The Brewers increased their outfield depth this off season with the acquisition of Avisail Garcia. Early reports indicated that Garcia would primarily play left field and leave Christian Yelich in right field. This most likely puts Garcia and Ryan Braun on a timeshare in left field. How might this timeshare work in 2020, and what does this mean for Ben Gamel?
Ryan Braun played in his highest amount of games (144) and outfield innings (892.2) in 2019 since he played in 135 games and 1102.2 innings in 2016. Despite playing through a calf strain at the end of the season, Braun avoided the injured list in 2019. His increased availability in 2019 resulted in increased offensive numbers and an overall good season.
Avisail Garcia has played primarily right field since entering the major leagues in 2012, in fact he has only logged 414.2 career innings outside of right field. Of those 412.2 innings, 113 of them have been played in left field and 301.2 in center field. He has not played left field since 2016 but did record 94 innings in center field for the Rays in 2019.
How will the platoon work?
Is a platoon depending upon pitcher handedness an option? Yes. While both players have hit well against left handed pitchers, Braun is better. Entering 2020, Braun carries a .320/.391/.603 career slash line against lefties while Garcia’s slash is .296/.352/.456.
Looking back to 2019, both players had a similar amount of plate appearances against lefties (176 and 177). The raw statistics show that Garcia hit .265 with seven doubles and seven home runs while Braun hit an uncharacteristically low .287 with 13 doubles and 10 home runs. However, the advanced stats still confirm Braun is still the superior choice against lefty throwers.
Braun’s wOBA against lefties in 2019 was .384 as compared to Garcia’s .328. Braun also had the edge in wRC+ with 136 as compared to Garcia’s 107. wOBA measures a player’s overall offensive contributions per plate appearance and wCR+ tells us how many runs created above league average each player was. In this case Braun’s wCR+ indicates he was 36% better than league average in 2019 while Garcia was only 7% better than league average.
Could Braun’s potential platoon at first base affect this?
Yes. While it is important to make sure Braun is in the game against left handed starters, he could easily do so by playing first base against lefties for Justin Smoak does not hit as well from the right side.
Other factors that could impact the timeshare
Lorenzo Cain will be 34 years old for most of the 2020 season and could benefit from more days off. He was able to play through multiple aliments in 2019 but his offensive production suffered. Given that Garcia has played center field in the past, I would not be surprised to see him start a few games in center field to give the veteran some rest. Ben Gamel is another candidate to give Cain rest days as well.
Gamel had a pretty successful season his first year in a Brewers uniform. He hit really well against lefties and showed the ability to deliver clutch hits for the Brewers. However, the names of Garcia, Braun, Cain, and Yelich should prevent Gamel from receiving substantial playing time in 2020 except for rest days for the regulars or as a defensive substitution late in games. It might be a tough year for Gamel fans and given he still has one minor league option left. He could see some time at Triple-A as well.
The left field outlook is still hazy at best. A lot will depend upon if Smoak is able to bounce back offensively and if Braun is serviceable at first base. If Smoak performs offensively and becomes the everyday starter, left field will be occupied primarily by Braun and Garcia, in which Braun should draw most of the starts against left handed pitchers. Gamel will likely not see much playing time in left, unless he is substituted late in the game for defensive reasons.