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Mariners continue to utilize the platoon advantage—to mixed results

Otto Greule Jr

I don't know why, but I've always taken a certain level of interest in trying to decipher why former Mariners manager Eric Wedge left his position. I probably shouldn't, because it was likely nothing more than a guy about to be fired trying to quit with his dignity. Or maybe he truly was just fed up with the Mariners' brass and there wasn't anything more to it.

But still, I was fascinated by this perceived disagreement in philosophies. Wedge stated before he left that they didn't see eye to eye on some key things and that was why he departed. Neither party took the opportunity to elaborate on what these differences might have been, so it was hard to say if that was a factor at all.

That didn't stop me—and us—from looking for what those differences might have been. And in searching for any criticism of the previous regime from this current front office, I keep coming back to this quote from Jack Zduriencik:

"People say, 'Well, you have got free-agent money, then go get a free agent.' Well, I agree, but what good is that if it is not a really good free agent or a guy that is going to be with you. We may have to look at some other alternatives like platooning. In our matchups this year, I would have hoped we had done a little better job going forward with matchups, and a lot of that has to do with health, and that hurt us. There were so many times this year we were so left-handed oriented, just throw a left-hander against us and we were in trouble...

Now, of course, he does partially blame injuries there—with the Michael Morse one likely being what he's most speaking to. But for a front office that seems to be relatively guarded with its plans, and perceived by some as being a bit backwards, it was at least somewhat intriguing to hear that Zduriencik sees the value in platooning. This isn't the most advanced concept, not by any stretch, but it's interesting.

This is a quote that stuck with me as the Mariners have run some funky lineups out there over the past six games, a stretch during with they've won five. Three times since last Friday they've faced a left-handed starter, and all three times they ran righties Willie Bloomquist, Stefen Romero and Cole Gillespie out there. They went 3-0 in those games, and now sit at  7-3 in games started by left-handed pitchers, compared to 5-11 vs. right-handed starting pitchers.

With that in mind, I wanted to check—how do the Mariners compare to the rest of the American League in with regards to batting with the platoon advantage? More? Less?

Here's how teams rank in batting with the platoon advantage in 2014, all stats current through Wednesday's games.

Team vs RHP as LHB vs LHP as RHB Sum Total plate appearances Platoon advantage percentage
Cleveland 560 247 807 1042 77.45%
Oakland 603 235 838 1144 73.25%
Seattle 452 203 655 932 70.28%
New York 454 235 689 993 69.39%
Houston 398 286 684 1026 66.67%
Toronto 462 196 658 1040 63.27%
Baltimore 414 124 538 924 58.23%
Boston 372 215 587 1052 55.80%
Tampa Bay 330 240 570 1048 54.39%
Minnesota 276 255 531 977 54.35%
Los Angeles 373 205 578 1087 53.17%
Kansas City 376 121 497 971 51.18%
Chicago 343 212 555 1140 48.68%
Texas 296 207 503 1057 47.59%
Detroit 180 187 367 870 42.18%

Huh, look at that. The Mariners are up near the top, trailing only Cleveland and Oakland. Given how frequently the Mariners ran out lefty-heavy lineups last year, and how they were dominated accordingly, surely this must be a big improvement over last year—and a signal that things are changing, right?

Well, not so much. Here are the rankings from 2013.

Team vs RHP as LHB vs LHP as RHB Sum Total plate appearances Platoon advantage percentage
Cleveland 2990 1358 4348 6165 70.53%
Oakland 2760 1614 4374 6209 70.45%
Seattle 2975 1190 4165 6172 67.48%
Minnesota 2832 980 3812 6212 61.37%
Baltimore 2440 1322 3762 6144 61.23%
Boston 2443 1427 3870 6382 60.64%
Tampa 2259 1482 3741 6242 59.93%
Toronto 2367 1271 3638 6152 59.14%
Houston 2027 1432 3459 6020 57.46%
Detroit 2072 1537 3609 6388 56.50%
New York 2196 1115 3311 6045 54.77%
Kansas City 2281 1046 3327 6093 54.60%
Texas 2010 1324 3334 6196 53.81%
Los Angeles 1996 1366 3362 6260 53.71%
Chicago 1742 953 2695 6077 44.35%

You do see some level of variance, but last year the Mariners actually ranked in the same spot as they do now in batting with the platoon advantage. It does help when you have multiple switch-hitters in your lineup, as the Mariners did last year when they had three in their everyday lineup for extended stretches. This year, they have just two, but it seems Abraham Almonte's role may soon be changing.

Though, still, there is a slight uptick. So where's that coming from? Surprisingly, it's actually coming against the righties, not better balance against the lefties—at least not so far.

Here's a look at how the Mariners have matched up against—and hit—the lefties

Year PAs vs LHP PA vs LHP as RHB Platoon advantage percentage OPS vs LHP OPS vs LHP as RHB
2014 342 203 59.36% 0.677 0.698
2013 2040 1190 58.33% 0.657 0.640

And here's a bit of a jump, at least in gaining a matchup advantage, against the righties:

Year PA vs RHP PA vs RHP as LHB Platoon advantage percentage OPS vs RHP OPS vs RHP as LHB
2014 590 452 76.61% 0.645 0.639
2013 4132 2975 72.00% 0.714 0.763

So what exactly is going on? Well, a lot—but it's still hard to tell exactly what and why. The Mariners are hitting lefties better this year than they were in 2013, by an okay margin—though still not hitting them all that well.

But what's really interesting is that, while the Mariners have been getting the platoon advantage against righties at a considerably higher rate, they've been hitting them a lot worse—and even their lefties fare better against left-handed pitching than the righties do. The latter will happen when Abraham Almonte is in there as one of your switch-hitters, as opposed to Kendrys Morales. Then, of course, you have Brad Miller not hitting at all, Dustin Ackley running a reverse split and Michael Saunders scuffling a little bit—and barely playing—through last night.

Still, it's interesting—good?—to see the Mariners attempt to put players in positions to succeed. Now, as you can tell by the rankings, platooning in and of itself doesn't make a team all that good.The Mariners did it last year and didn't score runs, and you see Houston towards the upper echelon of this year's rankings as well. You also have good teams in Detroit, Los Angeles and Texas towards the bottom of this year's rankings.

In many instances, heavy platoon use is simply a byproduct of not having many players who warrant being run out there every single day. Though, when you have guys who don't warrant being run out there day-in and day-out, it's good to put those players in favorable match-ups, as the Mariners have done.

I offer this data up not to illustrated any major conclusions, but more-so just to share with you what I had wanted to check, to start a dialogue.

The Mariners are a team that relies heavily on the platoon advantage and while this isn't some über-advaned concept that puts them ahead of other clubs, it's good to see nonetheless.