Scooter Gennett Should Not be Platooned | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Scooter Gennett had an impressive 2013 debut with the Brewers. Over 230 plate appearances — about a third of a season — Gennett’s bat produced 31% better than the league average position player (wRC+ of 131), and he combined that with above-average base running and slightly-above average defense. Gennett did so while hitting left-handed, a rare capability in the Brewers lineup.

The one thing Gennett didn’t do well was hit well off his fellow left-handers. In fact, Gennett was a bit of a disaster against left-handed pitching, striking out 32% of the time and managing only a miserable .151 wOBA. Gennett did such a poor job in that one regard that many have proposed putting him into a job-sharing arrangement — or platoon — going forward with a right-handed hitter who would bat against lefties. Some have further advocated signing a utility infielder whose primary purpose would be to give Gennett a platoon partner.

I think this is a bad idea, but it makes for a useful opportunity to talk about platoons and some of the more recent developments involving them.

Let’s start by reviewing how and why platoons exist. The science of platoons is interesting, because it’s an area of strategy on which both old-school and new-school folks agree. Baseball players and managers have long believed that batters hit opposite-handed pitchers better and we have since confirmed, statistically, that they are right. According to Baseball Reference, in 2013 alone, right-handed batters on average produced 8% better than the overall league average when hitting off of left-handed pitchers, and left-handed hitters produced 7% better when hitting off right-handed pitchers. (108 OPS+ vs. 107 OPS+, respectively).

The flip side is that these same batters also struggle by comparison when hitting against a pitcher who throws from the same side from which the batter hits. In 2013, right-handed batters hit 6% below league-average when facing right-handed pitchers, while left-handed batters hit a whopping 19% below league-average when facing left-handed pitchers. (94 OPS+ vs. 81 OPS+). If you want to know why left-handed relievers last forever in baseball, that is it. Some of the game’s best sluggers are lefties who benefit from the majority of pitchers being right-handed. So, the corresponding inability of left-handed hitters to hit left-handed pitchers is the equalizer. In fact, over the past two years, the futility level of left-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers has reached new heights, approaching almost 50 points of wOBA.  Losing 50 points of wOBA means that, against an average a left-handed pitcher, Matt Carpenter would become Alex Gordon, and Carlos Beltran would become Gregor Blanco. That’s quite a difference.

Those trends notwithstanding, not all batters have the same platoon split, and it takes a long time for a player’s individual platoon split to stabilize. According to The Book, left-handed batters stabilize their platoon deficit much faster than right-handed batters, but on average it still takes almost 1000 plate appearances to reach that milestone. To give you a sense, Matt Carpenter had over 700 plate appearances in 2013, and even he registered just 222 plate appearances against fellow left-handers.  Thus, it takes several seasons for most players to display a trustworthy platoon split. Even then, the split will always tend to keep regressing back toward the league average.

I think these principles make it clear that platooning Scooter Gennett right now would be a terrible idea. Let’s start with the reasons relating to Gennett himself:

(1)   Gennett’s woeful numbers against left-handed pitching in 2013 arose from a grand total of 41 plate appearances. For platoon evaluation, this sample size is so small as to be meaningless.

(2)   Although Gennett had a platoon split in the minors, it was much closer to the major league average. This is pretty good evidence that Gennett’s true skill in hitting left-handed pitching is significantly better than what he showed last year and will probably improve as he continues to face major league pitching.

(3)   People are fond of saying that Gennett’s gaudy production numbers from last year will probably regress. That’s almost certainly true, but then you also must accept that regression will similarly improve his numbers against lefties, probably toward or even exceeding his minor league numbers.

(4)   Gennett was only 23 years old last year! The currently-accepted performance peak for baseball players is around 27. Giving up on any important attribute of a recently-arrived, 23-year-old major leaguer is absurd. And if the Brewers do not give Gennett consistent opportunities to hit major-league left-handed pitching, he of course cannot get better at hitting them.

(5)   Moreover, we learned above that virtually all left-handed hitters struggle with left-handed pitching, and that left-handed hitters as a whole are getting worse, not better, at hitting the left-handed pitching presented to them. Even if Gennett turns out to have a notable platoon penalty, he would hardly be unique.

(6)   Last but not least, people need to appreciate that Gennett’s extraordinary production last year included his problems with lefties. In other words, even with no production against lefties, only two second-basemen in baseball had better overall production per plate appearance than Gennett last year: Robinson Cano and Matt Carpenter. No player is perfect, and if hitting left-handed pitching turns out to be Gennett’s one major weakness, suffice it to say the Brewers will have made out well.

Platooning Gennett would have disadvantages for the Brewers as well. They would have to dedicate a roster spot to a platoon partner, and would have to limit themselves to platoon partners that are right-handed. As a free agency signing, this platoon partner is likely to end up being overpaid for his occasional production, and the development of any farm-system platoon partner would similarly suffer by not being permitted to hit against right-handed pitching.  The Brewers would end up with two incomplete players.

Because the Brewers are at best a fringe contender next year, there is no reason for them to withhold opportunities for Scooter Gennett to improve his game. If the Brewers do find themselves in contention come July, they can always rent a right-handed infielder for cheap if the club’s production needs to take temporary priority over Gennett’s development.

In the meantime, the Brewers need to let Gennett take on all pitchers, and see what they have.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @bachlaw.  

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. dbug says: December 16, 2013

    With all due respect Mr. Judge, the Brewers already have a platoon partner on the roster. Moreover, that platoon partner might be made into a tradeable asset if he gets an opportunity to play and establish some value in the first half of the season. There will be plenty of time for Scooter to improve his splits, but a platoon is probably for the best of all parties for at least the first half of the 2014 season.

  2. David says: December 16, 2013

    Why would the platoon partner have to be an expensive free agent signing? Don’t we already have an expensive right handed platoon partner in Rickie Weeks?

    • dbug says: December 16, 2013

      Correct. Unless I’m missing something in this article, the author is pretending that Rickie Weeks does not exist. Perhaps he wishes so, but lets live in reality for awhile. When Rickie and Scooter split time last year, Rickie played pretty well, so let’s see if we can replicate that. In a perfect world, Weeks becomes tradeable and they move him at the trade deadline. If they can’t trade him, then they simply have a platoon that ends at the end of the year as Rickie surely won’t meet his contract vesting threshold. Then the author can re-write this article going into the 2015 season and it might make some sense.

      • SecondHandStore says: December 16, 2013

        Or the author meant over Gennett’s career they’d need a platoon partner which would either have to be a free agent who would get paid more than a normal bench player would or another prospect whose potential could be hindered by being forced into a platoon.

        Maybe try not being such a smartass.

        • dbug says: December 16, 2013

          That’s just silly. Is anyone out there seriously suggesting that Scooter will need a lifetime platoon partner? The article appears to be arguing that he should not be platooned, period. That’s a silly assertion given the realities of the Brewer’s 2014 roster and Gennett’s struggles last year. A platoon will not mean that Gennett never sees a LH pitcher, he would likely see them later in games in he starts and in batting practice.

          • Jonathan Judge says: December 17, 2013

            Hi there — I’m assuming that Scooter Gennett is the presumed starter (which seems to be the consensus now) and that Rickie Weeks is probably not going to be around by the time the season starts.

            In terms of whether Weeks should still get an opportunity to play if he is around, perhaps to showcase him, that’s one idea, but I think his value, low as it is, is going to be highest during spring training. He is a declining player with declining Old Man’s Skills.

  3. Bob Hale says: December 16, 2013

    OK, I get it. Unfortunately, we have Ricky. Could Ricky platoon with Juan at first base? Since we are stuck with both of them, let’s platoon them and give them the benefit of hitting against opposite hand pitchers. Perhaps they can hit .230, collectively, with 20 home runs. We can bat them 8th and pinch hit for them in late innings. Scooter can lead off, play every day, and develop. PERHAPS Ricky or Juan will get hot and we can trade them late next summer. Worse case, we release BOTH of them after the season, free up the salary money, AND get a real first baseman for 2015. I wonder if Melvin could use me as an assistant GM?

  4. Bob Hale says: December 16, 2013

    OK, I know Ricky can’t play first base! However, he can’t play second base either and the Brewers have had him out there FOREVER. If Yuni and Maldy can catch baseballs at first base, why can’t Ricky? Let’s get him practicing NOW. If you guys don’t like my first base platoon idea, why don’t we send Ricky to the Red Sox ( like Bill Hall ), pay his 2014 salary and let Scooter play every day?

  5. Robert says: December 16, 2013

    So success in 230 plate appearances is enough to name him the full-time starter, but 41 plate appearances isn’t sufficient to determine that he can’t hit LHPs? I’d argue that neither number is enough to really know what Scooter Gennett will be. It seems some people want to be selective about how many PAs is significant enough a sample based on the position that they’re arguing.

    • Vin B says: December 16, 2013

      I completely agree with you about selective “small sample size” label. My rule of thumb is that results with less than 100 PA is meaningless. Around half the season, so 250-350 PA depending on which side of All-Star Break, is meaningful enough if scouting reports are in agreement. In order to go against the scouting, I’d need to see 600+ PA. If you’re looking at more specific #’s: K%, BB%, Pitches per PA etc., then slightly smaller sample is OK.

      The main point I took away from this piece is: Gennett has promise and the Brewers shouldn’t stifle that by limiting his playing time and development.

    • Jonathan Judge says: December 17, 2013

      Hi guys,

      Gennett is starting in my scenario because the Brewers are increasingly making clear that is what is going to happen. His PAs this year were not sufficient to project much beyond his walk rate, strikeout rate, and home run rate. I am not assuming that his production rate from last year will continue, and have made that clear in earlier articles. He will probably regress toward league average unless he completely breaks out as a player. in which case he will certainly be playing every day.

      The Brewers’ belief that he is their starting 2B next year is probably more based on their scouting of his overall approach, and their belief that he will continue to improve. And that they control him for six years at minimal salary for the next few.

    • Dave K says: December 17, 2013

      230 is 5.6 X 41 so yes that’s a more significant sample. More significant to the discussion is the 399 PA of Rickie Weeks in 2013. .209/.306/.357 isn’t a very high bar for Gennett to exceed.

  6. J.P. Breen says: December 16, 2013

    While I don’t disagree with the point that Milwaukee isn’t in a competitive position in which they need to platoon Gennett, I’d be really careful in how you’re using minor-league splits. You can’t treat his A-ball splits the same as you’d treat his Double-A and Triple-A splits, and those have shown a significant gap between his numbers vs. RHP and vs. LHP.

    Again, not advocating a platoon at this point, but your argument regarding his minor-league numbers strays into some dangerous territory.

    • Jonathan Judge says: December 17, 2013

      Well, in fairness, it was just one of many reasons cited.

      From what I’m seeing, he’s ranged from a 37 point wOBA split in A+ ball, to an 81 point split in AA, to a 52 split at AAA. None of them is sufficient to establish a baseline. Any of them is a data point tending to indicate (however weakly) that he will improve from where he is.

      It certainly means that nobody should be deciding what he is ultimately going to be as a 23-year-old based on the MLB sample. I think looking to his minor league numbers as part of that thought process is reasonable, provided there are other reasons also considered.

  7. stabby says: December 16, 2013

    geez guys, lets not be so picky about the author’s article here…..at least he shows good agreement with me that Scooter should be our fulltime secondbaseman :)

  8. Bob Hale says: December 16, 2013

    OK, let’s agree…..no platoon. Personally, I think Scooter will hit .280/.340 and be an above average defender…..time will tell. We know what Ricky can do for $11m, let’s see what Scooter can do for $500k. Quite frankly, I think this is a no brainer.

    P.S. Doug Melvin…..PLEASE get us a first baseman!!!!!

    • Nicholas Zettel says: December 17, 2013

      I think we can all agree that if Gennett hits .280 with a .340 OBP, we’ll all be doing cartwheels — that would mean that he more than doubled his walk rate AND maintained strong average. That would be an excellent development for Gennett.

      • dbug says: December 17, 2013

        Even if that was the case, .280/.340 isn’t that great. Would you really just eat the money you are paying Weeks and let him rot on the bench all year so that Gennett can go .280/.340? That just doesn’t make any sense. If they aren’t trying to get some value out of Weeks then they may as well just pay him off now, which would be a complete waste.

  9. Dave K says: December 17, 2013

    Anyone thinking Weeks will be around on opening day is kidding themselves. Brewers want bench players with versatility. They will try to trade him and will offer to pay plenty of his salary to do so. But in the end if they can’t, they’ll just eat his contract. It’s that simple. Gennett earned the job when Weeks went down and they were a better team with Gennett in the lineup.

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