Should the Orioles Platoon at LF?
If you look at the MLB depth charts page for the Orioles, it shows Nate McLouth and Nolan Reimold in a platoon in left field. Dan Duquette has stated that he is finished with the outfield this offseason after bringing back McLouth and trading for Trayvon Robinson of the Mariners. The Orioles have been trying all offseason to add a middle of the order type of bat to play first base or DH, but should they fail to do that, this is the team that will start the season. Does it make sense for the Orioles to go into the season planning on using platoons at two positions (maybe DH too)? It just may happen so let’s take a look at the possible platoon in left field.
Nate McLouth was resigned to a 1 year $2 million contract in order to play left field for the Orioles in 2013. But should he start every day or does he need a caddy to play the position when the Orioles face a left handed starter? Let’s take a look at his career splits versus left and right handed pitching.
McLouth has over 2,000 plate appearances in his career versus right handed pitching and has a 110 wRC+ against them. In other words, McLouth has been 10% better than league average against right handed pitching throughout his career. He’s gotten on base against righties at a reasonable rate (.346) as well. Even his power output against right handers, represented here by his isolated slugging percentage has been well above league average.
However, as shown in The Book we have to regress McLouth’s performance against left handers against 1,000 plate appearances of league average performance against left handers in order to get a true feel for his platoon split. Luckily for me (so I didn’t have to do it), Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs just recently put together league average performance for hitters against left and right handed pitchers. After regressing McLouth’s performance against 1,000 league average plate appearances of left on left performance, we see that McLouth is more likely a .295 wOBA hitter versus lefties and a .343 wOBA hitter versus righties. Even though it seems from the raw stats that McLouth has a rather large platoon split, it’s actually not much worse than the league average split for lefties against left handed pitching. His career split is .053 of wOBA, while league average was .041 points.
His proposed platoon partner Nolan Reimold is right handed so one would assume that he’s been better against left handed pitching in his career. But as we see from the data below, that hasn’t been the case.
Reimold has actually been better against right handed pitching in his brief career, which in reality is less than 2 seasons worth of full time plate appearances. Because of the relatively small sample and the fact that The Book has told us that we need to regress right handers performance against 2,200 league average plate appearances, we need to regress Reimold’s observed platoon split pretty heavily. After regression and assuming that Reimold’s career .346 wOBA is a measure of his true talent, we find that his true talent is more likely to be a .340 wOBA versus right handed pitching and .356 against left handed pitching. Even though Reimold has exhibited a reverse platoon split over his career so far, it’s very unlikely that his observed performance is real. It’s much more likely that he’s better against left handed pitching.
McLouth does have a slightly higher regressed wOBA against right handed pitching (.343 to .340). The data actually tells us that Nolan Reimold doesn’t need to be platooned at all, since his regressed wOBA against RHP is still far above the league average of .315. However, as I said on the most recent Bird Talk podcast, it’s possible that putting Reimold in a platoon which would keep him out of the field most days will keep him healthy. He’s had myriad health problems over the last few years, including a frayed achilles tendon and the herniated disc in his neck that ended his 2012 season.
A good plan for the Orioles in 2013 could be to start off with a left field platoon of McLouth and Reimold. If Reimold is able to stay healthy, he could start to take more at bats away from McLouth as the team moves later into the season. Late in games, Reimold could pinch hit for McLouth if the opposition brings in a lefty to face him. Reimold wouldn’t need the same treatment against right handed relievers because he’s shown he can handle them adequately. There’s also the issue of defense, where I would say McLouth is slightly better but not by enough to outweigh the offensive advantages late in a game.
Understanding that platoons limit the amount of flexibility a manager has, I would still be in favor of platooning McLouth and Reimold in left field to start the season. A platoon would allow each of them to hide their biggest weakness so far in their career, hitting lefties for McLouth and staying healthy for Reimold. Nolan has the potential to become an every day player down the line for the Orioles, but he has to prove that he can stay healthy in a part time role first. If he’s able to do that and sustain his performance, he could turn into a much more important player for the Orioles.