Let me first get this out of the way, and say that I love Garrett Jones. I have the kind of man crush on Garrett Jones that can only be rivaled by the man crush Buster Olney has on Mike Trout. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I have yet to find much that I haven’t liked about Garrett Jones so far. That being said, it looks like the Pirates will (and should) have a platoon situation going this season, in which Gaby Sanchez and Garrett Jones will split time at first base.
On the whole, Garrett Jones had an excellent season last year, probably the best season that he’s had so far in his career. He put together a nice looking .274/.317/.516 triple slash line, hitting 27 HR, and driving in 86 RBI. Those numbers are, by and large, above average, even outperforming guys like Mark Texeira. Additionally, Garrett Jones was actually one of the few Pirates to have a better second half of the season, actually “finishing” the season for all he could. The primary problem Jones ran into was left handed pitching, and boy was it a problem.
Against left handed pitching, Jones put up a pitiful triple slash of .189/.235/.297 last year. It was nothing short of ugly, only two of Jones’ home runs all year came off of lefties. As a guy who is supposed to be primarily providing offense (we all know Jones isn’t the greatest defender), this just isn’t ok. Granted, the vast majority of his plate appearances were against righties (85% of his plate appearances in 2012), but there’s a reason for this, he just can’t hit left handed pitching. Enter Gaby Sanchez, who despite his wildly ineffective year in 2012, was still good at hitting lefties. Sanchez put up a triple slash of .240/.333/.396 last year, taking 34% of his opportunities at the plate facing lefties. Of the measly 7 home runs Sanchez hit last year (compare to 19 in 2011 playing the majority of his games in the pasture that was Land Shark stadium), 3 of them were against lefties. Not only this, but Sanchez is putting on a show so far at Spring Training, posting numbers of .320/.393/.720, he’s been red hot against Grapefruit League pitching so far, and hopefully he can carry that over into the regular season.
Neither Jones nor Sanchez is what you would call a spectacular defensive player, but both are at least serviceable (Sanchez with a .996 fielding percentage at first base, Jones with a .991). They both lack range overall, but they at least make the vast majority of the plays that come their way. As a general rule, Jones gets a bad reputation, and as an outfielder, he really is less than stellar, but he’s nothing to sneeze at as a first baseman. Because neither one has a super strong advantage over the other in this area, don’t expect defensive prowess to play a big role in who gets the majority of the playing time.
For the Pirates first base options, I propose a pretty simple solution for the time being. Jones would be my regular starter, based off of his overall numbers, and the relative rarity with which he actually runs into a lefty arm. When the Pirates play a game against a lefty starting pitcher, start Sanchez over at first. For the majority of the games though, I’d start Jones, unless he has an exceedingly cold streak, or Sanchez gets particularly hot. Jones had a really good year last year, and there’s not much reason to expect significant regression from him this year, but having Gaby available is a great option to be sure, and hopefully he can return to his old all star form. If not, the Pirates will have a really solid platoon to work with for this season, but not up to the full potential of the two players that are vying for the playing time. Both good options, hopefully the combination of the two guys will be able to productively fill a slot in the middle of the lineup this year.