Pat Burrell & Willy Aybar: The Rays Designated Hitting Odd Couple

On paper a switch-hitter and a right-handed batter should make decent platoon partners. One would think that the righty would excel at hitting left-handed pitching (LHP) while the switch-hitter should be serviceable against righties as well as lefties. Of course we know not all switch-hitters are not created equally (see Navarro, Dioner or Perez, Fernando), but in general a pairing between the two should work.

Here in Tampa Bay we have an odd coupling of designated hitters. Through the first 25 games, Pat Burrell has 18 starts at the position with Willy Aybar starting the other seven. However, the platoon is kind of backwards.

The right-handed hitting Burrell has gotten the bulk of his starts against right-handed pitchers (RHP) while switch-hitting Aybar has faced more lefties as of late. Only 22% of Burrell's 2010 plate appearances have come against lefties. Aybar has faced LHP 64% of the time.

Aybar facing lefties is actually a good thing. For his career, he is a .274/.362/.454 against lefties. He is acceptable against RHP hitting .261/.339/.391, but lefties are kind of his thing.

When we signed Pat Burrell in early 2009, we expected "The Bat" to be our savior against LHP. After all, at the time of the signing he was a career .276/.410/.540 hitter against southpaws. In case you haven't noticed, things have not gone according to plan. Burrell hit .202/.336/.252 with just six extra base hits against LHP last year. The next home run he hits off a lefty will be his first since 2008.

2010 hasn't been any better as Burrell is hitless on the season in 16 plate appearances against LHP. On the other hand, Burrell has a weird reverse split going for him this year. Against RHP, he is hitting like pre-2009 Burrell. In 56 plate appearances against righties, he is hitting .300/.375/.520 with seven base hits including both of his home runs.

Since most of us had Burrell written off a sunk cost before the season, the .391 weighted on-base average against RHP is a welcomed sight. Considering that the league is still predominately pitched by righties, Burrell and his reverse split could actually be a good thing. (Of course, there will be some regression along the way, but let's not rain on PtB's parade.)

Once more, we are dealing with very small sample sizes, but if the Rays can get league above production from the DH spot - regardless of who's batting against who - that would be a fantastic development considering the low expectations we had for the position going into the season.. If you factor in that the average DH is hitting .237/.327/.390 that should be an easy task.

Long Live The Platoon!

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