Going back to some discussion from a couple of days ago at the BORT regarding the value of bench players, I decided to look at an “optimal” (doesn’t take L/R splits into effect, among other things) allocation of talent on the team. I didn’t include every position, since it’s clear what going on at catcher (more Wieters = good, but we want him to stick around another year so he’s starting in the minors), shortstop (Izturis is the only real one that’s set to be on the team), and right field (occupied for the next six years, at least).
So that leaves Aubrey Huff, Ty Wigginton, Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Ryan Freel, Felix Pie, Luke Scott, and Adam Jones at fight it out for PA at 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, CF, and DH.
I included the following constraints:
725 PA for second-basemen, knowing that Roberts is the #1 player there and he bats at the top of the line-up
700 PA for the other positions
Max of 625 PA for Roberts and Huff
Max of 575 PA for Jones and Scott
Max of 550 PA for Mora and Pie
Max of 500 PA for Wigginton
Max of 400 PA for Freel
I input their offensive projections (no base-running included) and defensive projections at each of the available positions, and maximized total WAR.
Huff: 225 PA at 1B, 400 PA at DH, 1.6 WAR
Wigginton: 475 PA at 1B, 25 PA at 3B, 1.0 WAR
Roberts: 625 PA at 2B (duh), 3.6 WAR
Mora: 550 PA at 3B (duh), 1.7 WAR
Freel: 100 PA at 2B, 125 PA at 3B, 0.6 WAR
Pie: 425 PA in LF, 125 PA in CF, 1.7 WAR
Scott: 275 PA in LF, 300 PA at DH, 2.0 WAR
Jones: 575 PA in CF, 2.7 WAR
Total: 15 WAR
Freel is the only one that didn’t max out his PA. I guess this means that he should only play as a last resort (given these players) which makes sense. The only way Wiggy should DH is if Huff and/or Scott are actually better fielders at first than him (which is probably doubtful). Otherwise Ty takes first when lefties are on the mound with one of Huff, Scott, or Pie sitting (depending on a number of factors including the opposing pitcher (Randy Johnson => keep Pie away from the batter’s box), the O’s pitcher (flyball guy => get Pie out to left), injuries, and the like).
Are there occasions (such as the lefty opposing pitcher scenario) in which Freel should play left? Well, in his career Ryan has hit a little better against lefties than righties (.737 OPS vs. .727, with what appears to be a slightly higher wOBA). Felix Pie – in very limited at bats – has been destroyed by lefties (.106/.192/.106). Luke Scott, while not great, has held his own (.756 OPS vs. lefties, .874 vs. righties). That would indicate to me that the optimal line-ups would have Pie in LF, Scott at DH, and Huff at 1B (unless Luke can play a credible first, in which case they switch) against righties and Scott in LF, Huff at DH, and Wigginton at 1B against lefties.
In that respect, Wigginton isn’t taking at bats from Scott and Huff but from Pie. This makes the “platoon” even more effective, since the jump from Pie vs. lefties to Ty vs. lefties is huge. Wigginton actually has almost the exact reverse split of Scott, in that he’s put up a .758 OPS vs. righties and a .878 OPS vs. lefties (spooky). Having four guys with a continuum of different abilities is handy for filling the three spots. You have defense (Pie>Scott>>Wigginton>Huff), offense vs. lefties (Wigginton>>Scott=Huff>>Pie), and offense vs. righties (Scott=Huff>>Wigginton>Pie). If the team can leverage them to their maximum effectiveness (“putting them in a position to succeed”, I think managers call it) then they might be able to squeeze an extra win out of their overall talent levels.
Oh, and to answer the above question - no, Ryan Freel really shouldn’t play the outfield. I still have a feeling that he’s going to, though.