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Free Agent Spotlight: Lefty Outfielders

There are two semi-appealing options in free agency to counter some uncertain in the outfield.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

When I posted my spotlight on Marcell Ozuna, I was expecting more agreement with my conclusion, which is that I would be good with Ozuna signing a reasonable and short extension with the team. I have frequently found myself out of lockstep with the fanbase on resigning Ozuna (I wasn’t for it), but since his playoff performance is getting more distant, people seem less reactionary about resigning him. Instead, most people (at least in the comments) didn’t want to resign him. And I totally get it.

It’s nothing to do with Ozuna himself, but moreso the Cardinals current OF situation. There’s not really room to add another outfielder. Sure you have basically no certainty with this group and the certainty you do have is the two older guys who best case scenario are just average. And the rest, aside from Harrison Bader, is unrealized potential. And the only way for that potential to be realized is to play them. It may not happen, but it won’t happen if they don’t play.

But in the interest of playing devil’s advocate here, I present an interesting alternative choice. To clear up space on the outfield logjam, I personally would like to see Jose Martinez traded, but if you rigidly apply him where he’s most useful, he could make quite the platoon partner. Because for his career, Jose Martinez is a 160 wRC+ hitter against lefties. The sample is only 298 PAs, but he walks more, strikes out less, and has nearly double the power against lefties in comparison to righties. And while his .365 BABIP is quite high against southpaws, it’s not insane, especially with a wRC+ that high.

That’s a guy you can use. It’s a little trickier with the Cardinals roster, since Harrison Bader is an automatic start against LHP, Tyler O’Neill should be too, and then there’s the fact that historically, if not recently, Dexter Fowler has been a better hitter against LHP. (115 wRC+ to 105). And then there’s both Lane Thomas and Randy Arozarena, both righties, both probably better against lefty pitchers. But still. 160 wRC+. If he’s on your roster, you have to play the guy who has a 160 wRC+ against lefties.

And if you want to go down that road, you could make a truly awesome platoon with Jose Martinez and a guy whose value is entirely tied up in hitting right-handed pitchers. Since Martinez is probably only on the Cardinals for one more year, if that, you ideally sign someone to a one-year deal. And finally we’ve reached two possible names to fill that post: Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson.

Of the two, Dickerson seems like he’d be much more amenable to signing a one-year deal. He’s coming off a one year deal already, and missed half of 2019 to injury. I doubt he’s getting inundated with multi-year deals anyway. Calhoun on the other hand, would need the market to show him nobody is offering multi-year deals, which is entirely possible. But he’s 32 and just had a rebound season and he’s not going to be in a better position than this a year later. Funny enough, MLBTR predicts Dickerson to sign a two-year deal and Calhoun to sign a one-year deal. Go figure.

Anyway, let’s start with Dickerson. Dickerson fits the profile of a platoon partner. Dickerson is a completely different player based purely on which hand is throwing baseballs towards him. Against lefties, he’s been a below average hitter, whose 90 wRC+ is almost entirely propped up by a .355 BABIP. Against righties, he walks more, strikes out way less, has considerably more power, and only a .324 BABIP. All of that for a 125 wRC+. He’s been a neutral defender in his career, but he seems to only be neutral because his numbers in Colorado were horrible and honestly nobody’s Coors Field numbers look good, so he’s probably slightly above average.

Calhoun is a less immediately appealing candidate, because the difference isn’t near as stark and he only has a career 108 wRC+ against RHP. Considering his projected wRC+ is lower than his career wRC+, you would not necessarily even expect a 108 from him either, but lower. But Calhoun is a good fielder. He’s been a +5 defender in RF for his career. He’s a solid, unexciting start against RHP.

Both are projected for similar salaries. Calhoun for 1 year, $6 million and Dickerson for 2 years, $15 million. I don’t think the salaries would be the problem with signing them, not that I think the Cardinals are offering. I’m sure both players would be made aware of the OF situation in STL, realize that the minute they struggle, they could be replaced, and sign with a team with less depth.

But to give you an idea of why I’m presenting this alternative, I’ll focus on Dickerson, because he would just fit with a Jose Martinez platoon better. So Dickerson is a career 125 wRC+ hitter against righties, but that’s not what you use for his 2020. His projection for 2020 is 12 points lower than his career, so I move his expected 2020 RHP projection to 113. About 75 percent of the league is RHP, so he would probably get around 525 PAs if signed, and he’d be a 2 WAR OFer in that playing time.

I was going to regress Jose Martinez’s numbers against LHP, but that just left me more discouraged about Jose, because his sample is really small and yeah they should definitely trade this guy. But for the sake of continuing this thought experiment, let’s say he’s a 130 wRC+ hitter against LHP, which at least feels plausible, if not statistically the right way to do this. We give Jose the remaining 175 PAs, and yes I know he would get more than that if he stayed on the team, but go with me here. In those 175 PAs, he’d be worth 0.8 WAR. So you get a combined 2.8 WAR player out of Dickerson/Martinez.

Any individual young guy on the team is not particularly likely to have 2.8 WAR in 2020. So you get a nearly 3 win player by spending less than $10 million. Hypothetically at least. Calhoun is an admittedly less interesting platoon partner than Dickerson, but I would assume a signing would be optimistic about his 2019 being more himself than his projection.