Thursday, February 14, 2013

More On Brandon Inge And A Dual-Platoon Infield Role

Yesterday I touched on how Brandon Inge appears to be the most likely non-roster invitee to break camp with the Pirates as could have value in the dual platoon role; his career numbers against southpaws could provide an upgrade over Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker when the club faces left-handed starting pitching.

A right-handed hitter that could produce at the plate on a part-time basis would allow the club to limit the exposure of both Alvarez and Walker against lefties while still allowing both players to attempt to improve upon their performances. It’s too early in their careers to give up on either player as a full time option; however giving either player the day off when the club faces a left-hander would likely improve the offense as a whole.

To illustrate the value that this idea could have on the line-up below are the 2012 statistics of Inge, Alvarez, Walker and Josh Harrison when facing left-handed pitchers. I have excluded Ivan De Jesus (23 PA) and Jordy Mercer (12 PA) due to the few plate appearances they received (I will look at their minor league statistics against lefties later in this post):

PA
OBP
SLG
OPS
Brandon Inge
127
.276
.417
.693
Pedro Alvarez
152
.270
.379
.648
Neil Walker
138
.314
.288
.602
Josh Harrison
94
.231
.349
.580

While Walker led the group in OBP, he showed very little power. Inge had the highest OPS of the group but even he couldn’t break the .700 mark – which will likely lead to many questioning the value of him being used in this role. Looking a little deeper into the statistics of all four players does identify Inge as an intriguing option for the Pirates in this role:

BB%
K%
ISO
BABIP
wOBA
wRC+
Brandon Inge
7.9%
27.6%
.209
.240
.297
87
Pedro Alvarez
7.2%
38.2%
.171
.303
.284
78
Neil Walker
9.4%
13.8%
.042
.279
.271
69
Josh Harrison
3.2%
12.8%
.151
.205
.249
54

Inge’s 2012 performance was dragged down by a lack of luck with balls in play, so some regression to the mean can be expected, and his isolated power was still above .200. He didn't show a lot of plate discipline, although it was still better than what Alvarez showed. While Harrison did show a little power and did have poor luck with balls in play, he also has an inability to take a walk. 

To highlight the possible regression towards the mean that Inge could show, the below are the quartet’s statistics against left-handers from 2010-2012. While last season none of the four players were above average at the plate when facing southpaws in 2012, the larger sample size further favors Brandon Inge:

PA
OBP
SLG
OPS
Brandon Inge
398
.316
.433
.749
Neil Walker
435
.326
.364
.690
Pedro Alvarez
324
.281
.353
.634
Josh Harrison
157
.234
.351
.585

Walker had an OPS of .809 in 2010, which has inflated his statistics over the last three seasons. Since then his power has dropped each year and his OPS was below .700 in both 2011 and 2012. He’s a little like Inge in the respect of declining performance over the last three seasons, however Inge has been the better hitter in each of these seasons and his BABIP has also dropped:

BB%
K%
ISO
BABIP
wOBA
wRC+
Brandon Inge
9.8%
22.4%
.197
.269
.324
101
Neil Walker
7.6%
14.3%
.095
.305
.304
90
Pedro Alvarez
8.3%
38.0%
.144
.321
.281
74
Josh Harrison
2.5%
12.1%
.142
.227
.252
56

While Alvarez’s overall numbers have improved against southpaws over the last three seasons, his strikeout percentage will restrict his production potential unless he can find a way cut it. He has, however, found some power, which is the main reason why the club will be reluctant to place him in a full time platoon. Inge has been slightly above average over the last three years and has shown plenty of power, however as his BABIP has declined in the process the question is whether it was luck or declining skills.

The other two options for the dual platoon role are Jordy Mercer and Ivan De Jesus Jr. As stated above, their sample sizes against left-handed pitchers in the majors are are so small that it is statistically irrelevant. The below table contain both players’ statistics against left-handers in the minors over the last two seasons (courtesy of Minor League Central):

PA
ISO
BABIP
K%
BB%
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
211
.155
.316
13.7%
10.0%
.289
.367
.444
.811
185
.103
.370
17.3%
14.6%
.310
.415
.413
.828

DeJesus has the better OPS, however he’s shown less power and his BABIP certainly indicates that he had a lot of luck in the process. Mercer is an intriguing option; he has shown good plate discipline and middling power. While his BABIP is on the lucky side, it’s not to De Jesus’ extreme. 

I do think that the Pirates offense can be improved this season by the club limiting Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker’s exposure to left-handed pitching (both players should always start when the club faces a right-hander) and Brandon Inge is the proven veteran to take on the part-time platoon role. While there is the issue of whether Inge’s declining performance and low-BABIP numbers are due to luck or declining skills,  it’s clear that Inge would be the better option than Harrison. The question is if the club would be better suited to go with Inge or Jordy Mercer in this role. The club could use Mercer in this dual platoon role to assess whether he could replace Clint Barmes at shortstop in 2014 – with Inge acting as minor league depth if Mercer falters.

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