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Replacing Coco Crisp: Can Mark Canha save the Oakland A's?

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Platoon flexibility for the Athletics hangs on a razor's edge with Coco Crisp gone for six to eight weeks.

Can Mark Canha be more than a platoon hitter against lefties?
Can Mark Canha be more than a platoon hitter against lefties?
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The math is simple enough. If the Athletics carry 13 position players, at least five must be good enough against hitters on each side so that the remaining eight can platoon. Without more everyday players, however, there is no way to give a player in your ideal lineup a day off without batting a player you would prefer not bat on the wrong side of his platoon split. Without Coco Crisp for the next six to eight weeks, the A's face just that problem.

When Josh Reddick returns on April 11, the lineups will look something like this:

vs. LHP vs. RHP
C Josh Phegley Stephen Vogt
1B Mark Canha Ike Davis
2B Ben Zobrist Eric Sogard
3B Brett Lawrie Brett Lawrie
SS Marcus Semien Marcus Semien
LF Ladendorf/Burns Ben Zobrist
CF Craig Gentry Sam Fuld
RF Josh Reddick Josh Reddick
DH Billy Butler Billy Butler
Bench
BN1 Stephen Vogt Josh Phegley
BN2 Ike Davis Mark Canha
BN3 Sam Fuld Craig Gentry
BN4 Eric Sogard Ladendorf/Burns

There are just five everyday players in those lineups: Ben Zobrist, Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien, Josh Reddick, and Billy Butler. Besides facing the wrong platoon, a bench limited to batters facing entirely in one direction (especially if the right-handed batting Tyler Ladendorf is retained on April 11 over the switch-hitting Billy Burns) is subject to being countered by a LOOGY or ROOGY, with no further countermove available.

How could Oakland be okay?

The main thing is to see whether one of the players Oakland already has is good enough to play regardless of the handedness of the batter. We can eliminate Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley off the top because their platoon is more a function of catcher workload.

Career wRC+ splits
Bats vs LHP vs RHP
Ike Davis L 61 126
Sam Fuld L 90 82
Eric Sogard L 61 76
Craig Gentry R 105 77

In the table at left are the career wRC+ splits for Oakland's platooning MLB veterans, according to Fangraphs. One hundred is league average after adjusting for park and league effects.

We know Ike Davis was brought here to face righties, and it is a borderline case whether Craig Gentry's platoon penalty is outweighed by his center field defense.

Neither Eric Sogard nor Sam Fuld have ever been good enough hitters on either side to desire them to be everyday players.

So then we turn to the three rookie-eligible players: Billy Burns, Tyler Ladendorf, and Mark Canha. Career minor league splits since 2011 are readily available at Minor League Central:

MiLB splits since 2011
Bats vs LHP vs RHP (Burns as LHB only)
ISO K% BB% BA OBP SLG OPS ISO K% BB% BA OBP SLG OPS
Billy Burns S .103 13.9% 8.8% .302 .385 .405 .790 .053 12.7% 12.2% .272 .369 .325 .694
Tyler Ladendorf R .184 11.1% 10.9% .328 .403 .512 .915 .080 20.0% 9.0% .214 .298 .294 .592
Mark Canha R .181 17.2% 12.5% .305 .390 .486 .876 .190 19.8% 10.8% .277 .371 .467 .838

Note that Burns only began switch hitting for part of the 2012 season, so his split against right-handers excludes 361 plate appearances where he batted as a right-handed batter in short-season-A and Low-A.

Burns and Ladendorf have quite dramatic performance falloffs over their careers when facing right-handed batters. A comparison of each of their isolated power splits (slugging minus batting average) has each approximately halving their performance when facing a right-handed batter. Each performed admirably against their traditional "wrong" side this spring, but I would classify that as more of a new development than something to count upon.

Mark Canha, however, does not seem to have a platoon disadvantage in the way Burns and Ladendorf do. Whether you want him to potentially be an everyday player that can spell guys in the outfield and on the corners depends on your opinion of him as a hitter in general.

Were the six home runs he hit this spring indicative of why the A's "couldn't keep the glee off their faces," as Fangraphs' Eno Sarris wrote ahead of trading Austin House to the Colorado Rockies just for the right to pluck him from Miami in the Rule 5 Draft? Five of those dingers were off of right-handed pitchers, by the way.

Until we know more, I see Canha as the best hitter the A's have in a platoon disadvantage, and the first player off the bench against right-handed pitchers when one of the projected regulars needs time off. Whether he is anything more? We shall see.