I’m sure most of you have been in the following situation: You make a decision, it turns out bad, and when you look back at it you realize that you overlooked a major factor which likely led to your bad decision.
Well that’s how I feel about the Atlanta Braves left-field situation right now.
After an offseason of speculating players, platoons, and positions, I realize that I overlooked an obvious solution from the beginning: Eric Hinske.
Signed to be a utility player and pinch hitter, I (along with most others, I assume) never really looked at Hinske as a viable candidate to start in the outfield. The Braves obviously felt the same way, as Hinske started off the year on the bench, pinch hitting in almost every game.
But going through Hinske’s career numbers last night, I realized that if I was given stats (and not names) to choose from, I would have chosen Hinske to platoon in left field with Matt Diaz.
Before getting into the discussion on Hinske and Melky Cabrera, I just want to discuss Diaz for a second. I know he is off to a terrible start this year (like Melky and Nate McLouth), but his career numbers vs. lefties are .303/.351/.524, and those easily make him the best option against left-handed pitchers.
Since the Cabrera trade, it’s generally been assumed that he would start against right-handed pitchers in a platoon with Diaz. But how do his numbers actually stand up to Hinske’s? Not that well. Here are their career splits against right-handed pitchers.
Melky Cabrera .272/.331/.387
Eric Hinske .264/.348/.458
As you can see, Cabrera has the higher average, but Hinske gets on base more and has a lot more power than Melky.
In a line-up that isn’t designed to manufacture a ton of runs, a player like Hinske, who can drive players on first base in much more frequently, would seem to have more value.
However, Melky does have some intangibles working in his favor. He is 7 years younger than Hinske (25 to 32) and is a switch hitter (although he hasn’t exactly impressed anyone with his .248 career average against left-handed pitchers).
On defense, a place where Melky probably looks a lot better to the naked eye, there really isn’t much difference between the two. Hinske’s career UZR 150 in the outfield (he has only played the corner spots) is 0.4, while Melky’s is—1.9. To be fair, Melky is hurt because he has spent most of his time in centerfield (which is harder to play), but his UZR 150 in left field is only 0.4, which is no better than Hinske’s.
All in all, I think that Hinske is clearly the better option in left field for the Braves. Although they lose their best pinch hitter and a little bit of speed in the lineup, the Braves would have added power which would eventually help create more runs.
Once you throw in the fact that Melky has been ice cold to start 2010, it’s clear that Hinske should be starting the majority of the games in left field.