Mets should embrace platooning in 2011

After avoiding platoons for most of the past few seasons, the Mets could be moving back to this strategy in 2011, with potential platoon situations at both catcher and second base. With the LaRussification of bullpen usage, platoons have fallen out of favor throughout the majors in recent years, as spots that would go to platoon bats when teams carried 10 pitchers now go instead to sixth and seventh relievers.

Most people expect the Mets to go with a platoon at catcher, where Josh Thole has a lifetime .309/.382/.401 mark versus RHP in the majors and newly-acquired Ronny Paulino has a .338/.390/.491 career mark against southpaws. If these two can match these totals in 2011, the Mets could have one of the most productive catching tandems in baseball.

But what has gotten less attention is the possibility for a similar situation at second base. Daniel Murphy’s career numbers against righties – .282/.340/.436 – could team quite nicely with either Luis Castillo (.292/.361/.417) or Brad Emaus (currently sporting a .448 split in the Dominican Winter League) getting the at-bats versus lefties for an effective offensive duo.

The Mets have a long history of platooning. Casey Stengel, the team’s first manager, is generally credited with bringing platooning back to the majors in the late 1940s, after the practice had essentially been abandoned. Platooning has roots back to the early 1900s. Historian Bill James credits the 1906 Tigers as having the first platoon, with three people sharing the catching position.

When Stengel managed the Mets, he ran several platoons, including one at first base. Gil Hodges had great success as a part-timer in 1962, as he batted .390/.446/.712 in 65 PA versus southpaws. So, it is little surprise that Hodges used platoons extensively when he became Mets manager.

In the World Championship year of 1969, Hodges tinkered extensively with his lineups. By the end of the season, he was platooning at three infield positions. First base had Donn Clendenon and Ed Kranepool alternating; second base had Al Weiss and Ken Boswell splitting at-bats and third base saw either Ed Charles or Wayne Garrett in the lineup depending upon the pitcher.

The common perception is that Art Shamsky and Ron Swoboda platooned during the season but a look at the game logs does not support this. Shamsky missed all of April with a back injury and did not make his first start until May 13th. He was generally in the lineup for the rest of the season, although he saw time in both left field and right field and even saw a handful of games at first base. Swoboda was essentially the regular RF in September.

Shamsky and Swoboda did platoon in the World Series, with Shamsky’s only start coming in Game Three against RHP Jim Palmer. Shamsky’s .863 OPS during the season was the second-highest mark on the club, yet he had fewer ABs in World Series than Jerry Koosman.

The 1986 Mets also platooned, with Wally Backman and Tim Teufel sharing time at second base. By the end of the season, Kevin Mitchell was a semi-regular versus LHP and Mookie Wilson also saw considerable time versus southpaws.

Fans of the 2011 club should embrace the Thole-Paulino platoon. We should also be open to a time share at second base. While platooning has not been a staple of recent editions of the team, the Mets have had great success with the strategy throughout their history.

4 comments for “Mets should embrace platooning in 2011

  1. Jay
    January 10, 2011 at 11:13 am

    There is one thing that worries me about the platoon ideas you’ve put forth here. As far as Daniel Murphy while I’m no scout I’ve sort of resigned myself to the idea that his tenure in the major leagues will be mostly as a utility player. Based on his defensive deficiencies I envision him as a guy who gets plugged in as a bat in at various positions when the match ups dictate which lends itself to a platoon.

    But I’m not yet prepared to pigeonhole Thole as a platoon player. My hope is that one of the many productive things that comes out of the 2011 Mets season is the organization gets a good look at Thole over an extended period as the primary catcher to help them determine if he is indeed the future at catcher.

    Given the defensive deficiencies noted above and the fact that he’s either blocked entirely or has stiff competition at all the positions he “plays” Murphy no longer seems to be the future at any one position but I’d like more of a chance to see if Thole can be the catcher for the next 5 years or so.

  2. January 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    I agree in part with the first poster; why would you block a young player’s development just for possible short-term gains? I’d rather see if Thole can become a full-time major league catcher.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure where this whole Daniel Murphy is a terrible defender meme is coming from. He looked great at first and has accommodated Mets management by playing at various positions with little warning. I’ve only heard good things about his play at second over the winter, a position he played in the minors. Also, if he’s good at first, he’ll probably be a fine back-up at third from a defensive POV. I’d also be curious to see what he could in a corner outfield position in more than 32 games and a few weeks of Spring Training.

  3. Brian Joura
    January 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Last year only five catchers in all of MLB caught 130 games. Also last year, 123 RHP started games against the Mets. If Thole caught all of those games, he would have tied for the ninth-most games among catchers. Having the bigger part of the platoon role is a perfect amount of games for a young backstop.

    I agree with Mike that we have no reason to believe that Murphy would be a terrible 2B. He probably needs lots of work turning DPs but his range, glove and arm should be more than adequate for the position.

    • Jay
      January 10, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      Mr. Koehler and Mr. Joura you both make very good points.

      My concern with Murphy’s defense is the one position at which he’s shown to be solid, 1B, is the one position at which he’s not likely to get much playing time. As a corner OF he was pretty bad in my opinion, and as a 2B his lack of experience resulted in his being seriously injured. Yes he played as you state well “with little warning” but ultimately my preference is for the organization to figure out what they want Murphy to be, whether that be a starting 2B or a utility player, by having him work toward that goal regularly at the AAA level. His current total of MiLB games played in LF (4) or at 2B (19) is not enough in my opinion. Even adding in his 59 MLB games played in LF Murphy has not yet played 100 professional games at any positions other than 1B or 3B the places he’s least likely to be needed at the MLB level.

      My concern with Thole is not so much one of playing time, which as you’ve shown he’d get plenty of, but one of batting against LHPs which would be very limited in a platoon scenario. I understand the numbers suggest a platoon of Paulino and Thole would be ideal but given Thole’s youth, lack of MLB experience, and potential I’d hope that an opposing LH starting pitcher would not automatically mean he’s not in the lineup.

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