Could a Johnson/Solarte platoon benefit the Yankees?

Bob Levey

Kelly Johnson is the Yankees full-time third baseman. But could resting him against lefties be a sound strategy?

When previously questioned about the possibility of Kelly Johnson getting a platoon partner at third, base the Yankees insisted that the job was solely Johnson's. But four games into the regular season Yangervis Solarte already has two starts, one at the expense of Johnson at third against Astros lefty Brett Oberholtzer. Solarte took the opportunity and ran with it, finishing 3-3 with a walk. Now I'm certainly not suggesting the possibility of a platoon based on two games of success (lovely as they have been), but looking at the two players careers it might be the best way to maximize their abilities.

Johnson has proven himself to be a capable hitter over his career, so giving him the job full time is understandable. For his career, he has a wRC+ of 105 versus lefties and 103 versus righties. So the platoon would not appear to make much sense. The splits are more pronounced in the last two seasons, however.

Year

wRC+ VS LHP

wRC+ VS RHP

HR VS LHP

HR VS RHP

2012

69

90

4

12

2013

95

103

0

16

Johnson has gotten about three times as many plate appearances against righties as lefties, so the home run difference is not that stark in 2012. But the goose egg in 2013 is pretty telling. In recent years, he's been a better and more powerful hitter against right-handers.

That's where Solarte comes in. While his unimpressive numbers over his minor league career make me hesitate over giving the youngster too much playing team, he has shown to be effective against left-handed pitching. In 2012 at AAA, he amassed an .809 OPS against them and .828 in 2013. Nothing amazing, but perhaps a sign that he might have the potential to help the team in a specialized role. It should be noted his OPS at AAA against right-handers is more than 150 points lower.

It's hard to say whether or not Joe Girardi might embrace an arrangement like this. Solarte is largely unproven, and Girardi has a reputation for not taking at-bats away from veterans. But Solarte showed he and his staff enough that they were willing to bring him on over Eduardo Nunez and he did get two starts in a row, so maybe a paradigm shift has taken place.

In all likelihood I suspect Johnson will stay a full-time starter, at least for the time being. Girardi pegged him as such at the end of Spring Training and it's likely to stay that way for a while. And considering Solarte is a switch-hitter, I think he'll probably just be used whenever an infielder needs a rest or as an injury replacement regardless of the handedness of the starting pitcher that day, even if they numbers say he's better suited to face lefties.

The important thing to remember, of course, is that the season is in it's infancy. There's a lot of strategies that can be changed up and injuries that may occur and a platoon is often more luxury than necessity. With Mark Teixeira straining his hamstring last night, it will likely be a moot point for the immediate future. But a platoon at third is something that I hope Girardi ponders as we go along.

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