choices, around 145 (Joe Mauer/Matt Holliday). Crawford, Kemp and Van Slyke are all about the same, close to 110 (Kyle Seager/Austin Jackson). Now, it's not going be SVS in that situation, so it comes down to Crawford vs. Kemp. Crawford has the edge in defense and baserunning, and remember, we didn't use Crawford against lefties. So if you wanted him to get any starts, you have to give him most of these.

The problem is that about 70-75 percent of the starting pitchers are right-handed, and you're not going to sit Kemp that much. Ethier and Crawford have both been saying team-positive things about the situation, while Kemp, honestly, has not.

Typically, even in games started by righties, around the seventh inning the opposing manager is going to be thinking LOOGY when Ethier and/or Crawford come up. They won't go that way if they know Kemp is on the bench, though. Or even if it's just Van Slyke on the bench, as long as Donnie actually pinch-hits aggressively in that situation, the Dodgers could find themselves in a lot of good match-ups this year. Joc Pederson could get a call-up, especially if there is an injury, but he is another left-handed hitter who can't hit left-handed pitching, so he doesn't really fit well.

For the three outfield spots and some pinch-hit and DH duty, there are probably 600 plate appearances against lefties and 1,525 against righties. But there's a further constraint, as Crawford can only playing left field. Kemp could play all three positions, but that'd just be another thing to upset him. With his arm, Puig is going to be in right if he's on the field (barring the occasional CF emergency).

If you work the platoons as much as you reasonably can, you can get Ethier and Crawford about 450-475 plate appearances each, 80 percent of which would be against righties (we want them to get more than that 70-75 percent number the league offers). Puig and Kemp can get 535 PA each, two-thirds more against righties (we want them to get less than that 70-75 percent number the league offers). And there's still 150-200 chances for SVS, counting a little first base in there. Except for Vans Slyke, these guys have all been regulars and are used to playing the league-average amount against  righties. If we can get the platoon advantage to the degree I just spelled out, I'm comfortable (after running the numbers) raising my projection (wRC+) for all these guys a little.

My Official Projection
Maximum Platooning
Van Slyke

Not a huge impact, but it helps. In fact, the total impact to the team in the wins above replacement framework would be close to one expected win.

It puts some kind of logic behind who plays in which situaton. For Ethier, it is a particular boon. I had been looking for him to continue his decline, but if the Dodgers can finally hold him out against lefties, his production could have more of an impact.

Photo credit: McD22, Flickr

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