The End of Mike Carp
Last night, we pointed out how acquiring Kendrys Morales does not necessarily mean that the team is ready to give up on Justin Smoak. There’s been a lot of focus on the fact that Smoak has an option left, and people have noted that perhaps the team would be better off with Mike Carp serving as part of the job share at 1B/DH and Smoak down in Tacoma playing everyday. The problem is, when you actually look at what Morales brings to the table, the reality is that Carp no longer fits on this roster in any way, shape, or form.
The Mariners are talking about Morales as an everyday player, and since he’s a switch-hitter, he’s being penciled into the middle of the Mariners line-up regardless of who is pitching. But, there’s a catch – Morales is a very different hitter from the left side of the plate than he is from the right side. Jeff will have more detail on this over at FanGraphs later this afternoon, but for now, we’ll just present Morales’ career platoon splits:
|vs R as L||1370||7%||19%||0.290||0.345||0.514||0.224||0.317||0.365||127|
|vs L as R||392||4%||16%||0.250||0.286||0.416||0.166||0.266||0.303||84|
To put that in context, a 127 wRC+ from the left side makes him the equivalent of 2012 Adam LaRoche, while an 84 wRC+ from the right side makes him the equivalent of 2012 Justin Smoak. Morales mashes right-handed pitching, but he’s pretty lousy against lefties, to the point where the Angels basically used him as a platoon player last year. 85% of Morales’ plate appearances came against right-handed pitching last year, the exact same ratio as John Jaso. The average hitter in MLB last year faced an RHP about 70% of the time, and the numbers aren’t much different for switch-hitters. The Angels severely limited Morales’ at-bats against lefties, to the point where he was platooned to the same degree that the Mariners platooned Jaso.
Despite what you’ve been told by some people in an attempt justify their inability to admit that John Jaso is actually a good player, big platoon splits don’t mean that a hitter is incapable of playing a significant part in an offense. It just means that you have to be aware of the splits, and you should probably make sure the roster is constructed in such a way that his days off can align with the days when he’s going to be least productive. For Jaso, that means making sure you have a right-handed catcher that you’re comfortable starting behind the plate. As a switch-hitter, Morales doesn’t necessarily need a platoon caddy in the same way, but his ineffectiveness from the right side does mean that the guys splitting time with him should be able to hit left-handed pitching.
And, unfortunately for Mike Carp, that means that he’s out. With Jaso and Morales, you have two guys who should be in the line-up against every right-handed pitcher, and then the third spot in the C/1B/DH wheel would go to Jesus Montero or whoever the other part-time 1B/DH is. The organization isn’t going to bench Montero against all right-handers, so this is probably a 50/50 job share at best for whoever the first baseman is. That guy’s going to have to get a decent amount of his playing time against left-handers, when Jaso will be on the bench, and giving Morales a day off will get him a break from his weak side.
As a lefty, Carp’s a lousy fit for that role. Yes, he’s hit lefties better than righties in the majors, but reverse platoon splits are almost always just a small sample fluke, and there’s no reason to push Carp into a role where most of his playing time is going to come against same-handed pitchers. The only sensible player for that role is someone who can bat right-handed, in order to maximize the value of the job share by giving Morales most of his days off against lefties.
Given the current roster, the alignment right now would include Jaso/Morales/Montero playing against most right-handers, and then Montero/Morales/someone playing against the lefties. That someone should be a righty, since you’re already losing Jaso’s bat and Morales is significantly weaker against southpaws. The Mariners probably aren’t going to platoon Morales, but they need to at least account for the fact that he’s not going to hit lefties as well as he is righties, and they can’t offset their vs LHP line-up by adding another lefty to the mix.
That’s why there’s room on this roster for Justin Smoak. As a switch-hitter, he can give you another right-handed bat against southpaws, but he also gives the option of getting another left-handed bat in there against tough righties on days when you want to give Montero a break from swinging at sliders in the dirt. He can get enough at-bats against both RHPs and LHPs to prove whether or not his September surge was a fluke or not, and if he performs really well, his role can always grow as the season goes on.
For Carp, though, he just doesn’t fit anymore. He didn’t really fit before, either, but now with Morales on board, he really doesn’t fit. Sending Smoak to Tacoma and putting Carp at first base works in theory, but not in practice. Whatever part-time first baseman the Mariners end up settling on to share time with Morales has to right-handed. At this point, the Mariners might as well trade Carp for whatever they can get. There’s no job he can even realistically pretend to be fighting for in spring training.