2014 Preview: Garrett Jones, Left-Handed Pitching and Platooning
Aug 30, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones (46) hits a two RBI double against the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Marlins are in a bind when it comes to one of the most perplexing problems in modern baseball, the lefty-lefty match-up problem. If Logan Morrison was a liability as left-handed batter against left-handed pitching at first base, the signing of Garrett Jones seemingly has only made the problem worse.
Jones is a decent hitter, maybe dare I say, good against right-handed pitchers, but to borrow a term a term from Brian Kenny, Jones is a “half player.” Platoon guys are a valuable commodity for teams with more flexibility, depth and experience than the 2014 edition of the Marlins.
These “half players” are often what can take a good team and make them a true contender. In the Marlins case the lack of depth is worrying, especially at the corner infield spots, Jones and Casey McGehee are most likely to be the primary players at first and third base for the Marlins in 2014.
McGehee’s case is interesting because of the high points early in his career at the Major League level with the Brewers and an impressive 2013 with Rakuten in Japan. It is to be seen what results he can get but ZiPs doesn’t expect much out of him. In 2009 and 2010 McGehee had two impressive seasons with OPS in the .800s, wOBA at .370 and .347 respectively and was good as a 2 win player, in short McGehee was a Major League average third baseman in a stacked lineup.
After all he had Corey Hart, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder batting in front of him, giving him plenty of opportunities to produce. His 2013 with Rakuten was equally impressive, racking up a .292/.376/.515 slash line and 11.8% to .20.1% BB/K ratio.
McGehee says of his approach.
"“I committed to being really stubborn in my approach at the plate and things coming off that. That was something that really helped me a lot — sticking to my game plan and not trying to do too much and take what was there. The home runs and stuff showed up a lot more when I didn’t go up with that as the sole purpose of my at-bat.”"
There’s no telling if his previews experiences with Milwaukee and in Japan will translate to a majorly improved McGehee but ZiPs doesn’t seem very confident projecting him at .306 wOBA, an OPS of exactly .700 and 1.2 WAR with 12 home runs
If the Marlins can’t find another right-handed to play first base on the days they are facing a lefty starter, McGehee should start at first base, leaving, a near replacement level guy like Donovan Solano or Ed Lucas to man the hot corner. Therein lies the rub the Marlins offense is decent at the levels we expect them to produce them at with both McGehee and Jones in the lineup against righties. But with McGehee and Solano/Lucas at the corners they are far less productive.
This leads to one obvious solution, the Marlins first job in the coming weeks is to find a credible right-handed bat to pair with Garret Jones at first base. Some options include, Jeff Baker, Mark Canha, who is a non-roster invitee to spring training.
The Marlins are apparently in competition to sign right-handed utility man Jeff Baker. What is peculiar about Baker’s case is how good of a season he had in 2013 playing his home games in Texas. Hitting 11 homers although only 4 of them were in Texas deeper down there are other metrics that can be seen as either freakish aberrations or a sign of things to come.
A .279/.360/.545 slash line an incredible .266 ISO paired with a good 10.3% walk rate. What’s more he had twice as many plate appearances against lefties as he did righties, 123 to 52 and in those at-bats he mustered a 1.073 OPS. 452 wOBA and 17 of his 19 extra base hits.
According to Baseball-Reference he had a 188 sOPS+ in 2013, meaning that he was almost twice as good against left-handed starters than the league average. If the Marlins are able to sign a half player as good as Baker and give him close to 400 PA it could really help improve the Marlins situation against left-handed pitching. Furthermore, a player like Baker, a career utility infielder in his early 30s could easily be signed for around $2 million giving a lot of value for very little money.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mark Canha, who spent the year at Jacksonville in AA in 2013, could be an option if he proves himself in Spring Training.
At AA, where most organizations stockpile their top prospects, Canha had a good season in 2013 with a .273/.371/.449 slash line and 13 HR playing in the Suns spacious stadium. What is even more encouraging is that the skills that stick as a player moves up through the minor leagues, power and plate discipline, have stuck.
In 2012 in low A Canha had a 13.0% walk rate, a .253 ISO and 25.5% HR/FB% rate and while in AA he had 10.7% walk rate, .176 ISO and 12.0% HR/FB rate. The numbers in Greensboro were outrageous but Canha proved himself a good player in 2013 and a possible choice for the Marlins to add offense from within.
His case is bolstered further when you consider his stats against left-handed pitchers. In 133 PA, Canha produced impressive stats a .443 wOBA, 17 walks and 22 strikeouts, .214 ISO and a .405 OBP. The Marlins only need a platoon guy to play first base a natural complement for Garret Jones. Canha is 24 years old, was a college guy, at Berkeley and has had credible power and plate discipline at every level.
The Marlins in 2014 are playing the simplest version of “Moneyball” they should be thinking about the players that give their team the best cumulative chance at scoring the most possible runs. Big home run numbers and big ISOs are nice, but equally so are healthy walk rates, low strikeout rates and high contact rates. It is possible to find guys in free agency and at the minor leagues who just need to be given a chance to produce.