Platoon. In baseball terms it is in reference to two players who alternate days equally in the starting lineup at one position. Most teams have one to two positions at most that this happens at. For a surprisingly contending Oakland A’s team that has a great chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, one to two platoons was just not enough. No, this A’s team has had at any given point during this 2012 season seven different platoons. From left field when Yoenis Céspedes was hurt, to first base with Chris Carter and Brandon Moss, to second with Cliff Pennington and Adam Rosales, to short with that same group (before Stephen Drew), to third with Josh Donaldson and Brandon Inge, to catcher with Derek Norris, Kurt Suzuki, and now George Kottaras, and finally to designated hitter with Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes. The A’s are a turnstile at almost every position. More times than not this means that you are trying to see what some of your younger guys can do while limiting their exposure. However, with this A’s team it means getting the most production out of your lineup everyday while also keeping everyone fresh, which could end up being a crucial benefit in the playoffs if a pinch hitter is needed late in a game.
To appreciate the value of these platoons you have to look at the combined production compared to that of last season when the A’s had only a couple of platoons. Although I mentioned seven I am only going to dive into the ones I see being the key to this season: designated hitter, first base, and catcher. Although the Pennington and Rosales platoon has been a big part to the A’s success I see Pennington playing the majority of the time now that he has gotten hot. Here are the stats individually and combined of the platoons compared to that same position last season.
1. Designated Hitter (Smith/Gomes): Smith’s numbers- .246 AVG, .342 OBP, 14 HR 51 RBI. Gomes’ numbers: .257 AVG, .377 OBP, 17 HR 45 RBI.
Compare these numbers combined, .252 AVG, .360 OBP, 31 HR 96 RBI, to that of the A’s designated hitter last season, Hideki Matsui. Matsui’s numbers: .251 AVG, .321 OBP, 12 HR 72 RBI. That is an increase of 19 HR and 24 RBI’s.
2. First Base (Carter/Moss): Carter’s numbers: .244 AVG, .357 OBP, 15 HR 37 RBI. Moss’ numbers: .273 AVG, .341 OBP, 19 HR 41 RBI.
Compare these numbers combined, .259 AVG, .349 OBP, 34 HR 78 RBI, to that of the A’s first basemen last season, Daric Barton and Brandon Allen. Allen and Barton’s combined numbers: .209 AVG, .292 OBP, 3 HR 32 RBI. That is an increase of 31 HR and 46 RBI.
3. Catcher (Norris/Kottaras): Norris’ numbers: .185 AVG, .268 OBP, 5 HR 26 RBI. Kottaras’ numbers: .216 AVG, .284 OBP, 5 HR 18 RBI.
Compare these numbers combined, .201 AVG, .276 OBP, 10 HR 44 RBI, to that of A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki last season. Suzuki’s numbers: .237 AVG, .301 OBP, 14 HR 44 RBI. While the batting average, on base percentage and home runs are lower, the RBI’s are the same. The real amazing part is that Suzuki played in 134 games in 2011 compared to Kottaras and Norris combined total of 74 games in 2012 so far. This means that they are on pace to beat Suzuki’s numbers.
Overall, the A’s have had an average season offensively. The difference is in the production at each position compared to last season. You could argue that seven out of the nine offensive positions have seen a significant increase in production. The majority of the credit has to go to manager Bob Melvin and GM Billy Beane. Beane put the pieces on the table and Melvin has put them in an order that has led to successful at bats, timely hitting, and wins. The platoon idea was designed for players who had split stats (good against righties bad against lefties or vice versa) that warranted them having off days against certain pitchers. For example Jonny Gomes has a career average of .223 and a career on base percentage of .308 against right handed pitching. Against left handed pitching he has a career average of .281 and a career on base percentage of .380. Compare that to Seth Smith (.191 AVG/.265 OBP v. LHP and .285 AVG/.363 OBP v. RHP) and they are two peas in a pod. This goes for almost every position the A’s have a platoon at. Beane acquired players this offseason knowing what players succeed at one thing and what players succeed at another (Moneyball 2.0). Where Melvin continues to wow at is putting a player in a situation where they have the best chance to succeed. The A’s may not have multiple individuals who can hit 30 HR and 100 RBI every season but they do have player combinations that can. This platoon system will help if the A’s make the postseason by having players prepared to come into a game cold ready to hit. Regardless of what happens the rest of this season the A’s platoon squad has outperformed all expectations and made this team a fun one to watch.