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A Man, A Plan, A Platoon

Carlos Santana furthers the progress of Matt Klentak’s clandestine plan to mitigate the platoon disadvantage

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees
Strong on both sides of the plate, Santana solidifies the Phillies’ attack against either pitcher handedness
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Buried beneath the headlines of a franchise’s next watershed moment - the signing of Carlos Santana earlier in December, which you may have heard about - an ulterior motive was being sated. For all the worthy and deserved praise Santana brought upon the front office for its identification of a consistent offensive producer who could lend credibility to a club looking to complete its resurgence, there was a deeper pursuit in progress, a corollary characteristic that Santana possessed that fit a micro need: Santana’s switch-hitting ability and lack of weak side reinforces the lineup’s new-and-improving ability to fare well against either pitcher handedness.

I know we don’t like to speak of the Dark Years, but it’s worth observing how markedly and quickly the Phillies lineup looks to have set itself up to improve in all platoon situations since 2015. That year, same-handed batters were absolutely pulverized: Righties had a .629 cumulative OPS against right-handed pitchers, and lefties had a .571 OPS against their pitching kin. That’s freaking gross, and borderline illegal; the worst non-pitcher offenders were Darin Ruf (.483 OPS in 183 PA), Carlos Ruiz (.501, 258) and Cameron Rupp (.597, 226). Lefties were worse, though (mercifully) over fewer PA, as Ryan Howard (.418), Ben Revere (.560), Chase Utley (.580) and Cody Asche (.585) were all substandard.

Obviously, having every right-handed hitter essentially boil down to being one giant lump of Bob Dernier and every lefty be a mushy amalgam resembling Clay Dalrymple over a full season isn’t the best way to not lose 90 games. So, as the Phillies looked to move out from under the shadow of the old guard and into the light of a cavalry of hopefuls, there was some hope that the numbers above would start to tick up too, even if that hope was more nascent than the macro goal of finding guys who could stick at the Major League level.

The 2016 season saw cumulative improvements on both sides of the plate - .648 right-versus-right, .553 left-versus-left - though no one really stood out as anything well above average in either case, and only three lefties had more than just 10 PA against southpaws, to boot. It was a weird year.

Last year, though, things really began to get interesting: Righties hit right-handed pitchers better by almost 80 points of OPS (.721), and lefties kept pace (.684). Check out the year-over-year numbers:

2015-17 Non-Platoon

RvR (50+ PA) 2015 PA 2015 OPS 2016 PA 2016 OPS 2017 PA 2017 OPS 2015-2016 YoY 2016-2017 YoY
RvR (50+ PA) 2015 PA 2015 OPS 2016 PA 2016 OPS 2017 PA 2017 OPS 2015-2016 YoY 2016-2017 YoY
Aaron Altherr 103 .936 181 .553 289 .867 -.383 .314
Maikel Franco 252 .844 493 .698 461 .701 -.146 .003
Jeff Francoeur 202 .769 - - - - n/a n/a
Cameron Rupp 226 .597 347 .699 222 .657 .102 -.042
Carlos Ruiz 258 .501 136 .676 - - .175 n/a
Darin Ruf 183 .483 59 .511 - - .028 n/a
Tommy Joseph - - 247 .774 386 .732 n/a -.042
Peter Bourjos - - 296 .676 - - n/a n/a
Tyler Goeddel - - 129 .626 - - n/a n/a
Jorge Alfaro - - - - 77 1.054 n/a n/a
Rhys Hoskins - - - - 154 1.016 n/a n/a
Howie Kendrick - - - - 111 .825 n/a n/a
LvL (25+ PA)
Odubel Herrera 134 .720 162 .599 161 .794 -.121 .195
Cody Asche 83 .585 27 .734 - - .149 n/a
Chase Utley 76 .580 - - - - n/a n/a
Ben Revere 100 .560 - - - - n/a n/a
Ryan Howard 107 .418 35 .355 - - -.063 n/a
Nick Williams - - - - 93 .738 n/a n/a
Michael Saunders - - - - 60 .619 n/a n/a
J.P. Crawford - - - - 28 .380 n/a n/a

The results are something of a mixed bag - as all of these things tend to be - but the influx of big-time production from rookies, a healthy Altherr and a bounceback from Odubel helped elevate the totals in 2017. It’s been glossed over to this point, but hitters who did actually possess the advantage (right-versus-left and vice versa) grew steadily in OPS on one side while slipping on the other from 2015 to 2017.

  • Righties vs. LHP: .761, .690, .695
  • Lefties vs. RHP: .705, .727, .747

Franco and Joseph saw the biggest declines on the right side, and the former’s ability to get back to his 2015 self would go a long way in 2017.

Anyway, all of this leads us to Santana. Here’s how the club’s newest pick-up has slashed in each of the last three seasons:

  • 2015 RHB v. LHP: .268/.382/.374 (.755)
  • 2015 LHB v. RHP: .210/.345/.406 (.751)
  • 2016 RHB v. LHP: .267/.347/.395 (.742)
  • 2016 LHB v. RHP: .256/.374/.541 (.915)
  • 2017 RHB v. LHP: .255/.354/.423 (.777)
  • 2017 LHB v. RHP: .262/.368/.476 (.844)

A handful of things stand out. First, there’s obviously a power discrepancy at play here, even if Santana’s SLG has increased as a right-handed batter over the last three seasons. Two, every single split has an OBP of at least .345, setting Santana up to fit beautifully at or near the top of the lineup no matter who’s pitching. Third, Santana’s strong side is the one he’ll be using most often, as the majority of pitchers in the league still skews righty and Santana has had 400-500 of his PA in each of the last seven seasons come as a left-handed batter facing a right-handed pitcher.

Based purely on 2017 splits with the current roster and playing toward the handedness bias, here’s how two potential lineups would look in 2018:

Against a righty...

  1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B: .299/.381/.407
  2. Odubel Herrera, CF: .279/.326/.445
  3. Carlos Santana, 1B: .262/.368/.476
  4. Rhys Hoskins, LF: .287/.396/.620
  5. Nick Williams, RF: .293/.340/.498
  6. J.P. Crawford, SS: .277/.407/.383
  7. Maikel Franco, 3B: .237/.284/.417
  8. Andrew Knapp, C: .269/.379/.388
  • Jorge Alfaro, C: .375/.416/.639
  • Aaron Altherr, OF: .285/.346/.521

And against a lefty...

  1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B: .281/.353/.458
  2. Aaron Altherr, RF: .239/.325/.505
  3. Carlos Santana, 1B: .255/.354/.423
  4. Rhys Hoskins, LF: .171/.397/.610
  5. Odubel Herrera, CF: .288/.323/.471
  6. Maikel Franco, 3B: .209/.272/.385
  7. Jorge Alfaro, C: .200/.243/.257
  8. J.P. Crawford, SS: .087/.250/.130
  • Andrew Knapp, C: .216/.326/.297
  • Nick Williams, OF: .274/.333/.405

Caveats abound, from sample sizing to regression accounting to other variables like Cameron Rupp’s and Tommy Joseph’s existence and the unlikelihood that strict platoons would be observed at any one position. And, as Schmenk analyzed yesterday, the lineup configurations this roster may employ are something of a new frontier. But looking at the above, asterisks and all, it’s difficult not to see a number of threats on any given day.

And that’s the whole point here. Carlos Santana is more than just a switch-hitter; he’s a remarkably consistent one with a demonstrated ability to get on base, no matter which side of the plate he’s hitting from. Add that to a group of players that can be configured in a number of ways that give them a strategic advantage on the strong platoon side and, well, you have the makings of an offense that should be well-equipped to handle either option. We’ll call that Venditte-Proofing.

With further moves certainly yet to be made, some of the above may vary slightly. But as things stand today, the Phils are starting to look more and more prepared to take on all comers.