For now, the Red Sox have five guys they will definitely have roaming the outfield for the coming season. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rusney Castillo and Chris Young. At a glance, that seems like a pretty solid unit to roll out there, with dark horse MVP candidate Mookie Betts, defensive wiz JBJ, tools-y Rusney Castillo, the do-everything Holt and Chris Young to bludgeon the hell out of lefty pitchers. You could do much worse. Trust me. I’ve seen Atlanta’s outfielder depth chart. That kind of putrid is out there, and these four make up a promising bunch.
Recently, talk has sprung up involving platooning players early on. Normally, I wouldn’t mind a platoon. The 2013 squad rolled out a Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava duo in left and that worked out spectacularly. This time, however, the Sox might need to rethink a thing or two.
The most obvious thing that can be said about the outfield platoons is that Mookie isn’t a part of one. Period. If he is, something has gone drastically wrong and we live in a much crueler world that we thought. He’s too good to need a left-handed counterpart and probably won’t need one ever, if things go right.
Jackie Bradley Jr. has been the focus of some sporadic platoon talk, and the Sox would pair him with Chris Young. At first, this seems strange, because JBJ went absolutely bonkers when it came to left-handed pitching last year. Just look at this:
Promising, right? JBJ had one hell of a reverse platoon split against left-handed pitching. He slashed .306/.390/.528 with a .314 TAv against southpaws, and made managers rue the day they brought out a LOOGY against him.
Impressive as that was, that was all buoyed by a sky-high .408 BABIP, and since he was only hitting a line drive roughly 16% of the time, that reverse split doesn’t seem sustainable whatsoever. Generally, position players who hit grounders six out of ten times don’t see long-term success. JBJ can still hit right-handed pitchers with power, since a .262 ISO isn’t anything to scoff at, even with a .221/.308/.483 and a .261 TAv.
That’s why a Bradley-Young platoon makes sense. Bradley can still hit righties hard, and Young’s career line against left-handed pitching is a fantastic .278/.365/.495, good for a .313 TAv. It gives JBJ protection against a potential regression and shields Young from right-handed pitchers – his mortal enemies.
The platoon issue I’m hinting at starts with Rusney Castillo. Castillo has been pretty lackluster in the majors, and hasn’t really been able to hit major-league pitching. His defense has been okay, but he would make a poor decision almost every other night, be it a way-too-long route to a fly ball, a bad first step, etc. Sometimes it was worse than that.
That is some Milton-Bradley-on-the-Cubs-level stuff right there.
As infuriating as that was, I’m not arguing that Castillo shouldn’t be platooned, because he probably should be, despite my naïve idea to give him a six-week chance to prove himself. I’ve already laid out what he has to do to be an improvement over Hanley Ramirez, but I’ve seen the light: he can’t hit righties.
Now, be warned, we’re working with small sample sizes here, but over 227 plate appearances, Castillo has a very underwhelming .231/.271/.329 against RHP. That’s a .202 TAv. He’s got a .259 TAv against lefties, and that’s acceptable for a 100 PA sample, I guess. That’ll be enough for the side of the platoon that won’t get the majority of the PAs.
Even though it took a lot of words and videos to get to the meat of what I’m arguing against, Ian Browne does it in 12 words.
Brock Holt will start season as Red Sox primary LF against righties.
— Ian Browne (@IanMBrowne) March 29, 2016
There are a couple things here that make this a problem. Firstly, Holt isn’t exactly proficient against right-handed pitching. Sure, a .270/.329/.363 isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, since you’re not using Brock Holt for the pop in his stick, but that still comes out to a .246 TAv. It’s not an optimal situation. Then there’s the kicker.
Not that Dombrowski and Co. ever read BP Boston (if so: hello!), but I’ve talked about the overuse of Brock Holt before, and it seems that the Red Sox are really trying to prove that history repeats itself – by use of their 10th man as the test subject.
Holt is exciting to watch and has a magnetic personality. It’s a treat to see him do fun, gritty things and play all over the place. But once the All-Star break passes by, he instantly becomes irrelevant. Holt’s career line in the first half is an impressive .309/.373/.430, but once the Midsummer Classic ends, he drops to a very pedestrian .241/.294/.306. That’s pretty bad no matter what position he’s playing.
While Travis Shaw will be able to shoulder the corner infielder workload, Holt is still going to have to be the backup to the middle infielders. It’s fair to say that Xander Bogaerts won’t need one very often, but Dustin Pedroia gets his fair share of nicks and dings, and after missing a not nice 69 games last year, you have to expect that he’ll hit the disabled list again, given his age and play style. Holt is going to be needed in that situation, and working both left field and second base could wear him down.
It would be better to use Holt sporadically early on, and then as a positional band-aid in the second half, when the inevitable injury strikes.
Common sense suggests that Holt won’t see all the PAs against right-handed pitching, but the Red Sox won’t face a left-handed starter in the first half of April. That’s a lot of playing time for a guy who really shouldn’t be starting more than three or four days a week, maximum. You’re practically begging for Holt to have another terrible second half at this point.
What’s more disappointing is that there were other options – and Travis Shaw doesn’t count. Sure, Brennan Boesch’s wrist exploded and that wiped out any possibility there early-on, but David Murphy would’ve been a good fit here. He did well enough against right-handed pitching in 2015 to warrant an attempt at a Castillo-Murphy duo, and it was generally in line with his career numbers. His bat was a little bit better than Holt’s, and it even provided a little more power. This isn’t to rag on Holt, however – the goal here was to save him for the stretch run later in the season. It would be better to use Holt sporadically early on, and then as a positional band-aid in the second half, when the inevitable injury strikes.
Nevertheless, the Red Sox made the decision to add another relief pitcher to the 25-man roster instead of another bench player, which makes some sense, since no one knows what we’ll get from the middle of the rotation. Murphy chose to opt out over being a minor league stash, and here we are.
You’d expect the Red Sox to be more careful with Brock Holt after two consecutive years of second-half burnout. It’s tough to fault them on wanting a platoon partner for Castillo, but the mistake was making Holt the guy getting the lion’s share of the left field PAs. Maybe it’s just me being overprotective and reactionary, but the Red Sox can’t really afford to lose Holt to whatever ails him in those final two-to-three months. It’s nice to have a player that’s versatile and can hit his weight regardless of position, but when you’re running him into the ground on an annual basis, you’re misusing your bench player.
Here’s hoping the Red Sox don’t have to resort to using Josh Rutledge again.
Photo by Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports Images
1 comment on “The Red Sox’s Outfield Has a Platoon Problem”
Yeah strange the Sox would seem to have nice righty /lefty platoon options – but essentially other than Betts they have 4 guys who can hit lefties and not righties. Unfortunately you face righties 75% of the time.