Next Need: Lefty OF/1B
Now that the Mariners have made some line-up changes, they’re going forward with a line-up that looks essentially like this:
1. Ichiro – LH
2. Lopez – RH
3. Ibanez – LH
4. Beltre – RH
5. Clement/Vidro – LH / B
6. Sexson – RH
7. Balentien – RH
8. Johjima – RH
9. Betancourt – RH
They might shuffle the batting order, but you get the idea. That’s an awful lot of “RH” notations in there. Even when they run up against a right-handed starting pitcher, they’re running out six right-handed bats and just three left-handed bats. This makes them a very easy matchup for right-handed sinker/slider arms who do well against same handed hitters but are vulnerable to lefties. The M’s just don’t have enough LH bats to exploit that type of pitcher. The imbalance allows them to really pound southpaws, but considering that 75% of all pitchers out there are righties, that’s not the side you want to beat up on.
The M’s offensive splits bare out the results of this overly right-handed line-up:
Vs RHP: .238/.303/.364, OPS+ of 82
Vs LHP: .321/.371/.491, OPS+ of 136
Having Clement replace Vidro will improve the offense vs RHPs, but the improvement there isn’t large enough for the team to contend. It’s a start, not a finish. This team simply needs another left-handed bat in the line-up, or they’ll keep getting shut down by the likes of Paul Byrd (career .692 OPS vs RH, .852 vs LH), and those are pitchers they simply can’t afford to not beat up on.
The team has options. Richie Sexson’s entire value so far this season has come from whacking southpaws (.364/.417/.682 vs LHP, .192/.304/.397 vs RHP), and his skills are tailor made for a platoon. Ideally, I’d like to see Sexson take over the role of Clement’s platoon partner and DH vs LHP, which would put Vidro permanently on the bench where he belongs. That would free up first base for an acquisition of Nick Johnson, simultaneously adding a quality left-handed bat with plate discipline and upgrading the defense.
However, I know that’s unlikely, so the next best move would be for the team to pick up a left-handed hitting outfielder. Balentien simply isn’t as likely to help this team win as Clement is, and getting him regular playing time shouldn’t be a priority compared to winning baseball games.
Until the M’s add some balance to the line-up, we’re going to continue to see things like last night, where marginal right-handers shut the team down due to a lack of quality lefty bats in the line-up. The M’s made a good step forward by promoting Clement and admitting that Wilkerson was a mistake, but they can’t stop now. This team needs another bat from the left side, and the sooner, the better.