LOS ANGELES -- What’s the dirtiest word in baseball? Brace yourself, it’s ... “platoon.”
Ask a manager if his shared position is a platoon and he will come up with any number of reasons why that is not exactly what to call it. The word “platoon” needs to hire a new public relations agency.
So with left-handed hitting Joc Pederson and right-handed hitting Trayce Thompson appearing to share time in center field these days, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts does not want to put a label on it. Thompson was starting in center field on Wednesday for the sixth time (10th outfield start). Pederson has started 15 games in center.
“I’ve talked about using the roster,” Roberts said. “Trayce is good out there in center field, and I want to get him in there and get him at-bats. I want to get him in there against left-handed pitching. Joc had a good at-bat against (Marlins left-hander Craig) Breslow last night, so it’s not like I’m pinch hitting every time a left-hander gets in there.”
Shared time, in whatever ratio, is always a fine line to walk. Would Pederson be better off without sporadic days off? Is Thompson really benefiting from the choppy playing time?
Then again, Roberts just might be getting optimal production by sharing time in center field. At the start of Wednesday’s game, Dodgers center fielders had combined for a .492 slugging percentage, third in all of baseball. Their .365 on-base percentage was fourth best, and so was their 14 runs scored.
While shared time sometimes is about preserving the legs of a veteran player, in this case, it’s about helping Thompson to be as fresh as possible as the fourth outfielder, while finding optimal matchups for Pederson to have success.
Roberts gave proof that this is not a platoon by announcing his lineup plan for the upcoming interleague road trip. The Tampa Bay Rays are scheduled to start a pair of left-handers in a brief two-game series next week, but Thompson and Pederson each will start a game.
“There are reasons you put guys in position to have success,” Roberts said. “There’s no platoon. I really don’t see it. You’re going to see Joc playing center field against (Tampa Bay’s) Matt Moore. And if it were a strict platoon, then I would have [not played] him.”
So how did Roberts decide that Moore was the best pitcher for Pederson to face?
“Certain guys, their out pitch is a changeup; certain lefties, it’s a breaking ball,” Roberts said. “When typically it’s a breaking ball that’s their best secondary, then it’s tougher for the left-on-left, the visual. Guys who have a changeup as an out pitch, typically the left-handers can handle them better.
“And there’s other components too, as well.”
Roberts wasn’t about to give up all his tricks and strategies ... and don’t ask him to admit to a “platoon.”