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Miami Marlins missed platoon opportunities in past

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The Miami Marlins have never focused on the small advantages like the platoon edge before. This is another area in which the team could improve.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs detailed the best projected platoons of 2016. In particular, he highlighted one particularly interesting platoon combination: the potential first base setup in Tampa Bay. The Rays have a crowded situation in the corner outfield / first base / designated hitter situation, but two players who fit perfectly as a tandem are new acquisitions Corey Dickerson and Steve Pearce. Dickerson and Pearce, if they were to split time like a normal platoon, could average out to a nifty 124 wRC+, which is about equivalent to what Justin Upton got paid for over the next six seasons with the Detroit Tigers. Upton has a career wRC+ of 121.

August points out one important note about the advantage of the, um, platoon advantage.

This is one of the ways in which small-market teams can keep up with their big-market brothers, and one of the reasons why clubs like the Indians, A’s and Rays are so often found near the top of the platoon advantage leaderboard. There’s something very compelling about the cost-effective nature of a productive platoon, as well as the brutal honesty. A platoon is an organization’s way of telling a player, "We know you’re severely flawed, but we’re fine with who you are, and don’t need you to be anything more," which sort of flies in the face of the traditional macho, "strive for greatness" athlete persona.

The teams regularly at the top of the leaderboard are some of the smartest organizations in the game, or at the very least some of the most resourceful. Clubs like the Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, and Tampa Bay Rays simply do not have the resources to afford guys like Justin Upton. Instead, they work to maximize their bench roster spots by employing platoons. This is something we have discussed recently.

One easy way to make this happen is to platoon playersin the starting lineup with bench guys. The Oakland Athletics are notorious for doing this, having found useful diamonds in the rough in guys like John Jaso, Brandon Moss,Stephen Vogt, and Jonny Gomes. They squeezed value out of these players by putting them in platoon situations and having them primarily face opposite-handed pitchers, making both their performance and their partner's performance greatly enhanced.

This is a way you can add depth to your roster and build cheap value, by giving players who are likely flawed the best chance to succeed and acquiring them partners who can help. This sort of approach is exactly what a cost-limited club like Miami should be doing, which makes it especially frustrating to see where the Marlins are on the platoon advantage leaderboard.

Rank Team 2013-2015 %Platoon Advantage
1 Cleveland Indians 72.0
2 Oakland Athletics 67.3
3 New York Yankees 67.0
T-4 Seattle Mariners 63.3
T-4 Philadelphia Phillies 63.3
-- League Average 55.0
Miami Marlins 45.7

The Marlins are well below both the league average and the top teams at manufacturing the platoon edge as often as possible. It is not as though has a distinct lack of lineup balance; the Fish are not exactly 50/50 on lefty-righty hitters in their lineup, but among the most played players in the last three years of lineups, the team has averaged close to three lefties in the lineup every year (counting Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who theoretically should always have the platoon advantage). Last year, the Marlins had Christian Yelich, Justin Bour, and Dee Gordon and still hit with the platoon edge only 46 percent of the time.

In other words, it cannot just be explained by lineup imbalance. The Marlins have never cared about this before, even though it had been successful for them once in the past. Other teams have forced the issue, signed and committed players to a platoon, and given themselves a small edge against the competition. The platoon advantage is a real thing that is not going away, and the Marlins, as in many other areas of advancement, are behind in the dust. Their platoon edge last year was equivalent to other behind-the-times organizations like the Arizona Diamondbacks or with teams with such elite talent (or money to afford it) that they do not need to platoon like the Toronto Blue Jays.

The platoon edge does not guarantee success, but it does help build towards it. The Marlins may try it at least at one position this year, as the Fish may pair right-hander Chris Johnson off the bench with incumbent lefty first baseman Bour. Of course, Miami said they would try this just last year with Garrett Jones and Jeff Baker, ideal platoon mates. Still, the team balked initially at platooning Jones and offered him every opportunity early on to take the job full time before deciding to rest him regularly against lefties.

Even if Miami rightfully commits to a full platoon between Bour and Johnson, the production may not be as pretty as one would like. Johnson has spent the last two years being a bad player, and he is currently projected to hit just .261/.297/.375 (.292 wOBA, 82 wRC+) overall. According to Steamer projections for platoon splits, the Marlins' pair is only average overall at the plate.

The duo is only projected to be better in terms of Wins Above Replacement than the first base teams in Philadelphia and Colorado, the outfield tandem in Atlanta of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, and the ugly DH team in Baltimore. Now, it is certainly possible Bour could be a better than league average hitter given his work from last year, and likewise Johnson could be a better hitter as well. Still, based on these projections, the combination would be below league average compared to the average first baseman on offense, with an upside of league average.

How might that have improved with another addition, like that of Pearce? Pearce's projected line versus lefties is a 121 wRC+, and based on these projections, that would lead to a wRC+ of 112, about 13 percentage points above the one with Johnson. Combine that with Pearce's well-known solid defense at first base and you could see that edge being worth 10 runs, or about a win.

If your team is not looking to win in 2016, then by all means, test out Justin Bour to see if he is a potential future trade asset or someone who can fill the first base position full-time for the next few years. But Miami has claimed they want to contend, and to do so, they need to maximize every opportunity. Platooning Bour is the right first step in that process, but they could have done a better job this offseason, if not a slightly more expensive one.