Can Right Field Platoon Work?


Jul 26, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Ryan Raburn (9) hits a game-winning three-run home run in the eleventh inning against the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Could Murphy/Raburn Platoon Conjure Up Bad Memories?

As soon as you mention the word platoon to an Indians fan, the general reaction is a lot of eye rolling and emphatic “ugh’s.” That’s not to say fans don’t understand the value of a platoon or the purpose it serves, but history has a bad way of shaping opinions. Begin spouting off the benefits of a platoon, particularly with this year’s roster and it will be quickly dismissed with, “Yeah, look how well it worked with Jason Michaels and David Dellucci.”

To that I say, “Touche, salesman.”

As one of the most disappointing platoons implemented by the Indians during their run of success in 2007 and then again the following year in 2008, it’s easy to understand why fans would be hesitant to relive that nightmare. However, the Indians are not planning on relieving that nightmare again in 2014. While they plan on implementing a platoon in right field with David Murphy and Ryan Raburn, the results are expected to be much different this time around.

Here’s a good question, though. Why should the expected results be any different?

Let me be the first to admit, this article did not start off with the goal of questioning the whether or not platooning Ryan Raburn and David Murphy was a good idea. It was originally intended to be the exact opposite. I had planned on explaining why this platoon is different from the Michaels/Dellucci nightmare only to find out that we could potentially be in store for another disastrous season from an outfield platoon. Allow me to explain.

The main selling point for the Ryan Raburn/David Murphy platoon is that their names aren’t Jason Michaels and David Dellucci. Right that, that’s a victory. However, there needs to be more than just to different people manning an outfield spot to have confidence in their abilities. It would be nice if their were some stats to back up the idea that this can be a worthwhile endeavor. Looking at the career splits for Raburn and Murphy against opposite handed pitching compared to the same splits for Michaels and Dellucci was a bit alarming. Take a look below.

Platoon Splits

What jumps out above all else is just how similar the career splits are for both platoon combinations. Thee is no real discernible difference between Jason Michaels and Ryan Raburn, David Dellucci and David Murphy or the combination of each. One advantage held by Raburn/Murphy is their .819 OPS compared to the .799 OPS combined for Michaels/Dellucci. However, that’s not exactly a convincing difference that could lead you to believe that the former is any better than the latter. We’re talking a mere 20 points.

Aug 19, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers left fielder David Murphy (7) drives in two runs on an error against the Houston Astros during the third inning of a baseball game at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Another factor in favor of the Raburn/Murphy platoon are their counting stats, particularly home runs. While they’ve been out-homered by Michaels/Dellucci 123 to 116, they’ve hit their 116 home runs in significantly fewer plate appearances (3.7% HR% compared to 3.1% for Michaels/Dellucci). That also resulted in a substantially higher slugging percentage of .475 compared to he .449 posted by Michaels/Dellucci.

In terms of other peripherals, one could make an argument that Raburn and Murphy are a better option than Michaels and Dellucci, however, not by much. the former have shown a better ability to put the ball in play with a strikeout rate of 16.6% compared to 19.5% for the latter. In terms of walk rates, Michaels and Dellucci were slightly better at 10.3% compared to 9.3% for Raburn and Murphy.

Outside of statistics, there are other issues to worry about this season with Raburn and Murphy. First, Raburn is coming off of a freakishly good 2013 that saw him post a career best OPS of .901. While we would all like to believe that Raburn has tapped into something special, it’s highly unlikely that he repeats that type of performance in 2014. Regression will happen, undoubtedly. How much he regresses will be a significant factor in how well this platoon performs.

Conversely, David Murphy is coming off of a career worst season in which he posted a .656 OPS. He should be better. It’s almost impossible for him not to be better. The law of averages would indicate that he should get back to somewhere near his career OPS of .778. But, what if he doesn’t? What if at age 32 Murphy is entering into the next stage of his career? It’s possible. Combine that with the probable regression of Ryan Raburn and what was once an optimistic pairing could be a disaster.

I hope that’s not the case and that we aren’t getting ready to witness the second coming of Jason Michaels and David Dellucci. My faith in the Indians front office and the people making these decision tells me I should have faith in the pairing. I also trust that we have a manager this time around in Terry Francona that is a wizard at getting the most out of his players and putting them in positions to succeed. Ultimately though, we won’t know for sure until the season starts and the games begin to matter.