Heading into the offseason last year, the Chicago White Sox looked to be a team in need of help at second base and right field. However, instead of locking up proven everyday players to fill those voids through trade or free agency, the Sox seem to be opting for a platoon system that could end up being hit or miss.
The Sox did step into the free-agent market to land former Oakland A’s second baseman Josh Harrison who most likely will split time at the position with Leury Garcia, as well as provide manager Tony LaRussa with flexibility in the lineup by his ability to play a number of positions.
While he possesses a good glove and decent bat, Harrison is a consolation prize considering the Sox took passes on the likes of Marcus Semien and Trevor Story.
Harrison is a two-time all-star and is fourth among active second basemen with a .986 fielding percentage. He posted a .279 combined batting average between the Washington Nationals and Oakland A’s last year while starting 91 games at second and 48 others between third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions.
Garcia started 89 games last season with the majority of those (28) coming at second. But, like Harrison, Garcia found himself playing everywhere but pitcher and catcher. He hit a respectable .267 with 41 walks.
Right field also was a position the Sox have taken a pass on when it comes to dipping into the free-agent pool. Michael Conforto is still on the market, but players like Nick Castellanos, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Jorge Soler have all taken deals elsewhere.
The Chicago White Sox might be platooning players at the start of the season.
For now, the Sox will have Garcia, Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, and Adam Engel as those who will patrol right field. Barring any trade, Vaughn looks to be the guy who gets the most time in the field out of that group.
Platooning players have had their share of ups and downs over the course of baseball history. But with analytics being what they are in today’s game, mixing and matching hitters against pitchers and vice versa has become much more commonplace for coaches these days.
Coaches like players who provide versatility and can handle a number of positions. Bryant, Garcia, Harrison, Sheets, and others of that ilk make themselves valuable to teams due to their ability to step in and play wherever needed.
During his time with the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays, manager Joe Maddon employed the platoon system successfully enough to get both teams to the World Series.
The platoon system can work if a team has the right combination of players. Fangraphs has an interesting five-part article on platoon systems over the years which highlighted the offensive production when employing this system.
For example, back in 1990, White Sox manager Jeff Torborg used both Ron Kittle and Dan Pasqua for a righty/lefty designated hitter combo that produced 29 homers and 101 RBI.
The Cubs paired Henry Rodriguez and Glenallen Hill together in left field and got a return of 36 homers, 120 RBI, and a .319 batting average. Aaron Rowand broke in with the Sox in 2001 and was mentored by Chris Singleton in center field with some decent results.
Between Harrison and Garcia, the duo combined for a .274 batting average with 13 homers, 114 RBI, and eight errors last season. Each players’ individual numbers will fluctuate depending on playing time but should each produce near their averages that could adequately fill the void at second.
Right field will be interesting to keep an eye on due to how Tony LaRussa plans to handle the playing time. Vaughn showed promise when he stepped in to play left field following the injury to Eloy Jimenez that sidelined him for a good portion of the season.
Sheets may be able to get starts against right-handed pitchers as well as DH or play first base at times, and Engel-coming off surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder-should figure into the mix and could be called on as a late-inning defensive replacement.
The White Sox has plenty of offense in the lineup that can cover any deficiencies platooning may bring about. That said, the team would like to see someone emerge as one who can be penciled in on a regular basis.