On Starting Julio Lugo In Left-field

First inning. None on with two outs. Josh Hamilton sends a Jake Arrieta pitch to left-field. The fielder comes in, jumps, and the ball goes off his glove and over his head (it’s scored a double). The number on the back of the jersey is a 2. Julio Lugo was apparently penciled in as the team’s staring left-fielder, prompting a reaction of “What the wha?” Like with the bunting thing though, jumping to conclusions isn’t the way to go.

Projected wOBAs based on ZiPS:

Julio Lugo: .318
Felix Pie: .315
Corey Patterson: .309
Luke Scott: .369

Projected wOBA off of lefties using regressed platoon splits:

Lugo: .331
Pie: .278
Patterson: .278
Scott: .337

On top of that, Rangers’ starter CJ Wilson has some big career platoon splits himself:

vs. LHH: 3.31 xFIP
vs. RHH: 4.49 xFIP

So making things a touch more extreme seems fair:

Lugo: .335
Pie: .275
Patterson: .275
Scott: .333

Over 4 plate appearances, the difference in runs (relative to Lugo):

Lugo: 0 (easy!)
Pie: -0.21
Patterson: -0.21
Scott: -0.01

Let’s take some assumed fielding marks in LF (per 150 games):

Lugo: -10 runs
Pie: +7 runs
Patterson: +6 runs
Scott: -3 runs

So over one game that’s (relative to Lugo):

Lugo: 0
Pie: +0.11 runs
Patterson: +0.11 runs
Scott: +0.05 runs

Add them up and you get (relative to Lugo):

Lugo: 0
Pie: -0.10 runs
 Patterson: -0.10 runs
Scott: +0.04 runs

To get that playing Lugo over Scott is the correct call you need to think the former is the better fielder. Maybe that’s true – he is faster, afterall – but I don’t quite buy it. Lugo hasn’t played a full game in left-field since 2001, or the outfield at all (for more than one inning) since 2006. Therefore, while it made sense to start Julio over Pie or Patterson, getting Scott in there instead might have been an even better decision. That said, Lugo is 2-2 (with a double) as of the writing of this post. And if Luke couldn’t play in the outfield, then Buck’s choice was probably right.