Friday, January 11, 2013

Sweet DeJesus

As February 12th, the day that Phillies' pitchers and catchers report to spring training, approaches, many pundits, fans, and analysts continue to discuss the Phillies recent inactivity in improving the team's 2013 outfield. As their depth chart currently stands, the Phillies will play the newly acquired Ben Revere in center field, Domonic Brown in right field, and a mix of John Mayberry Jr., Darin Ruf, and Layne Nix in left field.  If we look at "fans projections" current Phillies outfielders will produce ~ 7.9 fwins combined. For comparison's sake, the same projections have the Nationals outfield of Werth, Span, and Harper putting up more than 12 combined fwins. So, from the looks of it, the Phillies have some work to do if they expect to compete for 1st place in he NL East or even a playoff spot.

Platoon: Not Just a Movie:
Platoon was a great war movie featuring Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and Tom Berenger. In Baseball the word platoon doesn't imply an Oliver Stone directed war movie, but when two or more players (usually 2) that play the same position, split time at said position instead of anointing one the starter and the other an occasional fill-in. The usual paradigm has one player named the starter for a given position, with bench players filling in for the starter once a week or even less frequently depending on the starters' age and production. The most common reason for using the platoon model instead of the starter/reserve model is when a manager is given two players who play the same position, but one player hits only lefties well while the other only hits righties well. The lefty/righty platoon difference is very real, and General Managers often exploit this idea when it is cheaper than paying/trading for one player that hits both righties and lefties well. For example, last season the Oakland A's used this system to perfection. At first base, the A's went with the duo of Chris Carter versus left-handed pitching, and Brandon Moss versus right-handed pitching. At the designated hitter spot, the A's went with lefty Seth Smith against righties and righty Johnny Gomes against lefties.
vs. LHP vs. RHP vs. LHP vs. RHP
Player Jonny Gomes Seth Smith Chris Carter Brandon Moss
OBP 0.413 0.352 0.311 0.363
SLG 0.561 0.454 0.526 0.643
wOBA 0.418 0.345 0.386 0.419
wRC+ 171 120 149 172
Now, if I were to show you these same players' combined statistics vs. lefties and righties, all four players' numbers would seem pedestrian. On the other hand, look at the numbers in the table above. All 4 of these players stats look equivalent or better than All-Stat caliber players. Here is the best number of all. The combined salary of these 4 players in 2012 was under $6,000,000. By using a platoon at two positions, the equivalent value of 2 star players for the price of ~ 1 fwin.

The Phillies Situation:
The Phillies find themselves in a solid platoon advantage situation. It is safe to assume that new center fielder Ben Revere will, if healthy, start the majority of the games in the outfield. On the other hand, the Phillies are then left with 4 players, 2 lefties, and 2 righties, to fill the corner outfield spots. With reports on the hot stove of the Phillies standing pat with their current depth chart as well as others reporting that Ruben Amaro continues to look for an outfielder, it is safe to assume that either option is possible. Unfortunately for Amaro, the number of available outfield options has been dwindling of late with Cody Ross signing a contract in Arizona, the Indians signing Nick Swisher, and Ichiro resigning with the Yankees. 

John Mayberry Jr.
Right now, the Phillies are projected to start Domonic Brown in right field and John Mayberry Jr. in left field. Mayberry, a right-handed batter, has little trouble dominating southpaws, but might consider closing his eyes when hitting against righties as it might produce more favorable results. 
John Maybery Jr.
vs. LHP vs. RHP
OBP 0.328 0.302
SLG 0.547 0.379
wOBA 0.371 0.301
wRC+ 133 86
Mayberry plays good enough defense to play in the outfield for 100+ games a season, but given his inability to figure out right-handed pitching, it's a good bet that we see Mayberry playing at one of the outfield positions every time the Phillies face a left-handed pitcher. 

The Phillies still have Laynce Nix on the roster. Nix can play both corner outfield positions, but projects better in left, and has distinct platoon splits.  
Laynce Nix
vs. LHP vs. RHP
OBP 0.238 0.297
SLG 0.288 0.447
wOBA 0.235 0.317
wRC+ 34 89
Nix's career numbers don't look too hot against any pitchers, but if played selectively against only right-handed pitching, Nix could provide some value. He has little ability to get on base, but against righties, Nix has shown he can smash the ball, with a slugging percentage of ~.450 and an ISO of .194. Nix isn't a very good defender, and project much better as a left-handed pinch hitter off of the bench as opposed to a left-handed platoon option in the outfield. 

Domonic Brown
In right field, the Phillies project to give Domonic Brown as many starts as possible. Brown was a top prospect only 2 years ago, and most think he is just a late MLB bloomer who needs to given playing time. Whether Brown lives up to his previous hype or becomes an official bust is uncertain, but what is fairly certain is that the Phillies want Brown to start in right field. Brown, a lefty, has shown a greater propensity for hitting right-handed pitching in comparison to southpaws. 
Domonic Brown
vs. LHP vs. RHP
OBP 0.302 0.412
SLG 0.284 0.324
wOBA 0.260 0.321
wRC+ 59 99
Brown's power has been iffy since being called up to the big show, but he continues to show improved patience at the plate, making him valuable given the Phillies struggles at getting men on base. If we assume that Brown improves in 2013, against lefties and righties, he still remains a decent candidate for a platoon. More pitchers are righties, so Brown, if platooned with another player, will still get most of the at bats. A platoon of Brown and Mayberry in right field looks something like this: 
vs. LHP vs. RHP Average
Player Mayberry Brown
OBP 0.328 0.412 0.370
SLG 0.547 0.324 0.436
wOBA 0.371 0.321 0.346
wRC+ 133 99 116
Witha  platoon of Mayberry and Brown in right field, the Phillies have the ability to start a player every day who can provide above-average offensive value in right field.

In left field, the right-handed hitter the Phillies can use in a platoon is Darin Ruf. Ruf exploded on the scene last season after hitting 40+ home runs between AA and AAA, before being called up to the Major Leagues where, in limited playing time, he produced good value. Ruf is a young right-handed hitter who projects to hit left-handed pitching better than righties even though he seems to be able to put up at least average numbers against pitchers throwing from both sides of the rubber. Ruf is a big guy, and doesn't project to be an outfielder who can play 150+ games defensively without hurting his team. Combining his and Laynce Nix's numbers in left field might seem like a fit, but even if Ruf produced, Nix's numbers aren't good enough to make one solid outfielder when platooning. This leaves the Phillies with one need, a left-handed hitting corner outfielder who can hit right-handed pitching, and preferably plays above-average defense. 

The Solution:
After looking around the league for a player that fits my description above, the best player I could find is the Cubs David DeJesus. DeJesus is a veteran, having played well in Kansas City, Oakland, and most recently in Chicago. The big question is, can DeJesus + Darin Ruf combine to make an above-average left fielder like Brown and Mayberry do in right? Here are DeJesus' career splits:
David DeJesus
vs. LHP vs. RHP
OBP 0.325 0.367
SLG 0.346 0.449
wOBA 0.302 0.357
wRC+ 80 117
As you can see, DeJesus hits a bit below average vs. southpaws, but is proficient at mashing righties. Due to Ruf's limited time in MLB, I'm going to use his overall projected statistics according to Fangraphs' "Fan Projections" for both righties and lefties combined, as the projections do not show splits.
vs. LHP vs. RHP Average
Player Ruf DeJesus
OBP 0.336 0.367 0.352
SLG 0.486 0.449 0.468
wOBA 0.353 0.357 0.355
wRC+ 115 117 116
Well, the two players combined would put up almost identical numbers to the combination of Mayberry and Brown in right field. Combine these two platoons with Ben Revere in centerfield, and the Phillies could legitimately muster an outfield that doesn't force a gag reflex. In addition to DeJesus' nice splits, he is under contract for 2013 at $4.25 million, with a team option for 2014 worth $6.5 million and a $1.5 million buyout. That is a very favorable contract, given that he would immediately become the most expensive outfielder on the Phillies roster if traded to Philly. DeJesus would also make up for Ruf's defensive inefficiencies. In his career playing left field, DeJesus has posted a combined 36.2 UZR and 8 DRS. Both of those numbers show an outfielder who may not be suited for center field, but can play well in left. 

Jonathan Pettibone
So, what would the Phillies have to give up to pry DeJesus from the Cubs? First, going into any negotiation with Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, a GM has to assume that he may not end up with the better deal. On the other hand, if the return from the Cubs first well, as DeJesus does, the cubs getting the better overall deal may not make mean as much. The Cubs don't need to trade DeJesus, and the Phillies could seriously use the upgrade, so Hoyer and Epstein do hold all the cards. But, a package of RHP Jonathan Pettibone (BP ranks him the Phillies 8th best prospect) and RHP Michael Schwimmer could give the Cubs enough of a return to justify trading DeJesus while not putting another dent into the Phillies farm system. DeJesus' departure would open up the chance for the Cubs to see more of prospect Brett Jackson in the Majors, something the Cubbies weren't considering, but could prove fruitful. Acquiring Pettibone, who Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus consideres a solid #4 starter beginning in 2014, gives the Cubs a young, controllable option in their rotation as opposed to constantly signing pitchers like Scott Baker and Scott Feldman every offseason. Schimer is a young power right-handed bullpen pitcher with some MLB experience, something every team, especially one in repair, could use going forward. 

The Reality:
The Cubs have no need to trade David DeJesus unless the team on the other end of the trade truly gives them something valuable. While Pettibon + Schwimer doesn't seem like a star-studded package, it is more valuable to the Cubs than 1, maybe 2 years, of DeJesus. The Phillies would solve their outfield problem without raising payroll very much, and without depleting the last bit of talent left in their recently beleaguered farm system. The most important thing to remember is that trades are tricky, and that they sound far better in theory. In reality, this deal might be difficult to push, especially since the Cubs have no reason not to ask for a better return for DeJesus. To conclude, this deal would help both sides, probably make DeJesus happy as he would be playing for a winning team, and most importantly would most-likely end the offseason for the Phillies. Will it happen? I doubt it, but a fan can dream, can't he?

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