WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE PLATOON PLAYERS?
[October 15th] -- I loved going to Senators' games in the late 1960's. I enjoyed watching guys like Mike Epstein, Lee Maye and Bernie Allen "do their thing" at RFK. The problem was that I never knew if they'd be playing on any given night. Ted Williams, a firm believer in playing the eight best players that night, platooned five of the eight positions. Here are the platoons for 1969:
Catcher: Paul Casanova and Jim French
First Base: Mike Epstein and Frank Howard
Second Base: Bernie Allen and Tim Cullen
Left Field: Frank Howard and Brant Alyea
Right Field: Lee Maye and Hank Allen
Only shortstop Eddie Brinkman, third baseman Kenny McMullen, and centerfielder Del Unser played every day. Let's take Mike Epstein as an example. In 1969, Epstein batted .278-30-85 against right handed pitching. In 1970, Epstein played a great deal more against lefties and did far worse, batting only .256-20-56. With the Oakland A's a few years later, he was again part of a platoon and played superbly, hitting .270-26-70.
Many managers don't want players like Epstein and Lee Maye on their teams these days; they consider them "incomplete" players. Today, many players take the field with little hope of success. Austin Kearns is a prime example. Since the trade that brought him to D.C., Kearns batted .368 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI's in just 57 at-bats against lefties. He had a Bonds-like 1.149 OPS. Against righties, however, he batted only .206 with just two more home runs in 100 more at-bats. He had a woeful .681 OPS. Who would you platoon with Kearns in right field? How about Kory Casto, a rookie looking to find a place to play next season. Casto, the Nationals' Minor League "Player Of The Year" the last two seasons, batted .303 with 17 home runs and 62 RBI's against right handers. From the left side, he was terrible, hitting .189 with a .584 OPS. A Casto/Kearns platoon (I understand that I'm using Casto's minor league numbers) would produce a .313-25-95 stat line, much better than Kearn's .264-24-86. Who cares if it takes one player or two players or five players to produce at a single position? More importantly, who wants to watch a player (like Casto) bat .189 against lefties?
I hope that the new Nationals' manager takes a page from Ted Williams' managerial book and platoons as needed next season. Set the players up to succeed, and not to fail. That's what platooning is all about. Casey Stengel won like a zillion World Series with the Yankees platooning at several positions.
If you want to see some platooning in Washington, hope that the manager is hired from the Braves organization. Bobby Cox has a history of doing a lot of platooning.