Platoons are becoming increasingly common across Major League Baseball as teams try to mix and match their lineups in order to gain every advantage possible. As Tom Tango showed in The Book, single-season, and even career, platoon-split statistics often hold little predictive value going forward. The sample sizes start to get dicey once you start slicing data from a single year. Tango laid out some rules-of-thumb for properly regressing platoon stats, which I applied to ZiPS and Oliver projections for players with a good shot of breaking camp with the Yankees. Here's how things shake out. All WAR projections are scaled to 600 plate appearances.
Obviously, Brian McCann will be the Yankees’ primary catcher and, if everything goes according to plan, should be the man behind the plate for 120+ games next year. It’s not clear who McCann’s caddy will be, but the Yankees have no shortage of quality backup options in the triumvirate of Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, and J.R. Murphy. Based purely on offensive ability, Cervelli -- who has a career .358 wOBA against lefties -- probably deserves a good chunk of playing time against southpaws. But McCann will get the nod most nights due to his defensive prowess, something that is not necessarily captured in WAR projections.
Assuming he’s healthy, the switch-hitting Mark Teixeira will man first on an everyday basis, and the projection systems suggest he can still get it done no matter who’s on the mound. Like Teixeira, Derek Jeter is also a lock to play nearly every day as long as he’s healthy. He'll spend some time at DH, but will likely play a good amount of shortstop, for better or for worse. Jeter has exhibited a pretty big platoon split over the course of his career and it's grown worse in recent years. Since 2010, Jeter’s hit .268/.326/.338 versus righties compared to .345/.405/.514 against southpaws. His 34% platoon split over that time is easily the highest among hitters with at least 600 plate appearances against both righties and lefties. The numbers seem to suggest that Jeter should take a seat when a righty is on the hill, but they don’t hold much weight when it comes to Derek Jeter -- he’ll be in the lineup as long as his body's up to it.
It’s hard to say how the balance of the infield will shake out without knowing the status of Alex Rodriguez. If he ends up avoiding suspension, he’ll play every day at either third or DH. Otherwise, second base, third base, and maybe even shortstop would fall to the likes of Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez, and Dean Anna. These guys could be somewhat productive if mixed and matched, but it’s doubtful that any of them are worthy of a full-time role. If A-Rod's not available, I would anticipate the Yankees adding another infielder into the mix. Seeing how their lefty infielders are Johnson -- who actually performs worse against right handed pitching, and Anna -- who has zero big league experience, a left-handed-hitting infielder would be ideal. Stephen Drew almost makes too much sense here.
In Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran, and Alfonso Soriano, the Yankees probably have four outfielders who are talented enough to play on a full-time basis. Until one of them inevitably lands on the DL, Ellsbury will man center full-time, while Gardner, Beltran, and Soriano will play nearly every day, triaging left field, right field, and DH. Soriano’s probably close to being a platoon player, but his big second half has earned him an everyday gig until he plays his way out of it.
Once the Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton signings are made official this week, Vernon Wells will almost certainly be out the door and Ichiro Suzuki may not be too far behind him. While both players might still be serviceable in a bench role, the Yankees’ 40-man roster is jam packed these days. It’s best to just cut bait with these guys in favor of someone like Zoilo Almonte, who could be just as mediocre in 2014, but has the potential to be better down the road.