Brignac & Bartlett: Split Enz


There has been a lot of discussion this year on the shortstop usage of the Rays. The incumbent Jason Bartlett was coming off a monster career year only to run into a dreadful first half of the season. Prospect Reid Brignac finally cracked the opening day roster following a brilliant Spring and proceeded to have a red hot start playing mostly as part of a second base platoon.

As the season has worn on we have witnessed a few things. First, its clear Brignac has the better glove. For whatever reason, Bartlett's lateral quickness has turned into quick sand. Furthermore he has botched a surprising number of routine plays. By the time Bartlett had finished his putrid first half, most of the fan base was ready to turn over the position to Brignac against all right-handed pitching. I cautioned that while Bartlett would not relive 2009, he was far better than his first half with strong supporting evidence from our old friends BABIP, LD%, and his plate discipline. Bartlett has recovered to perform near his career norms in the 2nd half. Meanwhile Brignac went into a brutal slump before recently getting hot again. Once again, the clamoring for more Briggy is being heard loud and clear with many questioning Maddon's infatuation with Bartlett.

While the most common argument is for a straight-handedness platoon, I am not sure the solution is so simple. Crazy Joe Maddon often references swing planes and I'm not sure there is a more distinct difference on the team than that between Jason Bartlett and Reid Brignac. Kevin Kennedy often notes Bartlett's short compact swing, while we are all familiar with Reid's mighty uppercut. Very different swing planes, very different results. The Book tells us the ground ball pitchers will own ground ball hitters, and likewise with fly ballers. Brignac's uppercut screams fly ball. This would lead us to expect Reid to perform well against ground ball pitchers who keep the ball down in the zone. Our eyes tell us this is true based on his high strikeout rate against fastballs up in the zone, and most of his home runs seeming to come from balls at the bottom or below the zone. Do the numbers hold up to our eyes in an admittedly small season sample size of splits?

 

Brignac

Bartlett

OBP

SLG

OBP

SLG

OPS(d)

vs. RHP

0.314

0.421

0.314

0.346

0.075

vs. LHP

0.311

0.308

0.339

0.349

-0.069

vs. Power

0.262

0.291

0.407

0.426

-0.280

vs Avg P/F

0.357

0.468

0.253

0.268

0.304

vs Finesse

0.343

0.459

0.330

0.367

0.105

vs FB

0.217

0.223

0.372

0.430

-0.362

vs Avg

0.357

0.468

0.253

0.268

0.304

vs GB

0.400

0.582

0.301

0.225

0.456

While the traditional handedness platoon does ring true, its the power/finesse and FB/GB splits that show a much bigger gap between the hitters. With an OPS of .982, Reid Brignac and his uppercut own groundball pitchers, a full .456 above Bartlett. On the other hand he has posted an OPS of .440 versus fly ball pitchers, a full .362 below Bartlett. The power/finesse spits also show a wider difference than the handedness splits. Reid struggles against power pitchers, while mashing finesse pitchers. Whatever the reason beyond the perceived Bartlett loyalty, it is highly likely that Joe Maddon is basing each start on more information than simple handedness platoons. It will be interesting to see if Brignac's starts come against ground ball pitchers with low strike out rates. Make that pitcher a righty and Brignac should be dandy.

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