February 7, 2013 at 5:21 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
The Braves, having traded Martin Prado, are locked into Juan Francisco and/or Chris Johnson at third base. Each will be given an opportunity to win the starting role. The likelihood of either actually excelling in a full time gig is low, and the most likely end result is that the two share time at the hot corner. Since they are left-handed and right-handed at the plate, but career platoon splits suggest that both do much better against right-handed hitters than they do against southpaws. That is expceted out of Francisco, but the “reverse platoon split” from Johnson is at least a cause for concern.
First off, with Johnson’s splits, he stepped to the plate against southpaws under 400 times. That is a rather small sample size, so it is no certainty that he “can’t hit lefties.” Additionally, he did not have reverse platoon splits in the minors, so the historical trend of him struggling against left-handers is not there. Even if he is bad against lefties, he will still probably be better than Francisco. Regardless, I do not believe a straight platoon of hitting Francisco against righties and Johnson against lefties is the way to go.
Rather, I would look deeper into the opposing pitcher’s splits before setting the lineup every day. If the Braves are facing a lefty, such as Ricky Romero for instance, who relies on his changeup heavily and has reverse platoon splits for his career, starting Francisco could be the wise decision. Similarly, when the Braves face a righty or lefty who struggle against righties in particular, they should start Johnson. There are two sides to splits, and looking strictly at one side of them does not paint a full picture. With two players who have, in their very short sample sizes, performed similarly against both righties and lefties, looking at where the opposing pitcher thrives or struggles against is the likely wise way to attack the platoon.
While this is what I would do, I doubt it is what Fredi would do. Fredi, in my eyes, will ride whomever the “hot hand” is at the position. If Juan is hitting well, I expect Fredi to start him, and the same with Johnson. Each will have slumps throughout the season, so one of the more notable ways Fredi can help or hurt the team is in how he handles this platoon. While I don’t necessarily agree with riding the hot hand, since the theory itself is not one that has much backbone behind it, I do understand trying to mix and match over the course of the season to maximize the team’s value.
If he and the Braves really want to do this, they will look at the opposing pitchers and decide based off that. I would personally rather the Braves mix and match as I expect Fredi will than stick to a strict righty/lefty platoon. If one runs away with the job and excels, great. If they both struggle, at least the Braves have some cash to trade for a decent option over the course of the year. This is not the best situation by any means, but it is a situation in which the Braves have a number of options. When you do not have a set player at the position, having a decent amount of ways to go is the next best thing. If the Braves end up with 2.5 wins from third base, consider that a solid job by the GM and manager.