I'd never say never, but I'm tending towards the view that the bulk of the revamping has been completed, and that there won't be many major changes down the line between now and Opening Day. There will be some. not least because of MLB's pesky insistence on a 25-man roster not containing 27 players. But those adjustments seem more likely to come off the bottom of the roster than the top. Let's cast our eye over the way things might shake down in 2013, starting with the way Gibson might end up splitting playing time up to get the platoon advantage. Here's what we have at each position.
- Catcher: Miguel Montero (LHB), Wil Nieves (R)
- First base: Paul Goldschmidt (R), Eric Hinske (L)
- Second base: Aaron Hill (R), Martin Prado (R), Cliff Pennington (S), John McDonald (R)
- Third base: Martin Prado (R), Eric Chavez (L), John McDonald (R), Willie Bloomquist (R)
- Shortstop: Cliff Pennington (S), Willie Bloomquist (R), John McDonald (R)
- Outfield: Jason Kubel (L), Adam Eaton (L), Cody Ross (R), Gerardo Parra (L), Martin Prado (R), Eric Hinske (L)
It looks like the team has the possibility of platooning at just about every spot on the diamond if necessary, except for second-base - but since we're hoping Aaron Hill will repeat the 150+ starts he made there last season, that's not too much of an issue. But we also need to look at how well the individual players have handled facing left- and right-handed pitching. Here are the career numbers for all of the above, except Eaton. As he has only 85 career ABs, I've used his adjusted for Reno splits from last year, which are based on nearer 500 at-bats.
|H||vs. RHP||vs. LHP||Diff|
What do these numbers tell us about who should play?
Catcher. Miguel Montero. In the event Miguel Montero needs a day off, Miguel Montero should be told to suck it up and strap on his gear. If Miguel Montero falls into a wood-chipper on the way to the park, duct-tape will be used as necessary to staunch bleeding and re-attach Miguel Montero's limbs. If a nuclear strike on Miguel Montero's house reduces Miguel Montero to his constituent atoms, it'll be a decision at game time. But will probably still be Miguel Montero. I trust I am clear on this point.
First base. The numbers would tend to suggest that Hinske should start against RHP - or, at least, RHP not named "Lincecum", and Goldschmidt against the southpaws. However, Hinske's career figures ignore the fact that his best years are behind him. The last time he has a season split against RHP better than Goldie's .769 was .2009, when it was nine points higher. Over the three seasons since then, Hinske's OPS vs. RHP is only .726. Add in that Goldschmift is at the age where we can expect his numbers to improve, and we should be looking to use Paul on an everyday basis.
Second base. As noted above, this doesn't appear to be an area with platoon potential, since all the candidates are right-handed, except for the switch-hitting Pennington. Prado has actually been the better hitter over his career, and as noted previously, second-base is his "natural" position, but I don't think there's any chance of Hill being displaced - it's really the opposite of Hinske, with Hill's career splits being held down by previous years, they've been much better of late - last season his OPS was over .900 against RHP, with a reverse platoon split i.e. he hit them better than lefties. Still, if Hill needs a day off, Prado can certainly cover for him.
Third-base. It might seem like a similar situation here as first, with Chavez better against RHP than Prado, but it's not so much a mirage, caused by previous good seasons. Last year, Chavez destroyed RHP: in a not insignificant 274 PAs, he hit .298/.365/.543, a .908 OPS. If anything within 100 points of that can be maintained this year, it might make sense to use Chavez heavily when a right-hander is starting against us, and take advantage of Prado's small platoon difference somewhere else, to replace a right-handed bat somewhere else, that has a tougher time against RHP. This is where Prado's position flexibility could be useful.
Shortstop. Pennington is a switch-hitter, but it's pretty clear that he should kept away from left-handed pitchers as possible, since he's much stronger hitting southpaw. That's fine, because whichever of Bloomquist or McDonald makes the final roster - and I've a feeling one of them won't be here by Opening Day - can start against lefties.
Outfield. This is where things get complex, because we have three of the four "regular" outfielders being left-handed, and three of the four show bigger platoon splits than average [last year, the overall MLB gap was 50 points for right-handers, and 100 points for left-handers]. At over 200 points. Ross's career splits are insane for a right-hander. Whether he should play against non-southpaws is a much trickier question, because his career OPS there is the lowest of all the six outfielders (and yes, I accept I'm being charitable in calling Hinske an outfielder). I'd go with "not", and use Parra instead, but that makes Ross a very expensive, long-term platoon option.
Against left-handers, I'd like to see Prado move to left-field, because Kubel struggles terribly against them. It doesn't look like Eaton has any major issues, based on the Reno numbers - the small sample size of major-league games, where he went 10-for-32, generally supports that. Ross, of course, should start any time there's a left-hander to be seen. Put it all together, and you have the two sets of starting line-ups listed below, for when a left-hander and a right-hander are on the mound. Not that I'm saying this is what Gibson will use, but based on the career numbers above, it's what might make most sense.
|vs. RHP||vs. LHP|
|C||Miguel Montero||Miguel Montero|
|1B||Paul Goldschmidt||Paul Goldschmidt|
|2B||Aaron Hill||Aaron Hill|
|SS||Cliff Pennington||John McDonald|
|LF||Jason Kubel||Martin Prado|
|CF||Adam Eaton||Adam Eaton|
|RF||Gerardo Parra||Cody Ross|