Matt Diaz and the right-handed platoon

The Pirates signed Matt Diaz to be a platoon player. At first, the signing sent me off on a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg train: Can 105-loss teams have the luxury of platoon players? Or would 105-loss teams not be 105-loss teams if they knew how to effectively employ a platoon? That’s clearly an unproductive line of thinking, but then I started to wonder about right-handed platoon players. How many right-handed platoon players are there?

The value of a left-handed platoon player is obvious. Garrett Jones, who Diaz will be sharing time with, had 654 PAs in 2010 and 424 of them were against righties. A right-handed platoon player, though, is a pinch-hitter two of every three nights. This may just be my own bias showing, but when I think of platoon players I think of lefties that can’t hit lefties at all and not of the righties that tend to replace them a couple nights a week. That leaves me with a couple of questions: First of all, can a player be effective only playing against left-handed pitching? And secondly, how much value is there in that sort of niche role? 

That first question isn’t all that easy to answer; splits are available but not generally searchable via something like the Play Index. Instead, let’s just look at Diaz’s career. He’s gotten at least 200 plate appearances every year since he joined the Braves in 2006 except one, so let’s look at his platoon splits over his Braves’ career.

Here’s 2006:  

Split G GS PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB HBP IBB BAbip
vs RHP as RHB 87 166 151 54 10 1 2 16 7 26 .358 .400 .477 .877 72 5 2 .416
vs LHP as RHB 76 156 146 43 5 3 5 16 4 23 .295 .327 .473 .800 69 4 1 .317
vs LH Starter 41 41 161 149 46 4 2 5 16 5 20 .309 .338 .463 .801 69 3 1 .323
vs RH Starter 83 21 161 148 51 11 2 2 16 6 29 .345 .391 .486 .878 72 6 2 .415
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/4/2011.

Here’s 2007:

Split G GS PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB HBP IBB BAbip
vs RHP as RHB 107 180 170 54 6 0 3 18 6 36 .318 .350 .406 .756 69 3 1 .386
vs LHP as RHB 81 204 188 67 15 0 9 27 10 27 .356 .384 .580 .964 109 1 2 .372
vs LH Starter 63 63 256 240 85 16 0 9 30 11 40 .354 .384 .533 .918 128 2 2 .394
vs RH Starter 72 15 128 118 36 5 0 3 15 5 23 .305 .336 .424 .760 50 2 1 .347
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/4/2011. 

2008 was the year he didn’t play much due to injury, so we’ll skip to 2009:

Split G GS PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB HBP IBB BAbip
vs RHP as RHB 100 273 235 60 7 3 7 34 24 70 .255 .349 .400 .749 94 10 2 .335
vs LHP as RHB 65 152 136 56 11 1 6 24 11 20 .412 .464 .640 1.103 87 3 0 .450
vs LH Starter 48 45 193 172 68 9 3 7 32 13 31 .395 .447 .605 1.052 104 4 0 .452
vs RH Starter 77 47 232 199 48 9 1 6 26 22 59 .241 .343 .387 .730 77 9 2 .313
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/4/2011.

And finally, his rough 2010:

Split G GS PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB HBP IBB BAbip
vs RHP as RHB 68 114 103 23 5 1 2 16 6 18 .223 .283 .350 .633 36 3 1 .250
vs LHP as RHB 53 130 121 33 12 1 5 15 7 26 .273 .318 .512 .830 62 1 2 .311
vs LH Starter 41 41 163 148 42 13 1 5 24 11 30 .284 .335 .486 .822 72 1 2 .325
vs RH Starter 43 12 81 76 14 4 1 2 7 2 14 .184 .235 .342 .577 26 3 1 .200
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/4/2011. 

Diaz actually hit righties better than lefties in 2006 and he had a pretty good year in 2007 playing primarily against lefties. He wasn’t terrible against righties that year either, but I’d guess that not playing against the tougher righties was a factor in both seasons. He was flat out awful against righties last year, especially as a starter (though the sample size is awfully small). 

It’s pretty clear that Diaz can hit lefties, even if he’s only playing irregularly. Even last year, when he made 41 of his 53 starts against left-handed pitching, he put up a respectable .822 OPS against lefties. The other thing that’s apparent, though, is that it’s going to be more or less impossible to prevent him from ever facing a right-handed pitcher. I’m sure he’ll pinch-hit against righties plenty, but he’ll likely get some spot starts on nights when Jones plays first base or is slumping or when Jose Tabata gets an occasional off-day. Over his career, Diaz has hit righties about the same as a starter as he has as a pinch-hitter:

I Split G GS PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB HBP IBB BAbip
vs RHP as RHB 418 849 769 207 31 7 14 92 47 185 .269 .327 .382 .710 294 22 6 .336
vs RH Starter 320 113 709 642 167 31 6 13 71 39 151 .260 .321 .388 .709 249 21 6 .319
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/4/2011.

That’s better than Jones’s career numbers against lefties (.210/.249/.381), but it’s also important to note that Diaz is 33 and his worst year against righties was last year, which is worrisome. I know I’m not hurtling towards any ground-breaking conclusions here, but seeing all the numbers laid out like this does confirm most of what I suspected when Diaz was signed. I’d rather have him playing against lefties than Jones, but there’s no reason to trot him out against a righty just to “keep him fresh” or other such nonsense. It’s inevitable that he’ll get hot and see an extra start here and there, but he shouldn’t get much more than that and I doubt he really needs it.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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