Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Building a Phillies outfield platoon

There is no optimal scenario for constructing the Phillies outfield this late in winter. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. conceded as much Monday when he suggested it is likely the team will use what it has.

Building a Phillies outfield platoon

(Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
(Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)

There is no optimal scenario for constructing the Phillies outfield this late in winter. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. conceded as much Monday when he suggested it is likely the team will use what it has.

The risk is obvious; the Phillies could spend $1.5 million on their starting outfield while devoting $19 million to two relief pitchers. Of the current outfield quintuplet, only Ben Revere has ever logged more than 500 at-bats in a single season. 

Amaro said the best-case scenario is pitting unproven players against one another with hopes that competition creates a viable outfield. Domonic Brown will receive every chance at earning a role as an everyday player. Health will always be an impediment until Brown shows otherwise.

The likeliest spot for a platoon situation is left field, where any combination of John Mayberry Jr., Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix could form. Mayberry and Ruf both bat righthanded.

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Mayberry, if anything, is an ideal platoon partner. His .868 OPS vs. lefties over the past two seasons is 22d in baseball among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances. His slugging percentage (.534) is 12th best. Used correctly, Mayberry could be a powerful part of a combination.

The only issue is this: The Phillies faced 53 lefthanded starting pitchers in 2012. Over the last five seasons, they have faced an average of 48.8 lefty starters per season. So if Mayberry strictly plays vs. lefties, he could expect approximately 50 starts with the platoon advantage. 

Where will the other 112 come from?

Some of it could be Mayberry, if he is the hot hand. His 2012 splits, however, suggest that is poor usage. Mayberry made 51 starts against a lefty and 56 against a righty in 2012. His OPS was 153 points lower vs. righty starters.

Oddly enough, the Phillies could hitch their outfield fate to Darin Ruf, a player not thought of highly among front office officials and scouts until late last season. No one knows if Ruf has the offensive skills to face major-league pitching on a daily basis or the ability to regularly play left field.

Ruf hit both lefties and righties during his torrid minor-league season. Ruf has a 1.188 OPS vs. lefties and .869 OPS vs. righties over the past two minor-league seasons. Whether that can translate is the great unknown. 

Nix has been used almost exclusively against righthanded pitching in his career (1,701 of his career 1,927 plate appearances are vs. righties). He is a career .253 hitter with a .744 OPS against righties. Again, the concern with Nix would be health. He has required time on the disabled list in three of the last four seasons. He missed 63 games with a calf strain in 2012.

And, as Amaro intimated Monday, this could all be a makeshift situation until a better option presents itself in a midseason trade. The Phillies should enter 2013 with enough flexibility to make such a move.

Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.

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