Endy Chavez: Platoon Bat?

Within the scope of the failings of the 2011 season, where should we put the Orioles' loyalty to Vladimir Guerrero? I really do not want to keep harping on the guy, who I do have a large amount of respect for, and who wasn't especially high up on the list of issues for the team (he did not play any defense, and defense was The Problem). And yet, oh so much digital ink was spilled complaining about the signing of Guerrero, the cost of Guerrero, the lineup spot of Guerrero, and so on.

By August, I was writing things like "Vlad is making me doubt my life as an Orioles fan" and that the way the O's were using Vlad showed that maybe they are "not caring enough [about winning and losing] to pretend to show me that they're paying attention to the non-performance" of Guerrero. Today, with the benefit of not being invested on a daily basis, or perhaps the benefit of not having the Orioles to watch play baseball on a daily basis, I can see that that was all silly. The problem was not the production (as poor as it was), but rather the symbolic issue of the Orioles pandering to veterans, no matter their actual worth. Watching Guerrero stick around in the cleanup role was frustrating.

This wasn't limited to just one player or just one year. We were quixotically told throughout the rebuilding/youth movement that veteran leadership was a priority. The young players needed mentors, the young pitchers needed a batted-proven ace, the young hitters needed a proven cleanup hitter, and the bullpen needed a Proven Closer. So it was that the Orioles trotted out the Vlads, Atkins, Tejadas, Greggs, Millwoods, Gonzalezes, and Eatons of the world. And, to be fair, that wasn't always a bad thing; Gregg Zaun was a pretty good player in his second tour with the birds, for example. And, as I've never been in a professional clubhouse, I don't know how important a veteran presence can be for a group of precocious young ballplayers.

But what I can say for certain is that I don't want roster decisions to be made with "pandering to a veteran" as a priority, not even a low priority. I can see "pandering to a really good player", although I'd call it something like "complimenting, building around, and generally maximizing our use of a star player". But how many years a guy has been in the league and how well-known he is are not things that should matter at all in roster construction or strategy implementations.

Which brings us to newest Oriole Endy Chavez. You probably know that Chavez is more of a defensive whiz than a hitter, although he isn't exactly Cesar Izturis. You may also have already heard this from multiple sources, but here is MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli:

The expectation is that the left-handed [hitting Chavez] will serve as a platoon [bat]...

I have a tendency to think most of the problems with the Orioles' offense can be solved with platoons, so I applaud the general thinking. Platoons, in case you aren't up on the lingo, involve using one player against left-handed pitching and another player for the same defensive position against right-handed pitching. They can be extremely effective, taking two seriously flawed players and generating a lot of production out of both of them.

Chavez's platoon splits by the all-encompassing offensive metric weighted on-base average (wOBA) break down like so:

Career (L/R): .307/.302

2011 (L/R): .366/.317 (46 PA vs. LHP)

So, he may not be exactly the best player ever to use in a platoon, but the Orioles can still bump up their overall production by limiting one of their other outfielder's time against the weak side of the plate. But which player is going to be Chavez's apparent platoon-mate? Of course, we all already know that the end of Britt Ghiroli's quote is:

...in left field with Nolan Reimold.

If you're looking for righteous indignation that the Orioles are once again putting down poor Nolan Reimold, you won't find it here. This isn't about Reimold's development or whatever. If the Orioles have the opportunity to increase the amount of runs they can score by limiting the exposure of a flaw in one of their players, they probably should go for it. Nolan Reimold is 28 years old. He's not some young hotshot prospect who needs time to season.

Reimold could probably benefit from a platoon, too. Here are his wOBA splits:

Career (L/R): .332/.345

2011 (L/R) .295/.360 (98 PA vs. LHP)

Reimold's big league time is extremely uneven, so if the Orioles believe that his struggles with left-handed pitching will not improve from 2011, then having him not face lefties makes sense, though having Chavez take those plate appearances away could easily backfire. It looks like a bad gamble, but it is mitigated by the extra defensive innings Chavez would receive in a strict platoon. But here's what's interesting to me:

Adam Jones, career (L/R): .297/.341

Adam Jones, 2011 (L/R): .292/.353 (164 PA vs. LHP)

While Reimold has been erratic, Adam Jones' splits have been remarkably consistent, all the way back to 2008. He simply cannot hit left handed pitching, but he mashes righties. If you had to choose between two players to put into a strict platoon, both of whom put up similar numbers against lefties in 2011, who would you choose? I would probably opt to put the one I know for a fact has never and probably will never hit lefties over the one who has struggled but also has a chance to be okay against lefties. Further, remember how I just said that Chavez's poor hitting, even in a platoon, would be mitigated by giving him more defensive innings? Should those innings come in center field or left field? I would probably say center.

If the O's are set on using Chavez in a platoon, which is debatable on its own merits, let me just say that I would be startled if it was with veteran, team-leader, star player Adam Jones instead of erratic, enigmatic Nolan Reimold. And I would say it just like that, because the reasons not to do so is that Adam Jones is Adam Jones, a player casual fans have heard of and who wins awards and has lots of twitter followers and seems like a pretty good, open, public guy. Which is exactly the most frustrating kind of decision to make.

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