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The Platoon You Wish Existed

On February 2nd, first baseman Jesus Aguilar became a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, after being claimed off of waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Aguilar, a 26-year-old right-handed hitter, has only appeared in 35 Major League games, totaling 64 plate appearances. In an extremely small sample size, the Venezuelan slashed .172/.234/.190 during that three year stretch.

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However, Aguilar has been playing in the minors since 2008. He has played in 953 games across every level the minors have to offer. During that time, in 3,523 at-bats, he hit .271/.348/.454 with 140 HR, 650 RBI, 214 doubles, and 394 walks. He has been a very productive hitter throughout his career in Cleveland’s organization.

Aguilar has never been given a full chance to showcase his talents in Cleveland, and the rebuilding Brewers figured it would not hurt to give the guy a chance. So far this spring, he has not disappointed. With 43 plate appearances under his belt, he is hitting a robust .417/.512/.806. He leads the team in HR (4) and RBI (11). Trust me, this is all an extremely small sample size, but his performance has not gone unnoticed. There is now a strong possibility he will make the Opening Day roster.

Currently in Aguilar’s way is Eric Thames, who signed a 3-year, $16 million deal early this winter. The KBO superstar, who hit 40 HR overseas last year, has been a hot topic amongst the baseball community. Projections are all over the map on him, with Steamer giving him a 2.2 WAR in 534 plate appearances, while PECOTA shows a negative 0.2 WARP in 585 plate appearances. There are obviously a lot of unknown factors surrounding the slugger, but the Brewers will give Thames every opportunity to prove himself. That leaves Aguilar in a tough spot. While the team is in rebuilding mode and would like to see all of the potential talent on the roster, Thames will be given a long leash, given his contract and need to adjust back to Major League pitching.

On the surface, these two make a perfect platoon combo. The left-handed hitting Thames, and the right-handed hitting Aguilar should be able to wreak havoc on pitchers throughout the year at Miller Park, easily surpassing the numbers Chris Carter showcased last season.

Unfortunately, that will not be the case. As BPMilwaukee’s Dylan Svoboda pointed out earlier this month, Jesus Aguilar has displayed reverse platoon splits throughout this career. He has dominated right-handed pitching during his career and has put up lesser numbers against lefties. Below is a look at his past three seasons versus pitch-handedness splits in Triple-A.

vs. LHP AB 2B HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
2016 117 2 8 12.7% 22.4% .179 .284 .402
2015 112 7 2 8.9% 22.8% .250 .315 .366
2014 139 12 5 17.8% 14.2% .295 .405 .489
TOTAL 368 21 15 12.8% 19.4% .245 .347 .424

 

vs. RHP AB 2B HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
2016 398 24 22 8.7% 18.3% .266 .330 .492
2015 398 22 17 9.3% 19.8% .271 .336 .460
2014 288 19 14 11.9% 22.0% .309 .390 .521
TOTAL 1084 65 53 9.8% 19.9% .280 .350 .488

There are a couple of takeaways from Aguilar’s numbers in Triple-A the past three seasons. His numbers have slowly declined since 2014. He did see a spike in his slugging number this past season, but his slugging percentage was still not at 2014 levels. Secondly, the Venezuelan has seen a steep decline in his numbers against left-handers. A guy who slashed .295/.405/.489 against southpaws in 2014 is now all the way down to .179/.284/.402. Not particularly encouraging signs.

As for Thames, his numbers are also not that impressive against lefties. In his brief MLB career, he has slashed .210/.257/.377 in 148 plate appearances against lefties, while supporting a much healthier .261/.307/.446 line in 536 plate appearances against righties. Thames was deployed considerably more against righties during his first stint in the Majors back in 2011-12.

When checking Thames’s KBO splits this past season, you can probably already assume due to this article’s subject matter that the splits were quite considerable:

Versus Lefties Versus Righties
AB 166 247
AVG .265 .360
2B 6 24
HR 8 28
BB% 16.2% 16.3%
K% 21.7% 17.6%

Thames did much more damage against righties. The slight positive is that he maintained relatively similar strikeout and walk percentages. But in a broader scope, Thames has put together much more impressive numbers against right-handed pitching.

The next sample size (albeit much smaller) is this spring training. As I mentioned earlier, Aguilar has been the best hitter on the team. And while Thames got off to a relatively slow start, he has been much better as of late. Let’s look at the splits!

Eric Thames Jesus Aguilar
Vs. Righties Vs. Lefties Vs. Righties Vs. Lefties
AVG 6-for-23 (.261) 4-for-15 (.267) 14-for-27 (.519) 4-for-13
2B 1 0 2 0
HR 0 1 4 1
BB% 23.3% 6.3% 18.2% 7.1%
K% 36.7% 18.8% 9.1% 35.7%

Again, we are working with extremely small (!) sample sizes, but who doesn’t love playing with meaningless spring training statistics? Thames has the less impressive statistics and has basically the same slash righty versus lefty. He does have many more walks (and strikeouts) against right-handed pitching.

Aguilar, on the other hand, has feasted on righties. He is batting over .500 with four home runs and two doubles, to go along with a walk rate that is double his strikeout rate. His numbers against lefties is less impressive, as he has a very high strikeout rate with only one extra base hit.

Let me be clear – I am not judging these players by their spring training numbers! However, they do help (to some extremely minor extent) reinforce our understanding of the players Aguilar and Thames are, especially Aguilar. Thames’s numbers are pretty consistent across the board, but history tells us he is a much better hitter against righties. Aguilar continues to show he can mash right-handed pitching, but struggle against lefties.

I am rooting for Aguilar just as much as the next guy and I hope he finds a way to contribute at the Major League level, but I just do not see him having the opportunity to do so – at least early on. Unless Thames is hitting sub-.200 at the end of May, he should be taking most of everyday at-bats. In a perfect world, the Brewers have a perfect platoon – two power hitters that play the same position that hit on opposite sides of the plate. The sad truth is, they probably don’t. Maybe the Brewers do decide to bat Aguilar against lefties, but history tells us he won’t impress.

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