Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Successful second-base platoons since 1986

At the end of our last post, we summarized Tyler Greene‘s positional outlook by saying that “Ultimately, it may simply make sense to use Greene as part of a three-way platoon, with lefties Skip Schumaker and Daniel Descalso splitting the rest of the time. His glove and speed should be enough to make his rostering worthwhile.” That led to a couple of clarifying comments by EFitz and ahitz about the platoon, which we affirmed by saying “Some great teams have won with second-base platoons. The 1986 Mets, with Wally Backman and Tim Teufel, come to mind.”

It’s a good thing no one challenged us to come up with a second example of “some great teams.” Other than the 1986 Mets, have any contending teams featured a second-base platoon?

The short answer is yes. First, let’s clarify the meaning of “platoon”:

An intentional job-sharing arrangement based on strategic considerations in which two or more players alternate starts but not at greater than a 2:1 ratio at a position.

By this definition, then, a situation in which two players who man a position because one gets sent down to the minors or one gets injured doesn’t count, the former reason being unintentional and the latter not exactly being strategic.

Considering that in most given seasons a majority of teams have a second baseman who earns at least 3.0 Wins Above Replacement, setting a benchmark of 3.0 WAR for a platoon seems a reasonable starting point for finding successful examples. A preliminary list, then, of teams since 1986 with at least two players with a minimum of 50 games each at 2B who combined for 3.0 WAR or more:

Year Team Players WAR
2010 Atlanta Braves Omar Infante/Martin Prado 6.0
2010 Boston Red Sox Bill Hall/Dustin Pedroia 4.9
2010 Tampa Bay Rays Reid Brignac/Sean Rodriguez/Ben Zobrist 5.4
2009 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Maicer Izturis/Howie Kendrick 6.3
2009 Milwaukee Brewers Craig Counsell/Felipe Lopez 5.5
2009 Tampa Bay Rays Akinori Iwamura/Ben Zobrist 8.2
2008 Chicago Cubs Mark DeRosa/Mike Fontenot 6.7
2008 Cleveland Indians Asdrubal Cabrera/Jamey Carroll 4.7
2008 St. Louis Cardinals Adam Kennedy/Aaron Miles 3.2
2008 Toronto Blue Jays Joe Inglett/Marco Scutaro 6.5
2004 Chicago Cubs Mark Grudzielanek/Todd Walker 3.3
2004 Chicago White Sox Willie Harris/Juan Uribe 4.8
2004 Los Angeles Dodgers Alex Cora/Jose Hernandez 3.8
2004 Philadelphia Phillies Placido Polanco/Chase Utley 2.9
2003 San Francisco Giants Ray Durham/Neifi Perez 4.1
2001 New York Mets Edgardo Alfonzo/Desi Relaford 3.1
2000 St. Louis Cardinals Placido Polanco/Fernando Vina 5.0
1999 Oakland Athletics Tony Phillips/Randy Velarde 4.0
1997 Boston Red Sox Jeff Frye/John Valentin 5.4
1996 Pittsburgh Pirates Carlos Garcia/Jeff King 4.8
1994 St. Louis Cardinals Luis Alicea/Geronimo Pena 3.1
1993 Detroit Tigers Tony Phillips/Lou Whitaker 9.9
1993 New York Yankees Mike Gallego/Pat Kelly 5.9
1992 Detroit Tigers Tony Phillips/Lou Whitaker 9.6
1992 Oakland Athletics Lance Blankenship/Mike Bordick 7.3
1992 St. Louis Cardinals Luis Alicea/Geronimo Pena 3.4
1991 Milwaukee Brewers Jim Gantner/Willie Randolph 6.2
1991 San Diego Padres Bip Roberts/Tim Teufel 3.6
1988 California Angels Mark McLemore/Johnny Ray 4.0
1988 New York Mets Wally Backman/Tim Teufel 5.0
1987 San Francisco Giants Chris Speier/Robby Thompson 4.0
1986 Oakland Athletics Donnie Hill/Tony Phillips 5.6

Not all of those combinations meet our subjective definition of “platoon,” however. Once we apply that definition — which most fail on account of the 2:1 games-started ratio — the list becomes:

Year Team Players WAR
2009 Tampa Bay Rays Akinori Iwamura/Ben Zobrist 8.2
1992 Oakland Athletics Lance Blankenship/Mike Bordick 7.3
2008 Chicago Cubs Mark DeRosa/Mike Fontenot 6.7
2008 Toronto Blue Jays Joe Inglett/Marco Scutaro/Aaron Hill 6.5
2009 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Maicer Izturis/Howie Kendrick 6.3
1986 Oakland Athletics Donnie Hill/Tony Phillips 5.6
2009 Milwaukee Brewers Craig Counsell/Felipe Lopez 5.5
1988 New York Mets Wally Backman/Tim Teufel 5.0
2004 Chicago White Sox Willie Harris/Juan Uribe 4.8
1996 Pittsburgh Pirates Carlos Garcia/Jeff King 4.8
2008 Cleveland Indians Asdrubal Cabrera/Jamey Carroll 4.7
2010 Tampa Bay Rays Reid Brignac/Sean Rodriguez/Ben Zobrist 4.3
1991 San Diego Padres Bip Roberts/Tim Teufel 3.6
1992 St. Louis Cardinals Luis Alicea/Geronimo Pena 3.4
2004 Chicago Cubs Mark Grudzielanek/Todd Walker 3.3
2008 St. Louis Cardinals Adam Kennedy/Aaron Miles 3.2
1994 St. Louis Cardinals Luis Alicea/Geronimo Pena 3.1

That’s a pretty good set of successful platoons (we should point out that even that 1986 Mets duo didn’t qualify, though the 1988 version did).¬† So of those 17 teams, the following six made the playoffs:

Year Team Players WAR
2010 Tampa Bay Rays Reid Brignac/Sean Rodriguez/Ben Zobrist 4.3
2009 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Maicer Izturis/Howie Kendrick 6.3
2008 Chicago Cubs Mark DeRosa/Mike Fontenot 6.7
1992 Oakland Athletics Lance Blankenship/Mike Bordick 7.3
1988 New York Mets Wally Backman/Tim Teufel 5.0
1986 Oakland Athletics Donnie Hill/Tony Phillips 5.6

Is that a lot? It seems like a fair number. A couple of caveats are in order, of course. First, a lack of historical instances of playoff teams with 2B platoons doesn’t mean 2B platoons can’t help teams to the playoffs. Second, without correlation of successful platoons at other positions and playoffs teams, we can’t really know whether second base is any more or less vital to the playoff equation, anyway.

Another way to look at it is to find out how many contenders had strong individual second basemen. To be sure, the Cardinals alone have been led to the playoffs by outstanding keystone seasons by the likes of Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch, Lou Klein, Red Schoendienst and Tom Herr. A few days ago we noted how many of the Cardinals’ recent managers were second baseman during their playing days. It might be that second basemen also play an important role in getting to the playoffs. As for the 2012 Cardinals, a combined 3.0-WAR season between Greene, Schumaker and Descalso seems a reasonable goal.

One Response to “Successful second-base platoons since 1986”

  1. ahitz Says:

    Thanks for researching that Pip… I was curious but lacked the time last week to check it out and reply. Also need to show my ignorance here, how do you calculate combined WAR?

    I did take a look at the platoons you listed as having made the playoffs and noticed that most of them contained players who saw time at other positions during the season, just as we’d expect potential Cardinal platoon members to. I also compared them experience-wise to a potential Cardinal platoon of Descalso, Greene and Schumaker. I just looked at number of plate appearances (majors) for each player in each platoon the previous 3 seasons, which is as many seasons as Greene has.

    Except for Blankenship/Bordic, each of those platoons had at least one member who had multiple seasons with over 300 plate appearances, (technically the Rays 2010 platoon didn’t, but Zobrist averaged 300 over 3 years so close enough) Schumaker averaged 505 over the last 3 years, Green never had more than 122 in a year, and Descalso had 375 last year and 37 the year before.

    I’m not sure how important that PA stat is, but it suggests that successful platoons have at least one experienced hitter, so a platoon containing Schumaker makes sense. As Skip is now starting the season on the DL, I have to wonder if platooning Greene and Descalso is as viable? Could it be in the team’s best interest to let one of them get that every day playing experience early in the season, in hopes of developing him into a higher value player?

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