Monday, April 6, 2015

Jordan Schafer and the Opening Day lineup

Jordan Schafer hit
.143 against left-handers
last season.
The day after I dissected the difference between platooning and playing matchups, Paul Molitor revealed his planned lineup for today's season opener against David Price, one of the best lefties in the game. That lineup included three players with a history of struggling against lefties: Oswaldo Arcia, Jordan Schafer and Kennys Vargas. And Schafer, of course, is supposed to be in a center field platoon.

Arcia and Vargas, I get. They're young guys, they're supposed to be regulars, and the first game of the season isn't a time for a manager to say: This guy needs a day off anyway, let's get so-and-so in the lineup.

Schafer is another matter. His career OPS against southpaws is almost 200 points lower than against right-handers. (Which is not to say that he's been all that good against righties either over the years.) So why is he in the lineup against Price while purported platoon mate Shane Robinson sits?

Molitor suggests that Opening Day is a day to play your regulars. Which I would accept -- see the second paragraph -- but for the fact that Molitor has avoided anointing Schafer as the regular center fielder.

So what other, unstated, rationale might the manager have for playing Schafer against Price?

The change-up

Price is one of the many pitchers who came up through the Tampa Bay system, which (as we've learned since Neil Allen became Minnesota's pitching coach) emphasizes the change -p. Last year, according to Baseball Info Systems, Price threw his change on 20 percent of his pitches.

While I don't know how his change-up use breaks down by platoons, it's a good bet that Price uses the change more against right-handed hitters than against lefties. This is something of a pitching staple: fastball-breaking ball against same side hitters, fastball-change against opposite side hitters. You're looking for a pitch that moves away from the hitter.

So the idea might be to take the change away from Price.

Is Price backwards?

Not really. For his career, Price enters 2015 with a career OPS allowed against righties of .676, against lefties of .561.

However, last year lefties were slightly better than righties against Price: .644 OPS for right handers, .657 for lefties. That's obviously in a smaller sample than the career figures, but it's more recent.


Schafer is presumably perceived as a better defensive player than Robinson, who mostly played right field in the exhibitions. Molitor may figure that neither is all that likely to hit Price, so go with the better glove.

Schafer really is the regular, for now

It's usually best to follow the John Mitchell Rule with managers. (Mitchell was Richard Nixon's first attorney general who famously told opponents of school integration "Watch what we do, not what we say.")

Molitor says he's platooning Robinson and Schafer. We'll see. He may wind up playing Schafer more than that for a time, until Schafer convinces him that the team would do better with someone else.

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