It was generally assumed, right up until yesterday’s Ryan Garko signing, that Ryan Langerhans was going to have a spot on the major league club – or, at the very least, was going to compete for a spot with Michael Saunders, whom he would have had an advantage over. But now, with both Garko and Byrnes on the roster, and both almost certainly bound for platoon roles, the left field situation and the fate of Ryan Langerhans have become even more unclear.
As it stands, the Mariners look to have six every day players, a backup catcher, a backup infielder, a platoon at first base, a platoon or tandem in left field, and a platoon at DH. That’s either 13 or 14 spots occupied by position players, and whether or not Langerhans makes the cut probably depends on which of those numbers they go with.
Obviously, if they use 14 position players, they have to go with an 11-man pitching staff (14+11=25!), meaning a 6-man bullpen, and a 5-man bench. This is probably Ryan Langerhans’ only chance of making the team out of Spring Training. If this is indeed the setup they go with, it probably manes that they’ve chosen to go with a 3-player tandem in left field, consisting of Eric Byrnes, Milton Bradley, and Ryan Langerhans, rather than a platoon of the two formers. This would likely be the best situation for the team at this point, for a couple of reasons.
First off, both Eric Byrnes and Milton Bradley are significantly better hitters against left handed pitchers.
Milton Bradley 2009 splits:
Vs. RHP (359 PA’s): .234/.379/.385
Vs. LHP (111 PA’s): .324/.375/.431
Obviously, this isn’t an ideal sample size because of the fact that he was injured for part of the year, and an abnormally large portion of his PA’s were against RHP, but mashing lefties has been a consistent trend throughout his career. Byrnes is the same way.
Eric Byrnes 2009 splits:
Vs. RHP (170 PA’s): .225/.267/.344
Vs. LHP (84 PA’s): .228/.274/.494
Notice the giant difference in SLG. Much like with Bradley, this is a trend that Byrnes has been showing consistently throughout his career. If Milton Bradley and Eric Byrnes are your only left fielders, you’re leaving yourself without anyone who can hit righties. While, even against right handed pitching Langerhans is far from a slugger, he will provide you with a little bit of pop, and good on base numbers from the left side of the plate. I know what you’re thinking – those are the same things that Milton Bradley brings to the table. Well, you’re right, and that brings me to my next point.
Milton Bradley is a huge injury risk, and Ken Griffey Jr. is 40 years old. Both of them are likely to miss time with injuries. Say Griffey is unavailable, for whatever reason, on a day in which the Mariners are facing a RHP. If you DH Bradley, and Langerhans isn’t on your bench, you’re forced to go with Byrnes in left field, and while Langerhans isn’t a great hitter, he’s significantly more useful against RHP than Byrnes is. Once in a while, this wouldn’t be an issue, but it’s likely to be a very common scenario this year. It’s the same situation if Bradley is unavailable against a RHP. You DH Griffey, but once again you’re forced to stick Byrnes in left field.
While the offensive difference between Byrnes and Langerhans against RHP over one game is insignificant, it adds up when it happens regularly over the course of a season, especially if Byrnes is as miserable against RHP in 2010 as he was in 2009 (.611 OPS). Obviously, if either Griffey or Bradley go to the DL, the team can just call Langerhans up from Tacoma (assuming he passes through waivers), but significant injuries that result in DL time certainly aren’t the only type of injuries. With older players and injury prone players, there are going to be plenty of occasions when they just need a day or two off, for various reasons. I think the outfield situation/Langerhans factor is a good enough argument in favor of an 11-man pitching staff by itself. A bench with Langerhans on it is just much better equipped to deal with injuries, and that’s important when you’re relying on a 40 year-old and Milton Bradley for fairly significant playing time.