On platoons vs real ballplayers
Shims and sims, Dept.

IceX wanted to know, are there any studies that tell us what we can expect from Ruggiano and Smith?  Everybody else chirped in, Ya, gimme gimme!  :- )

Any such work would be original research, I'm pretty sure.  Apparently G-Money is going to take a crack at it.  Kewl.


In experimental design, the nature of the problem in this kind of issue is to "isolate the variable," so to speak.  

If 100 selected patients have a certain kind of leukemia and 50 are given a tyrosene kinase inhibitor, and 50 not ... then by observing them we can at least get an idea of what the medicine is doing.  

BUT!  Even there, we run into 99 kinds of problems in inferring a solid causation.  The same amigo who is eager to see a "study" on 200 IP+ will turn around in the next comments thread and protest, "Correlation does not imply causation!" .... oh, yeah?  What do you think those studies are doing when they run correlations of HR's, 3B's, and SB's with runs scored?


It's bad enough when you are truly able to lock in on one variable applied to a stable control population.  But when you are asking about "is a platoon better than a single player," well, platooning two guys --- > CHANGES so many RELATED variables that you've got no shot to study it conclusively.  It's like asking whether 200 innings are harmful to Erasmo Ramirez type pitchers.  vs. James Paxton type pitchers.  vs Brandon Maurer types, etc.

At BJOL recently, Bill was asked merely "would you prefer a fulltime DH or not?," which is a much simpler question.  He doubted whether this question could be studied -- even though in this case, you could just pile up all historical teams with DH's > 450 AB's, to see whether they were above .500.  Probably they would be slightly above .500.  But, BANG!  You've got all the well-paid David Ortizes in that group.  How does it affect your present and future to sink money into a lumbering giant like that?

Can't answer.

Too many complications to get a handle on it, it sez here.  But at least a first cut at it would be *interesting.*  We don't say that G-Money can't get us some suggestive information on it.  You know he can.  But he'll know the difference between "evidence, conclusions, and proof" vs an attempt to learn something about baseball.


As Gordon has pointed out, for 10 years the Mariners have been trying to use nuts-and-bolts and reclamation projects in place of talented, proven ballplayers at the height of their powers.  It hasn't worked for Mariners, we know that much.

Fangraphs operates under the paradigm of the "Replacement Level Player," the idea that most ballplayers with name recognition could easily be swapped out for underappreciated players.  Real General Managers are diametrically opposed to this idea.  

I don't think it's unfair at all, to suggest that many Fangraphs authors would consider the Ruggiano/Smith concept to be the definition of their thinking advantage over the oldtimers.  A lot of them are quite convinced that were they ever to get the GM chair, then the Ruggiano/Smith idea would precisely the way they would win 97 games with a low budget.  I'm not trying to be satirical; I'm trying to be objective.

Again not wishing to be (more) snide (than usual), there is a subtle point that evades these "Ruggiano and Seth Smith will outproduce Justin Upton for half the money" authors.  I'm gonna give the secret up to you, the loyal SSI reader.  Ready?  Wait for it ...

Part-time players aren't good.

That's the point they overlook.   Me?  As bad players go, Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith give you a comparatively decent shot at surviving.  That's if you can't get an actual 90-RBI bat to play right for you.  If you've got to shim, we got a top-class shim goin' here.


Dr D




The links were indeed interesting.  Though if I were going to sit down and chat with them over crabcakes, my first question would be "What do you see as the pro's and con's of using regression so much, in the context of human baseball performance"?
I've got my reservations, to start with, about assuming that everybody's going to be mediocre next time around (give or take a few points based on whether they're good or bad players).  James' 1977 "Plexiglass Principle" has run amok to the point to where EVERYONE's "correct" projection is based on "regression to the mean."  Would that they still called it the Plexiglass Principle so that we didn't have the misconception that this was hard science.
But the Buck article even selectively "regresses" away his positive recent performance, while leaving his earlier more negative performances intact.  Call it regression and you're licensed to kill, it seems.
With all respect, I don't believe that "we can pretty easily estimate a hitter's platoon skill" but cheerfully acknowledge that the *saber* consensus is that we can.  The LL articles do a good job of applying mainstream saber thinking, in my view.
As many sabertistas themselves understand, all the PECOTA/Steamer/etc models do a *terrible* job of predicting breakouts, falloffs, minor leaguers, and anybody who isn't firmly in the middle of the bell curve with Cano-like established levels of performance.  You could predict every single player in the league to simply hit 260/330/420 and get results reasonably similar to what you get from PECOTA.   Dr. D's new blog publishes an OPS "projection" table for 1,400 players:
+20/20/20 - major stars
+10/10/10 - good players
260/330/420 - the 60% in the middle
-10/10/10 - bad players and rookies
-20/20/20 - known terrible players
This "Dr. D 260/330/420 Projection System" would get an R-squared of about 25%, compared to PECOTA's 30%.  What it would be GOOD for, would be a different question ... :- )
I strongly suspect that aging platoon hitters would be another example of "odd duck" skill sets that can't just be "projected" towards 260/330/420.
I've got a hunch that the (age-d) Seth Smith has more of a platoon split, rather than less.  Same with Ruggiano.  But who am I to argue with The Mighty Regression Law of Saberphysics :- )
Good link Dr. G.


Every team has a four man bench, except the one that McClendon manages, it has a three man bench.  If there is going to be a platoon, the player should be part of double coverage of up the middle defense, since that is necessary anyway.
Catcher platoons are ideal.  This is because catcher is too physically demanding to play every day.  So if a team can set up two catchers with a platoon advantage, this is all gravy.
Consider the 2014 Orcs,
283 AB vs. RHP= .272/.344/.449 35 RBIs.
 24 AB v. LHP= .167/.259/.208 5 RBI's
173 AB v. LHP, .311/.393/.470 29 RBI
269 AB v. RHP, .244/.340/.359 29 RBI
Blend em:  
Norso: .267/.350/.413 98 RBI Change the RBI to the 650 ABs that you would've got if Norso were a real person, and you get 85 RBIs.  This isn't a hypothetical projection, this is what Norso did in 2014.  
There were a few Mariners who didn't hit .267/.350/.413 with 85 RBIs in 2014.
I don't think Doc has any objection to a platoon at catcher, all other things being considered equal, but the question is what happens when the platoon player starts to take the place of the utility player, who can accurately be thought of as part of a defensive and baserunning platoon?
Here's a hypothetical situation: Jackson starts in CF, but gets too many games there and his "greyhound" lean frame breaks down, and he stops hitting.  Skipper only trusts James Jones to back him up, but Jones isn't on the roster because of the Ruggiano/Smith platoon.  
This all works out well if your platoon bat is also your platoon defense guy, that is, if Ruggiano or Ackley can spot Jackson in CF with minimal horse(manure), or you have other players that can play multiple defensive positions, like an Ackley or a Zobrist type. 
But, this is nothing new.  Teams have used their final three or four bench spots to some effect for the last hundred years or so, and platooning on offense and defense and providing rest days to overworked every day guys is part of the game.  The old timers used to call platoon hitting advantages pinch hitting.
I think about this problem as follows.  There are at least six benchie goals that have to be met, not necessarily in order of importance:
1. Providing pinch running for slow hitters
2. Providing backup at catcher, SS and CF
3. Providing late inning defensive replacement for bat first guys in the corner outfield
4. Providing rest for the every day guys
5. Providing a platoon advantage in hitting
6. Provide a developmental spot for a promising youngster to get MLB experience
Its beyond my pay grade to determine which of these goals is paramount, but bench players should be judged on how well they meet each of these goals, and how they complement the rest of the team.  
By this measure, Jaso is a great platoon guy, as he can run and hit RHP and play a passable catcher. Norris is also a good platoon guy, as he is just a good hitter, who happens to catch.  Conversely, Carlos Peguero is not a good platoon guy, as he can't hit to corner OF standards and can't play CF, SS, can't run, and can't spot multiple positions.
On the Mariners, Ackley and Ruggiano seem like good platoon guys, they run well, field well, and sometimes hit well, and Smith is a pretty good hitter.  I wish they all hit better, ran faster, and had better throwing arms, but all of them should comprise the best outfield that the Mariners have had in many years.
The Mariners have had some bad benchies in the past.  Upgrading the position seems like a good thing, but doesn't equal Justin Upton plus another scrub benchie.
Or didn't Doc already say all of that?  


A study like this requires first that you define the term (numerically, objectively, what is a platoon). And then, that you gather the population of recent members that fit your definition and compare to alternatives and to expectations...not just to alternatives.
Step one: what counts as platooning?
I define a platoon as any one defensive position on a team where the leading recipient of playing time there got no more than 75% of the plate appearances, and where the percentage of plate appearances taken by opposing batting hand (r v l, or l v r) is statistically significantly higher than the league average.
I would find all team/posirions in the play by play era that fit the above description. I would find the platoon wOBA for each member of the would-be platoon in the previous three seasons or the entire previous mlb career if they haven't played three seasons. I would use those wOBAs and the distribution of plate appearances actually received by all involved players in the real platoon season to compute a projected platoon wOBA.
Thus, I would have a comparison between what the platoon actually accomplished and what we might expect given the playing time distribution versus each pitching hand. Then I would make the same comparison for positions that are not platooning examples.
If you compare the two platoon side to its projection...and then the non-platoon side to each projection and run an ANOVA-atyle treat to see whether the platoon gives Amy statistically significant advantage our disadvantage...you might get somewhere

IcebreakerX's picture

I find this topic interesting because we've seen two models of platooning/spare-parting that have been fairly ineffective in entirely unique ways: the Mariners' regular season struggles since 2004 and the Orcs-sucking-at-the-Playoffs since 2000ish, especially after they started losing Giambi/Tejada/Chavez/Hudson/Zito/Mulder, etc.
At the same time, as I continue to chew on the non-mathematical side, it's clear that the study has HUGE amounts of considerations and variables.
For instance, even with a player that has a vR platoon advantage, we don't know how much vL (or ABs in general) are neede for the skill to gel.
Some hitters might just roll out of bed and hit vR no matter what.
But just as with the DH-doesn't-field issue for position players, we'll probably see players who just need to see a certain amount of pitches before they hit at all.
Maybe teams should just hire practice pitchers for hitters (Japanese teams actually do this and make 50~100K a season) like they have bullpen catchers for pitchers.

IcebreakerX's picture

Japanese teams hire retired or washed up pitchers that are there to pitch simulated game-style pitches to batters for practice.
Usually there's one LH and one RH and they're used to polish and practice against like-handed pitching.
Extreme platoon splits are fairly uncommon in Japan and it's also why you see very little of it in the elite hitters that make it to the MLB.
You might see a power dip, but for the most part, it's things like BA in exchange for PX.


Not to the place saberdogs would like, but you'd have really useful information ... it is exactly the "vs expectancy" paradigm you describe that is the only key (I know of) to unlock these kinds of single-season puzzles ...
Of course if you start trying to analyze them across multi years then you get the problem of the Patriots "exceeding" 12-4 expectancy, then failing to "exceed" 13-3 expectancy ... and usually when studying platoon RH hitters vs LHP's, we need much more than a single season's worth of data ...
Not questioning your approach amigo - it's the one I'd use - just quibbling for the benefit of the few who don't quite get how complex such a problem is ...
Any thoughts on how you would attack the confounding variables also?  You've got it pretty well covered in terms of how the players themselves would be affected by their roles, but as to how the OTHER players on the roster are affected by a player extra or less, the $$ question that confounds, etc...  Benihana posits a 2-3 WAR loss, right off the top, based on the invested roster spot - 


I hope to post more on this eventually, but as I see it:
Keep both Smith and Ruggs:
Lose Jones as backup CF and disruptive pinch runner; OR
Lose Bloomie as all-purpose sub and RH bat
Keep both Smith and Ruggs AND keep both Miller and Taylor:
Lose Jones CF/PR; AND
Lose Bloomie RH supersub
Miller and/or Ackley could go to a Zobrist role, but:
Ack can't play SS or 3b, and Lloyd nixed CF for Ack too
Miller can play SS, 2b, 3b and while probably capable of all three OF spots he has zero pro experience at any of them (though we know Van Slyke super-impressed with his auditions)
Miller was good on bases in minors but not disruptive like Jones
Neither Miller nor Ack provides RH alternative as sub like Bloomie does (Bloomie is actually a decent RH bat)
Ruggs would be the backup CF (we don't know if that's OK with Lloyd & Van Slyke)
It will be an interesting puzzle to work through.


I'm very impressed with Smith the more I analyze him.  He's almost "Cano-Lite" with a high-OBP game but still decent pop.
I'll be trying to diagnose why his BABIP is so low vs. LHP.  He's only been given 47 starts vs. LH starter in 865 career games, and only has 472 PAs vs. LHP in his whole MLB career.  Clearly he's been labeled as a guy who can't hit lefties.
Even with that he's put up the numbers in the subject line, so he's a "most-time" part-timer.
And, as someone else noted, it might well be Ackley that gives way to Ruggs some/much of the time.
Happy New Year everyone!


Last year they cut his AB's to 50 against lefties, and his OPS+ went from 101 to 135.
But yeah.  Seth Smith has been, IMHO, in the gray area between a top-class platoon guy, and a guy who merited a fulltime corner OF spot on a quality team.  At age 27-28 he definitely wasn't the best example of what the original post was trying to get at.
Having been pretty dubious against LHP's his whole life, and now at age 32, personally I'd be pretty comfortable that any fulltime value he ever had is in the rear view mirror ... if he can get another season or two of production, when spotted as in 2014, he'll be doing well in my book - 
BABIP vs lefties.  I'd argue that .250 is on the fringe of what's to be expected, LH-on-LH -- usually the result of plenty of pulled grounders rolled over, and very few Back Leg Specials.  You and I would have BABIP's of about .150 in the majors, assuming we ever hit the ball ...


And a great one at that. To study whether a platoon creates net advantage or disadvantage, you would again have to define the question and terms. First, you need to know what a roster spor is worth on the average. Then you need to know what each team's alternatives were and how they would have likely performed. Then you need to attempt to quantify the effect of reduced rest, the individual impact of platooning (the part I already outlined), and the typical impact that platooning has on team defense...the problem quickly becomes nonlinear and deep.


Bernie Carbo. The two look so similar. Bernie, unfortunately, drank himself into oblivion as a ballplayer (to hear him tell it, he was drunk or hung over when he hit the home run in Game 6. So...yeah, I think Smith is due for a longer career). Bernie was rarely trusted to hit against left handers (344 PA vs. 472 for Smith, even though he had 500 or so more PAs in his career, which ended at age 32). Carbo batted .200 vs. lefties, Smith .205. Seriously, these two look like identical twins. So, Seth...yeah, keep off the booze buddy, and win us a game six!
I want a Bernie Carbo on our team playing RF for us in 2015. But, yeah, not everyday.


Over the past two years Kyle Seager has been about .280-.365-.473 vs. RHP.
Over the past three years (which excludes the Colorado effect) Smith has been .262-.353-.440 vs. RHP.
He's about 95% of Kyle Seager.

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