Dusty Baker's Left Fielders And Complex Platooning

Dusty Baker's got some interesting ideas on how to divide the playing time between his two right-handed-hitting left fielders.

Platooning, you know about. You throw a lefty at me, and by golly I'll stack my lineup with right-handed hitters. Casey Stengel, the Ol' Perfessor, was a big proponent of platooning, though he was hardly the first. Platooning's tough these days, though, what with 13-man bullpens and all.

It's also tough when your boss gives you two right-handed hitters for one position. Which is what Reds GM Walt Jocketty has done to for M Dusty Baker, who's got two right-handed hitters slated for semi-regular duties in left field. So what's Baker going to do? He doesn't use this term, but it's sometimes called complex platooning. MLB.com's Mark Sheldon:

However the Reds plan the platoon in left field between Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick, it certainly won't be conventional. For starters, both players are right-handed hitters.

When manager Dusty Baker writes out his lineup card this season, scouting reports and pitching matchups will play a large role in his decision-making for left field.

"Ludwick likes the ball more down and away, and Heisey likes the ball in and up," Baker said.

Heisey also likes to pull the ball, and is a lifetime .288 hitter vs. right-handed pitchers, compared to .180 against lefties.

"Everybody thinks put the right-hander up against the lefty," Baker said. "I remember Pedro Guerrero hated lefties. There'd be a lefty, and then they'd bring in this tough right-hander throwing sinkers and he'd say, 'Thank you.'

"It's part of my job to put [Heisey] in a situation where he will succeed. Everybody says, 'Oh, he should play every day,' but there are certain guys he will struggle against. And there are certain guys that he should have success against. It's not only left-handers he has trouble with. It's guys that throw to that side of the plate."

Over his career, Ludwick has also been better vs. right-handers, with a .272 average compared to .237 against lefties.

I agree absolutely with Dusty Baker about one thing: It's absolutely his job to put his player in a situation in which he will succeed. In fact, that quote seems to me like something that's been directly lifted from the pages of a Baseball Abstract from the 1980s.

Not that it's particularly relevant at the moment, but while those batting averages seem interesting enough, they really don't mean anything much at all. From The Book:

A right-handed hitter needs around 2,000 appearances against left-handed pitchers before his measured platoon split can be considered reliable ...

Chris Heisey has 166 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers; Ryan Ludwick has 947. Ludwick's career tells us next to nothing about his true platoon skills; Heisey's tells us nothing at all, and there is every reason to assume that he will, given enough time -- which he might never earn -- hit lefties better than righties.

Both of them are just decent hitters for corner outfielders, and the Reds would be better off with a real platoon, featuring a left-handed hitter and either Heisey or Ludwick. Both is redundant, especially since neither's got the defensive chops to spell Drew Stubbs -- yet another right-handed hitter -- in center field, or the anything chops to spell Jay Bruce in right.

By none of which do I mean to suggest that Dusty Baker is wrong, necessarily. You go to war with the outfielders you've got, not the outfielders you want. He's got Heisey and Ludwick, and an old baseball man like Baker should have some decent ideas about how to best use them. There's some small evidence that a sort of platoon based on fly-ball and ground-ball tendencies -- or in Baker's parlance, high-ball pitchers and low-ball pitchers -- might be at least moderately more effective than simply drawing names from a cap.

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