Thoughts on platooning. 112 comments

Talking yesterday about Justin Ruggiano and whether he is platooning, being called on to give certain players a breather against left-handers, or whatever, here is one from the archives about platooning.



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. 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.

The 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 advantage is now lost. You might face the starter twice.

There is an old saying “don’t throw good money after bad money.” That is what platooning players is.

You have half a player on your roster. But in order to make it work, you have to get another half a 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.

In a manager’s defense, all this platooning might be because he has a roster full of guys who shouldn’t be here in the first place. Platooning is how a manager copes with given a roster of halves.

Where I find this entire argument for building a lineup with sabermetrics, of constant tinkering by numbers, to fall apart is that it seems managers just look at righty/lefty splits. They ignore home/away splits. They ignore day game/night game splits.

They simply go righty/left, and call it a day.

Platooning is not a new invention. Nothing is in baseball. It’s just that managers in the past avoided it because, in the words of legendary manager Walt Alston, it “weakened a player’s confidence.”

It weakens a fan’s resolve as well.

Where’s the joy in rooting for a revolving door of utility players?