In Tuesday’s spring-opening press conference Joe Maddon addressed the state of his lineups:
It’s going to be easier to talk about a lineup versus a right-handed pitcher and a little bit more structured. It’s against the lefty that we’re a little more—we may have to play some lefties against left-handed pitchers.
Sure enough, Maddon is correct. The Rays normal lineup against right-handed pitchers appears set in stone, with some combination of James Loney, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, Luke Scott, and Jose Molina set to take the field most days, and a bench of Sean Rodriguez, Ryan Roberts, Sam Fuld, and Jose Lobaton available for situational duty. But against lefties the outlook is more opaque. In theory the Rays would sub in Rodriguez and Roberts, leaving just two left-handed hitters in the lineup.
In attempt to figure out what Maddon might decide upon let’s take a look at some historical splits, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus. These stats are weighed by recentness, meaning the 2012 performance is counted more than the 2011 performance and so on. Here is how the Rays left-handed batters have stacked up against southpaws in recent years:
|Player||Multi-Year v. LHP||OPS v. LHP|
If we assume Rodriguez and Roberts are in the lineup then that means one would man second base while the other is either serving as the club’s DH (or perhaps as Steve Kinsella of DRaysBay floated last week, play third with Evan Longoria at DH). That would seem to preclude Scott from playing against left-handers. Likewise, we can probably count out Fuld. If the Rays give Johnson the nod against southpaws then they’ll have a difficult decision to face in choosing to play Loney or Joyce.
In the past Maddon has chosen not to platoon his left-handed first baseman. Carlos Pena (who would come in with a .173/.298/.352 line in this exercise) played against 30 percent left-handers last season, which marked the second-lowest of his Rays career. Casey Kotchman, meanwhile, tied a career-high by facing 29 percent left-handers (his line, by the way, would be .243/.297/.320). Of course the explanation could be as simple as the Rays lacking a suitable right-handed first baseman—a luxury they still lack.
The counterargument to playing Loney is to play and further develop Joyce. Yet it might be time to start asking whom the Rays would be developing Joyce for. Although the Rays have made overtures about extending Joyce, they’ve reached no agreement and the state of the talks is unclear. With three seasons separating Joyce from the open market as well as a number of talented outfield prospects on the way, he could have fewer days with the Rays than hoped. If Tampa Bay can’t extend Joyce but choose to play him against lefties then it’s probably because he maximizes the present-day lineup. We’ll see who Maddon picks soon enough.