Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ron Gardenhire and the platoon advantage

David Huff shut out the Twins
for seven innings in the opener
of Monday's doubleheader.
On Monday morning, before the lineups for the first game of the Indians-Twins doubleheader were released, I posted a guess of what the Twins would do.

It wasn't very accurate.

Ron Gardenhire and I agreed on some important aspects for a doubleheader in oppressive heat and humidity:

  • Joe Mauer doesn't catch both games;
  • All 12 position players get at least one start.

Eighteen lineup slots to fill in the two games with 12 players meant six players would start both games. We agreed on five of the six: Mauer, Ben Revere, Michael Cuddyer, Danny Valencia and Delmon Young. (He had Alexi Casilla, I had Trevor Plouffe).

But we differed mightly on the platoon advantage. The lineups I designed used right-handed hitters Luke Hughes and Jason Repko against the left-handed David Huff and saved Jim Thome (left-handed) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (switch-hitter) for the right-handed Fausto Carmona. Gardenhire did the opposite.

Huff entered the game with a career ERA of 5.84 in 38 starts, and his platoon splits are backwards — meaning that left-handed hitters have fared better against him than right-handed hitters. Jim Thome, according to Baseball Info Systems, was 4-for-6 against Huff with two homers coming into the game, and Gardenhire said Thome's eyes lit up when told he would start against Huff rather than Carmona.

Gardenhire put his trust in those individual numbers. It didn't work — which, to be sure, doesn't mean my lineup, based not on individual matchups but on the universal principle of platoon advantages, would have done any better.

But by using his marginal left-handed bats against Huff, Gardenhire was left with his marginal right-handed bats against Carmona, and Carmona has a pronounced traditional platoon split. This is not news; Carmona has actually faced more left-handed hitters over his career than righties, because managers generally stack their lineups with lefties for his starts.

Gardenhire has a pattern of downplaying the platoon strategy, and his lineups Monday are consistent with that. He'll put more weight on a handful of at-bats in an individual matchup than in the general principle of platoon differentials.

On Monday, his lineups combined for five runs in two games. That wasn't enough with two spot starters making credible but not dominating starts.

And the two losses dropped the Twins to seven games out of first.


  1. This has always been maddening to me. Same thing when Capps was looking like Capps against the Royals in his latest blown save effort. They needed a lefty up to pitch to Hosmer. Didn't happen, game-over. Gardy blamed the offense, I blamed Gardy.


  2. I didn't like Gardy's lineup decisions, although no one except Mauer did much, so it may not have mattered. But I didn't like having all regulars except Butera in the lineup in Game 1 and I didn't like him reversing the platoons based on Huff's numbers. Its not like righties don't hit him, its just that lefties hit him better. You should base your decisions on the platoon split of Carmona, not Huff. Hughes and Plouffe should have started Game 1 and Thome and Nishi should have started Game 2.

  3. I wish that Gardy would allow Thome to be the regular DH. Had Thome played regular DH last season, he woul have hit 35 home runs. While his stats are down this year,without Morneau and Kubel the Twins have little pop in the lineup, Thome should DH every day.