(MJ: Both John and I wanted to run pieces on the Hank Blalock business, and I decided there’s no reason we couldn’t both publish our thoughts. What follows is the first of an occasional set of articles where both John and I share our opinions. Most of the time, it’s agreement, so not much contention going on here.)
John: The Marlins have shown interest in Hank Blalock for a good while now, and yesterday it was reported that he was now deciding between joining the Fish or the Rays. For the Fish, this could fit one of two needs: The left handed bat off the bench, or the starting first baseman v.s. RHP.
For the bench spot, it’d certainly be a good catch. His inadequacy against LHP would be completely sheltered as 3 of the 5 other bench spots are filled by RHB. As of now, Jorge Jimenez is set to fill the LHP bench roll, and CHONE has a projection of just .305 next year.
But the start first baseman gig? I’m not sure he’d be a better option than Gaby Sanchez.
The first thing is the splits. Hank Blalock likely would only start against RHP. Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs thankfully already did the work for me and got a .342 projected wOBA for Blalock based off Chone. Would this be better than Gaby?
In the minors, Gaby had a pretty decent size chunk split. his wOBA against LHP was .425 compared to .360 against RHP, or a 17.2% gap. I personally do not believe that it is an indication of a future large split though. Take a look at his peripherals below against the two hands (not park/league adjusted):
There is a quite a bit of difference in power, but it’s also a small sample size. He still posts a very strong BB/K against RHP, showing that he still sees the ball very well. The rest is BABIP, which is an extremely volatile stat.
So, going by his peripherals, I don’t believe they show a future large split. If we use the same projection system that we used earlier on Cody Ross on Gaby’s minor league data, we get a projected split of 8.3%. Applying this to CHONE’s projected .348 wOBA for Gaby, we get a .339 wOBA against RHP and .379 against LHP.
As we can see, the projected difference is barely in Blalock’s favor. Meanwhile, there’s the issue of Gaby’s development and bench construction.
When it comes to the bench construction, if Blalock starts we would still need to find a left handed bat for the bench. There’s been some people throwing out a Blalock/Gaby platoon, but this would likely not work out. Currently the locks for the bench are:
Ronny Paulino (RHB)
Brett Carroll (RHB)
Wes Helms (RHB)
Emilio Bonifacio (SHB, better against RHP)
There is no room for Gaby on the bench. Should Blalock start, Gaby would be in NOLA and likely Wes Helms would get the starts against LHP. And while Helms used to be good against LHP, his numbers of late are very depressing (Since 2007: .292 wOBA, .322 against LHP). And we would still be on the hunt for a left handed batter to fill that 5th bench spot.
So if the Marlins pick Hank Blalock up, expected it to be in a bench role, not as a starter.
Michael: I absolutely agree with John’s point on Blalock as a starter. Sanchez is likely a superior player on offense, especially given Blalock’s complete inability to hit left-handed pitching. In addition, Blalock may be the worst of the two players on defense, though not by much. Steve Sommer projects Blalock as around a -2 defender at first base, and both of us agree that Sanchez may be around an even first baseman. The scouting reports give Sanchez the edge, and with limited playing time for both in the majors, I would side with those reports.
But I do not think that platooning Blalock is out of the question. I don’t think it would be a traditional platoon, because batting Sanchez as the low end of the platoon seems like a bad idea for the reasons you mentioned. However, giving Sanchez more plentiful rest against right-handers may not be the worst idea. As we know, the team is not interested in Sanchez’ development long-term, something they made quite clear last season. Giving Sanchez 70% of the playing time (all the PA versus lefties, maybe 55-65% of the PA versus righties) will keep him rested and give us the marginal edge versus righties that having Blalock would allow.
Now, is it really worth it? I think there’s no difference between having Blalock available on the bench to pinch hit or starting against righties; the edge is probably about the same. I like the flexibility of having Blalock on the bench and occasionally spot starting. Even if he only takes on 20% of the PA from Sanchez, I think it may be a good move for the team. I think it is obvious the team is only looking to have Blalock be a bench option, so I believe Sanchez’ job is safe. Plus, with Blalock’s injury history, there would be no shot of him starting enough to be the big half of a platoon. Regardless of whether or not the signing goes through, Sanchez will play the majority of time at first base this season.