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With the season just six games in for the Chicago Cubs, Rick Renteria has clearly expressed his willingness to platoon any player outside of Anthony Rizzo based on the matchup for the day. Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney will all benefit from the platoon, as it generally makes the end of the year numbers look better, just like with Schierholtz in 2013.
But should Rick Renteria take advantage of every platoon opportunity? There has been much debate over these first couple series’ regarding Mike Olt, who still hasn’t seen a start against a right-handed pitcher, in favor of left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena. Olt has been forced to ride the pine in three of the club’s first six games, sitting against A.J. Burnett, Roberto Hernandez and Charlie Morton.
His splits from this spring, though, paint a troubling picture – one that Renteria has no doubt taken into consideration when filling out the lineup card so far during the regular season. In a limited 16 at-bats against lefties, Olt hit a robust .438/.471/1.063, but struggled mightily in 42 at-bats against right-handers, batting .214/.261/.381.
While the season’s obviously just six games in, we have to start debating about whether this is how it’s going to be going forward. There has been discussion about Olt’s shoulder needing a few days of rest when he an get it, but Olt has publicly stated that he’s fine now, and when he has been on the field he’s looked fine. That should not be an excuse anymore.
However, Luis Valbuena could also be important to the Cubs. While he arguably isn’t a major part of the Cubs’ future, he could possibly have some value. He plays an excellent third base, clearly features a very impressive eye at the dish, leading to a very nice approach and is very cheap. You have to consider Valbuena’s possible value come July, and while it’s probably not much, he deserves playing time as well. There could be playing time at second base too, as Darwin Barney could take a cut in time.
Valbuena batted .244 this spring for Chicago, and his splits against lefties and righties are also something to take into account. He’ll likely never be an offensive force to be reckoned with, given he’s a career .223 hitter, but his on-base percentage against right-handers this spring was admittedly over 70 points higher than Olt’s, which could be another explanation behind Renteria’s choice of platooning the duo.
Unless Olt’s shoulder is actually still sore, he arguably should be starting every day. He has proven he possesses much more upside than Valbuena, and could be a staple in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup for years to come. Renteria probably shouldn’t be sticking a guy with big upside and a former top prospect on the short side of a platoon. Olt has struggled in his limited big league career against right-handers, but with the extremely small sample size, he should get a full opportunity at the Major League level.
I would not take too much of these first few games as a sign of something permanent, as Rick Renteria is still shuffling around the lineup and getting the feel for these matchups. Since we’re just two games in, there’s not too much to worry about yet. This plot thickens, in my opinion, if this third base platoon becomes a trend.