Should there end up being a real competition for a roster spot between Reed Johnson and Shannon Stewart this spring, I'm 100% neutral on the matter. Take the better, healthier man North and cut bait with the other. That said, make no mistake that this is Sparky's job to lose and my nickel is definitely on him being our Opening Day starter with Andy Pettitte on the mound in the Bronx.
Some thoughts and questions for you related to Shannon Stewart's pending arrival in Dunedin...
Bastian is reporting that there will be a LF platoon regardless of who ends up being Matt Stairs' right-handed hitting partner. Back to this in a moment.
"He's just a good player," Ricciardi said about Stewart. "We struggled last year against right-handed pitching and he hits right-handers good. He hits left-handers good and he's a proven .300 hitter. We're just all about making us the best team we can be, so we'll see how he plays in camp."
Our fearless leader goes on:
"[Stewart] could do a lot of things," Ricciardi said. "He's hit in different spots in the lineup, so he could bat first and he could bat second. But I think that's putting the cart in front of the horse, so we'll just have to see how camp goes. Then we can work from there."
Hold the phone! He's got to make the team first before we start speculating as to where he would hit in the lineup. But does he really hit LHP as "good" as we might remember?
Bastian notes that Stew has a nearly identical career line against righties and lefties. Seriously, it's pretty eery: .298/.357/.438/.795 against RHP vs. .299/.375/.421/.796 against LHP. But these numbers haven't been consistent over the years and he's trending downwards at greater rate against lefties than righties.
At the start of his career Stew consistently mashed lefties better than Sparky ever has, but over the past four years he's been weak as a kitten against southpaws:
OPS vs. RHP LHP Overall
1998: .787 .811 .794
1999: .757 .901 .782
2000: .905 .808 .881
2001 : .824 .876 .834
2002: .807 .834 .813
2003: .802 .893 .823
2004: .866 .737 .827 (I)
2005: .729 .654 .711
2006: .721 .700 .715 (I)
2007 : .756 .699 .739
* (I) denotes significant time lost due to injury
The numbers in this nifty little chart are somewhat odd. One would expect a natural age-related decline for a player after he hits 30, but such a dramatic reversal of splits over the past four years? Mike Sweeney is someone who comes to mind for some pretty unpredictable splits over the course of his career, but it's unusual for a player to simply "lose" his ability to hit LHP so rapidly.
The Stew of 2005 and 2007 is quite obviously inappropriate to the extreme as the right-handed component of our LF platoon and we'd be wasting the man's time by auditioning him for the role. As such, any prospect of Stewart honestly competing for Sparky's job here and now is based on the assumption that he can reverse a precipitious 4-year decline against LHP. I just don't know about that.
Just when you thought we'd wrapped this up in a neat little package, here are Sparky's LHP splits:
2007: .325/.381/.913 (in only 85 PA)
There's a .150 discrepency between Sparky's best and worst, which means that it's not as much of a slam dunk for him as some might think.
We've got a 32-year-old Sparky and a 34-year-old Stew, both of whom are in decline, both of whom have had injury woes in the recent past. I hate to mention it, but there's a possibility that neither of them is capable of scorching LHP in 2008, which would mean JP really missed the boat by passing on Kevin Mench. If we knew it was going to be a platoon all along, why didn't we go with the most predictable (and cheaper, which I note in passing only...) option?
There really aren't any clear answers here, so your feedback is appreciated.
And I will be jiggered if I can't get a Shannon Stewart photo on google images without running into pornopalooza...
-- Johnny Was