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Joe Maddon, Kelly Shoppach, and the Platoon

We're all still incredibly excited about Garza's performance last night and please, continue the discussion in these two threads. There have been hundreds of words written about last night already, so we're moving on to our regularly scheduled programming. 

As much as people say Joe Maddon loves to tinker with his lineups and play the match-up game, I'm sure Joe wouldn't mind nine complete hitters and seven complete relief pitchers at his disposal. Unfortunately, few teams - if any - have that luxury, leaving managers to make due with what is given. This leads to a key component of managing; putting their players in a position to be successful.

For the most part, Maddon has the platoon system down. This is especially true in the bullpen. Of course, certain situations force a manager to do certain things, but in general, Maddon has used Randy Choate as a left-handed specialist, Dan Wheeler as a right-handed specialist, and allows guys like Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and Rafael Soriano to roam free. Andy Sonnanstine has his slot in the long relief role, getting called upon in mop-up duty or in situations where he is needed to throw multiple innings. Lance Cormier is, well, um...Lance Cormier hasn't been good against anybody this season.

On the position player side, things are a little bit more difficult.

Although certain players may have more success against a pitcher of a certain hand, Maddon is limited by number of available options and defensive positioning. In terms of position player, Maddon does a decent job of utilizing his players. There are some situations where we wonder why one player starts over another, but again there is only so much he can do.

One position where the platoon makes the most sense is catcher. I've said it before and I'll say it again; void of having a stud catcher like Joe Mauer or Brian McCann, a team with have two flawed catchers on their roster. Since you will no doubt carry two catchers at all times, it makes sense to find two players who complement each other.

Last season, the Gregg Zaun and Dioner Navarro platoon worked well. Zaun handled right-handers, while Navi held his own against lefties. This off-season's acquistion of Kelly Shoppach complicated things a little bit, though.

For his career, Shoppach mashes lefties to the tune of .300/.401/.600 while being rather pedistrian against righties (.216/.301/.380). As mentioned above, Navarro is also better against lefties, creating an uneven platoon. As fate would have it, the Shoppach-Navarro pairing never had a chance to get off the ground. Shoppach's early season knee injury opened the door for John Jaso, who replaced Dioner Navarro indefinitely.

On paper, the Jaso-Shoppach platoon makes a ton of sense. With Shoppach still mashing the lefties this year (.333/.487/.500), Jaso has been stellar against righties (.288/.407/.387). Either way you slice it, you have an above-average weapon batting from the catcher position.

Maddon has used Jaso very well. In terms of platoon splits, Jaso has faced a right-handed pitcher 85% of the time. That said, Maddon has not used Shoppach as well. Because of the knee injury, Shoppach has missed a lot of time and only has a total of 89 plate appearaces, 46% of those against right-handed pitching. On the season, he is hitting .079/.200/.105 against right-handers. The on-base percentage difference between Jaso and Shoppach versus RHP is 20%. That's alot. We know Shoppach is a bit of a hacker, but he is striking out 57.1% of the time against righties. That's goes beyond hacking.

Shoppach makes $2.25 million dollars this season, and at least $3.3 million next year ($3 million base + $300k 
buyout for 2012). With that in mind, I could see where the Rays are looking to get their money's worth from their investment. However, on a team that has other everyday players (B.J. Upton & Jason Bartlett) struggling against righties, starting Shoppach puts the Rays at a disadvantage.

I usually agree with Joe Maddon's decisions. Even when I don't, I can usually understand his thought process. However, when Kelly Shoppach faces a right-handed pitcher with John Jaso available (day after night game, aside), I come up empty as to what Maddon's mission is that day.

*Please note that one year of data is a relatively small sample size. One year of platoon data is even smaller, so the obiligatory grain of salt is advised.