On Sunday, Gabe Kapler pinch hit Patrick Bailey for Heliot Ramos because there was a right-handed pitcher on the mound and the leverage situation (bases loaded, one out) demanded the San Francisco Giants optimize their matchup via the platoon advantage.
Bailey is tired and not a great hitter. Heliot Ramos has played far fewer games than most of the players on the field because of his injury; but, as we saw last night, he was a three-pitch out waiting to happen. But I joked that every Giants game now features Mr. Burns pinch hitting Homer Simpson for Darryl Strawberry.
Now, obviously, this is an exaggeration. No Giant has the talent or humor of a Homer Simpson. But if they had the modern day equivalent of Darryl Strawberry, they’d still pinch hit for him late in the game in a high leverage situation.
It’s a wonder people even consider the Giants pursuing Shohei Ohtani in the offseason. For his career, he’s 19% worse against lefties than righties. Gabe Kapler would absolutely pinch hit him when the leverage situation demands it and I don’t think a player of Ohtani’s stature would appreciate sublimating his career to irrefutable evidence. Concern for his legacy outweigh a team’s devotion to logic.
Still, I wanted to see if the dumb stupid whatever platoon system is as unimpeachable as the Giants say it is. First thing’s first, though, this post is in no way a comment or critique of the specific move on Sunday Night Baseball. Patrick Bailey is an amazing glove. Heliot Ramos is a failed prospect. I don’t really care one way or the other there and for all our griping about how it seems like the Giants kinda just gave up on the season, that specific move is evidence of the opposite.
Here’s a quick review of the numbers just for the Giants:
Right-handed hitters vs. right-handed pitchers: .236/.301/.386, 51 HR, 7.1 BB%, 24.8 K%
Left-handed hitters vs. left-handed pitchers: .216/.283/.318, 10 HR, 7.0 BB%, 31.0 K%
Right-handed hitters vs. left-handed pitchers: .258/.319/.400, 31 HR, 7.2 BB%, 23 K%
Left-handed hitters vs. right-handed pitchers: .233/.329/.396, 77 HR, 11.4 BB%, 24.0 K%
Now, it depends on how you want to look at it — are you an “average only” person or a “all the numbers matter” person? — but their two best matchups are the opposite hands. That’s not a surprise at all. That’s always been the case in baseball history. Switch-hitting Bailey for can’t-hit Ramos made sense in that moment. By average, a right-handed hitter on the Giants might’ve had a better shot at getting a hit, but a left-handed hitter against a righty had a better shot of not making an out.
(Instead he made two outs, but that’s only because the Giants are unlucky and bad.)
What’s missing here is context. How do these triple slashes or rate stats compare with the league? That .258 RHH vs. LHP average is only 17th in MLB. Atlanta’s righties hit .299 against lefties. So, 17th is actually below the median, right? It’s also below the average. Using wRC+, the Giants come in at 99, or just a tick below league average (100). Atlanta remains number one at 142.
Meanwhile, the Giants’ second-best matchup — LHH vs. RHP — scales to league average (100 wRC+), a sort of funny result in that it only ranks them as high as 21st. The Astros sit atop the list with 139 and Atlanta’s #2 at 126. What balances this out is the White Sox result: 77 wRC+, dead last.
The Giants’ righty-righty matchup registers at #17 with a 90 wRC+, actually ahead of the Orioles and Brewers, two other playoff teams. I guess one could make the argument that the Giants’ right-handed hitters haven’t been the problem; but also, a lot of this result is thanks to Wilmer Flores and Thairo Estrada.
The Giants’ lefty-lefty matchup is a 69 wRC+ (25th), ahead of Arizona (67), Minnesota (61), Pittsburgh (60), Washington (58) and Milwaukee (58). Houston is 1st at 148 and the Cubs are #2 at 127 — remarkably, Cody Bellinger is hitting .335/.388/.596 against lefties this year. Boy, did the Giants pick the exact wrong season to stop pursuing former Dodgers. He was even an injury risk on a discount!
Let’s look at the heroes and villains of the platoon splits real quick, too, because I think we’re quickly arriving at our conclusion. I’ll only list the players with 100 or better wRC+:
Wilmer Flores, 130
Thairo Estrada, 110
J.D. Davis, 104
LaMonte Wade Jr., 101
Marco Luciano, 261 - I set the minimum to 10 PA and he has 13
Wilmer Flores, 145
Luis Matos, 137
Patrick Bailey, 134
Austin Slater, 122
Darin Ruf, 113 - I set the minimum to 10 PA and he had 21
**J.D. Davis, 99 - your call on if this counts**
Mike Yastrzemski, 132
LaMonte Wade Jr., 129
Joc Pederson, 121
Michael Conforto, 115
Blake Sabol, 108
I hyperlinked all these splits so go knock yourself out looking around and hunting for other bits of evidence. I guess I’m siding with the idea that the offense could’ve been worse without their firm platoon system in place, even though I can’t help but ponder if a “one size fits all” system of player deployment flattens development. I guess I can see the argument on both sides of that: sure, you lose the 2% chance that a player really flourishes after some struggles as an every day player, but most of the time a player is just going to struggle and hurt the team. Why not make hope an indoor cat? Sure, it won’t have as many adventures, but it’ll live longer. Or something.
I think it’s clear that as annoying as it looks and feels in the moment, the opposite-hand matchup — with very, very few exceptions — gives the Giants’ Bobby Evansesque lineup the best chance to produce some kind of offense.
Which means GABE IS RIGHT. THE GIANTS ARE RIGHT.
The problem is that they can’t seem to solve the puzzle of how to staff platoons with talent. Imagine if they had truly great hitters on either side of a platoon. Seems hard to imagine at this point, but the team is counting on us to keep hoping.