(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
The Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones DH platoon was supposed to be the Yankees’ cheap filling of the hole left in their lineup after Jesus Montero was traded away. Brett Gardner‘s elbow injury and delayed comeback from the DL has thrown a bit of a wrench into those plans, and both players have been forced into more OF duty than the Yankees anticipated (especially Ibanez) while the DH spot in the lineup has become a revolving door. Even with the loss of roster flexibility created by the Gardner injury, there’s really no reason to get away from the L/R platoon plans for Ibanez and Jones, especially with a manager like Joe Girardi who loves to play the matchup game. Lately, though, it seems as though Joe has gotten away from that tactic, particularly in late-game situations, which is puzzling considering that Ibanez and Jones were signed to fill those exact roles.
If you want to jump to Joe’s defense, you could point out that Jones hasn’t exactly been the lefty masher he was in 2011 and the guy the Yankees thought they were getting when they re-signed him before this season. In 52 PA against LHP, Jones is sporting just a .213/.269/.362 slash and a .276 wOBA, a far cry from the .286/.384/.540 line (.400 wOBA) he put up last season. Jones actually has a pretty significant reverse platoon split going on right now, granted in a very small sample size, as his wOBA against RHP is .437 and 6 of the 7 hits he has off of righties in 31 PA have gone for extra bases. But reverse split or not, Jones is still at his best offensively when he’s facing lefties.
Ibanez certainly doesn’t have anything screwy going on with his platoon splits, and this is where the strategic problem comes in. In 20 PA against lefties he’s got a .211/.250/.368 line (.267) wOBA. That sample size is smaller than any of Jones’ splits, but the fact that it continues to increase in situations where Jones is available is frustrating. I can think of a few instances in recent games where the opposing team brought in a left-handed reliever and Joe allowed Ibanez to face him rather than counter with Jones to play the L/R matchup. Once or twice it was Ibanez staying in to face the lefty and then being removed for Dewayne Wise as a defensive replacement during the next half inning.
Now I can definitely get on board with anybody coming in to replace Ibanez for defensive purposes late in a game, as I’m sure everybody else can. But I can’t figure out why Joe wouldn’t choose to use Jones in that situation to get the added benefit of a favorable matchup at the plate prior to the defensive switch. Jones might not cover as much ground as Wise out in left field, but for just a couple of late innings that difference is probably negligible when you factor in Jones’ advantage at the plate. Righy or lefty on the mound, I would rather have Jones up in a late-game situation than Wise. If Joe’s argument is he doesn’t want to use his bench up and still wants somebody available if the game goes to extra innings, I would have to kindly remind him of Herm Edwards’ lesson of coaching- you play to win the game. Using Ibanez and Jones as the platoon hitters they are is a winning strategy and one that needs to continue to be implemented.
Gardner’s absence and Wise’s presence don’t change who Jones and Ibanez are as platoon hitters, and those platoon splits should continue to be considered when using these 2 even if it isn’t in the DH spot. Ibanez has already been very productive for the Yankees this season, and Jones started to heat up last year when the weather did the same. Playing the L/R matchups with these guys is the best way to maximize their value, especially in late-game situations, and something that Joe needs to get back to doing all the time. When Gardner returns, a lot of this stuff will probably work itself out, but for the time being the formula should still be simple; let Ibanez face righties, let Jones face lefties, and let Wise be the “break glass in case of emergency” extra-inning bench option.
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