I grew up watching baseball in the 70s. Specifically, I followed the Cincinnati Reds. The decade of the ‘70s was the golden era of being a Reds fan, just like 2010/2011 was the golden era of being a Rangers fan.
Like the Rangers, the Reds fell on hard times once their golden era tarnished. It was ten year before they made it back to relevance, and then for only a short time. As the Rangers have seen, that window of opportunity isn’t a birthright, and when it shuts, it shuts hard. Texas’s window closed, and it doesn’t look like it’s opening for a long, long time. It is difficult for a franchise to sustain winning. Only a rare few do.
But what I remember about that Reds team, and most of the other great teams growing up, was there were very few platoon players. If you made it to the big leagues, you were a big league hitter. You batted against righties and lefties.
You knew who was going to play where each day. Because that was their position. Because they earned the right to that position. Because if they were so bad against lefties or righties, they didn’t have a position.
They guys who didn’t hit well against both sides had a name: Minor leaguers.
What made it even more noteworthy is, back then, pitchers went the entire game, or most of the entire game. So if you were batting against a lefty to start the game, you were batting against that same lefty the entire game.
Now, it’s different. Now, if you start against a lefty, after five innings the pitcher is yanked, and the second half of the game is an endless parade of relievers, could be right-handed, could be left-handed.
So the platoon idea is a bit over-rated. You might face the guy twice.
There is an old saying “don’t throw good money after bad money.” That is what platooning players is.
You have a bad player on your roster. But in order to make it work, you have to get another bad player that hits the opposite pitching well.
Platooning is a way to justify having a lineup of mediocre players. Platooning is what you do when you have guys who really shouldn’t be on a major league roster. Maybe if we give them the best chance to succeed, they will succeed.
The Rangers have a roster full of guys who can’t hit righty-lefty, let alone righty righty or lefty-rigthy. It’s not that they can’t hit a guy throwing from the same side, it’s that they can’t hit at all.
Platooning is not a new invention. Nothing is in baseball. It’s just that managers in the past avoided it because it, in the words of legendary manager Walt Alston, “weakened a player’s confidence.”
Now, manager think they have to earn their money. If they are not constantly tinkering with platoons, they are accused of ignoring sabermetrics.
Where I find this entire argument for building a lineup with sabermetrics to fall apart is, it seems managers just look at righty/lefty splits. They ignore home/away splits. They ignore day game/night game splits. Banister ignores specific splits a guy has against specific pitchers.
He just goes righty/left, and calls it a day.
If a manager was truly a champion of sabermetrics, he would follow them all the way. But they don’t.
Ian Kinsler is a prime example. He was a very good hitter, All-Star caliber in fact, during his time with the Rangers, when he played at home. But when he played on the road, he turned into a blind Leonys Martin. In fact, Kinsler’s road batting average put him among the five worst hitters of all time in major league history.
Yet he wasn’t left out of the lineup on road games.
Josh Hamilton struggled mightily in day games. Yet he played most day games.
Jeff Banister likes to tinker with his lineup. Constantly juggling guys in and out. Like a wizard doing some sort of high level wizardy alchemy.
He is a master at platooning. That is not a compliment. He is not a manager, he is an over-manager.
In his defense, it might be because he has a roster full of guys who shouldn’t be here in the first place. But that doesn’t mean he has to exasperate the situation by running guys out there who should never see major league at bats.
Ron Washington was criticized for setting his lineup on opening day and leaving it that way for the rest of the season. But this is a different thing. Washington didn’t sit guys when they were killing the lineup. He didn’t move guys up or down when it was obvious they were creating huge holes. His wasn’t a platooning issue. His was a stubborn issue.
Banister just enacts Sabermetrics 101. Anyone could do that.
I’d rather lose with the same nine guys day in and day out than lose with a revolving door of washed up utility players.
Platooning is how a manager copes with his general manager assembling a bad roster.