FanPost

A Look at Potential SS Platoons in 2011

The biggest question mark entering the 2011 season is probably the shortstop situation following the departure of Alcides Escobar.  There has been some pretty apocalyptic commentary on Yuniesky Betancourt, but I think there's some compelling reasons to think things might not be that bad.  I decided to use available 2011 projections for the three SS options on the team - Yuniesky Betancourt, Craig Counsell and Luis Cruz - to estimate the WAR production from various platoons.

I like the ZiPS forecasting system, but for these first estimates I'm using the CAIRO system instead for two reasons: 1) CAIRO gives platoon split projections, which ZiPS doesn't, and 2) CAIRO seems to give the most pessimistic outlook regarding the offense of Betancourt/Counsell/Cruz, so there's room for a lot of upside in these platoon projections.  First, here's the wOBA splits projected by CAIRO (along with the players' ZiPS/career numbers and career UZR/150):

Bats Player Age CAIRO CAIRO CAIRO ZiPS Career Career Career Career
wOBA wOBA (RHP) wOBA (LHP) wOBA wOBA wOBA (RHP) wOBA (LHP) UZR/150
RHB Yuniesky Betancourt 29 0.292 0.287 0.309 0.301 0.297 0.291 0.324 -8.3
LHB Craig Counsell 40 0.302 0.307 0.284 0.307 0.311 0.311 0.288 +7.0
RHB Luis Cruz 27 0.286 0.281 0.296 0.291 N/A N/A N/A N/A

CAIRO projects below-career performance for both Betancourt and Counsell, and for whatever reason it's particularly low on Betancourt.  I think that's fair for Counsell given his age, but Betancourt put up a .300 wOBA last season with an extremely low BABIP, so the .292 wOBA might be a little unfair.  For these estimates I'm using Betancourt's career -8.3 UZR/150 (I think that's fair), for Counsell I'm droping his career +7.0 to  +5.0 (dropping it any further seems unfair, but I know some people disagree), and for Cruz I'm estimating it at +7.0 based on his very good minor league TotalZone numbers and reputation as a defender.  

Now, some caveats about the method I used: 1) I assumed 4 PA/GS, since the average for the #7 spot in the Brewers batting order was a little over 4.1 last season, but the #7 hitting starter is sometimes pinch-hit for, 2) wRAA, the batting component of fWAR, uses the league average wOBA, which I estimate at .325 (it was .321 last season), 3) these estimates don't include the park adjustments or other minor things used at Fangraphs and in fWAR, 4) I assumed 1 game started (GS) equals 1 defensive game (DG), which isn't the case in reality.   

First, here are the CAIRO-based projections for the three SS options assuming they could each start all 162 games:

Bats Player Age GS PA wOBA UZR/150 wRAA UZR Pos. Rep. RAR WAR
RHB Yuniesky Betancourt 29 162 648 0.292 -8.3 -18.6 -9.0 7.5 21.6 1.5 0.2
LHB Craig Counsell 40 162 648 0.302 +5.0 -13.0 5.4 7.5 21.6 21.5 2.2
RHB Luis Cruz 27 162 648 0.286 +7.0 -22.0 7.6 7.5 21.6 14.7 1.5

For reference, here are the same projections using the ZiPS offensive forecasts:

Bats Player Age GS PA wOBA UZR/150 wRAA UZR Rep. Pos. RAR WAR
RHB Yuniesky Betancourt 29 162 648 .301 -8.3 -13.5 -9.0 21.6 7.5 6.6 0.7
LHB Craig Counsell 40 162 648 .307 +5.0 -10.1 5.4 21.6 7.5 24.4 2.4
RHB Luis Cruz 27 162 648 .291 +7.0 -18.9 7.6 21.6 7.5 17.7 1.8

Betancourt appears to be the worst option, with Cruz looking fairly decent and Counsell projecting to be an above average regular (given the 2.0 WAR benchmark for an average player).  However, the team is paying for Betancourt and will probably give him quite a few starts.  The first platoon scenario that I think is realistic is a Counselcourt Platoon.

Roughly one third of starters in the major leagues are lefties, so I'm assuming around 54 GS vs. LHP in all of these projections.  An additional caveat:  one third of starters may be LHP, but that doesn't mean every pitcher the batter will face in those games is a LHP, which obviously skews these totals (which assume a GS vs. LHP = 4 PA vs LHP), but overall the impact shouldn't be that large, especially since it can be mitigated by pinch-hitters.  If we further make the pessimistic assumption that C.C. can only start 54 games at SS next year given his age, here is what production we might get with Betancourt starting all 54 games against lefties, giving 54 games against RHP for Counsell, and the remaining 54 against RHP to Betancourt:

Bats Player Age GS PA wOBA UZR/150 wRAA UZR Pos. Rep. RAR WAR
RHB Y. Betancourt (LHP) 29 54 216 0.309 -8.3 -3.0 -3.0 2.5 7.2 3.7 0.4
LHB C. Counsell (RHP) 40 54 216 0.307 +5.0 -3.4 1.8 2.5 7.2 8.1 0.8
RHB Y. Betancourt (RHP) 29 54 216 0.287 -8.3 -7.1 -3.0 2.5 7.2 -0.4 0.0
Tot: 11.4 1.1

Counsell and Betancourt have quite complementary platoon splits, so here's the much more optimistic scenario where Counsell can start all 108 games against RHP, and Betancourt can take the remaining 54 against LHP:

Bats Player Age GS PA wOBA UZR/150 wRAA UZR Pos. Rep. RAR WAR
RHB Y. Betancourt (LHP) 29 54 216 0.309 -8.3 -3.0 -3.0 2.5 7.2 3.7 0.4
LHB C. Counsell (RHP) 40 108 432 0.307 +5.0 -6.8 3.6 5.0 14.4 16.2 1.6
Tot: 19.9 2.0

It seems unlikely that Counsell could start that many games, though I don't think it's impossible, but what about giving half of those 108 GS vs. RHP to Cruz, forming a three-headed Cruzselcourt Platoon

Bats Player Age GS PA wOBA UZR/150 wRAA UZR Pos. Rep. RAR WAR
RHB Y. Betancourt (LHP) 29 54 216 0.309 -8.3 -3.0 -3.0 2.5 7.2 3.7 0.4
LHB C. Counsell (RHP) 40 54 216 0.307 +5.0 -3.4 1.8 2.5 7.2 8.1 0.8
RHB L. Cruz (RHP) 27 54 216 0.281 +7.0 -8.3 2.5 2.5 7.2 4.0 0.4
Tot: 15.8 1.6

Those numbers aren't that bad, but a three-way platoon seems rather unlikely and Cruz is projected by CAIRO to favor LHP anyways.  What about the even more unrealistic scenario where Betancourt is DFA'd and the team goes with a Cruzsell Platoon?  Again assuming Counsell can only start 54 games against RHP, giving Cruz all 54 against LHP and another 54 against RHP:

Bats Player Age GS PA wOBA UZR/150 wRAA UZR Pos. Rep. RAR WAR
RHB Luis Cruz (LHP) 27 54 216 0.296 +7.0 -5.4 2.5 2.5 7.2 6.8 0.7
LHB C. Counsell (RHP) 40 54 216 0.307 +5.0 -3.4 1.8 2.5 7.2 8.1 0.8
RHB Luis Cruz (RHP) 27 54 216 0.281 +7.0 -8.3 2.5 2.5 7.2 4.0 0.4
Tot: 18.9 1.9

However, if we shift into fantasy mode (my fantasies now include Luis Cruz starting at SS?  Weird offseason...) and give Cruz 54 games against LHP and Counsell all 108 against RHP, we get a very solid defensive platoon with above-average production:

Bats Player Age GS PA wOBA UZR/150 wRAA UZR Pos. Rep. RAR WAR
RHB Luis Cruz (LHP) 29 54 216 0.296 +7.0 -5.4 2.5 2.5 7.2 6.8 0.7
LHB C. Counsell (RHP) 40 108 432 0.307 +5.0 -6.8 3.6 5.0 14.4 16.2 1.6
Tot: 23.0 2.3

The best case scenario based on CAIRO's rather pessimistic offensive projections is Counsell starting all of the games against RHP and Luis Cruz starting all of the games against LHP, giving a very solid total production of 2.3 WAR. 

The most realistic platoon, with Counsell starting 54 games against RHP and Yuniesky Betancourt the remainder of the games (including all of the games against LHP) projects to be worth around 1.1 WAR.  That's not great, but it's nowhere near terrible either.  Alcides Escobar was only worth 0.6 WAR last season, and the total Brewers production out of SS was <1.0 WAR. 

Even with Betancourt seeing significant time and even with CAIRO's rather harsh projection, if Counsell could somehow start 108 games against RHP we could possibly get 2.0 WAR out of SS, which is average major league production. 

 

However, I think ZiPS is generally a more accurate forecasting system than CAIRO, and ZiPS likes Betancourt's offense much better.  Given Betancourt's apparent (relative) talent for hitting LHP, I think CAIRO might be understating what he is capable of if used properly in a platoon.  What if we do the same exercise for a Counselcourt Platoon using ZiPS projections?

As I said in the opening, as far as I know ZiPS doesn't project platoon splits like CAIRO does; however, we can come up with a very rough estimate of LHP/RHP splits based on the overall wOBA estimate given by ZiPS.  Betancourt has had a .324 wOBA vs. LHP and a .291 wOBA vs. RHP in his career, and if anything this ratio was even more pronounced the last two years (2010: .340 wOBA vs. LHP and .290 wOBA vs. RHP; 2009: .336 wOBA vs. LHP and .250 wOBA vs. RHP).  Using Betancourt's career rhwOBA/lhwOBA ratio and some basic algebra (wOBA = [rhwOBA + rhwOBA + lhwOBA]/3) gives manual 2011 ZiPS splits of a .323 wOBA vs. LHP and a .290 wOBA vs. RHP

The same process for Counsell (whose career splits have also been maintained the last couple years, with a wOBA vs. RHP as high as .341 in 2009)  gives a manual 2011 ZiPS split projection of a .288 wOBA vs. LHP and a .315 wOBA vs. RHP

Using these new numbers and the same defensive estimates (+5.0 UZR/150 for C.C., -8.3 UZR/150 for Yuniesky) a platoon giving 54 games vs. RHP to Counsell and the remaining 108 games to Betancourt would result in the following:

Bats Player Age GS PA wOBA UZR/150 wRAA UZR Pos. Rep. RAR WAR
RHB Y. Betancourt (LHP) 29 54 216 0.323 -8.3 -0.4 -3.0 2.5 7.2 6.3 0.6
LHB C. Counsell (RHP) 40 54 216 0.315 +5.0 -6.6 1.8 2.5 7.2 9.6 1.0
RHB Y. Betancourt (RHP) 29 54 216 0.290 -8.3 -6.6 -3.0 2.5 7.2 0.1 0.0
Tot: 16.0 1.6

Dipping into the fountain of youth and projecting Counsell to start all 108 games vs. RHP gives an even better outlook: 

Bats Player Age GS PA wOBA UZR/150 wRAA UZR Pos. Rep. RAR WAR
RHB Y. Betancourt (LHP) 29 54 216 0.323 -8.3 -0.4 -3.0 2.5 7.2 6.3 0.6
LHB C. Counsell (RHP) 40 108 432 0.315 +5.0 -3.8 3.6 5.0 14.4 19.2 1.9
Tot: 25.5 2.6

2.6 WAR is well above average production and pretty good for SS.  2.6 WAR in 2010 would have ranked right between Derek Jeter (2.5 fWAR) and Jose Reyes (2.8 fWAR).  Obviously, I'm being optimistic in thinking that Counsell could start 108 games at SS, but none of the other numbers I'm using seem optimistic or unrealistic at all.  As long as the team plays to its strengths by starting Betancourt primarily in games vs. LHP, giving Counsell as many games as he can handle versus RHP, the position promises somewhere around average to above-average production.  Counsell started 65 games last season, and 120 games in 2009, so it still seems like a very real possibility that he could start the better part of all 108 games against RHP (assuming we have another utility infielder to spot start at 1B/2B/3B).

Betancourt doesn't seem to be a very good player, but if the team uses him wisely and if Counsell can start a large number of the games against RHP, I think we can realistically expect above-average production and even a gain of up to two full wins above replacement over 2010 Alcides Escobar.

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