Baseball Prospectus – Spring Training Q&A
Ryan Klesko is interviewed. He has a few things to say about being platooned in Atlanta. It should be pointed out that while he didn’t have a platoon split in the minors, once he got with the Braves it was pretty severe. He seems to have overcome that, indicating that it was just not getting enough work against lefties that caused the problems.
Good to see that it’s still 100% of all players who were platooned who think they would have been better off it they had played every day. Still waiting for that first guy to say “I wish I would sit more against tough lefties. I really can’t handle them very well.”
Bobby Cox’s strength as a manager is in puting players in roles that they can succeed in. He successfully did that with Klesko. Sure he kept him in the platoon role for too long, but the Braves have been in a win now mode for 12 years and haven’t had a lot of time for on the job training.
The Padres on the other hand have nothing but time and they are being rewarded. Good for them. Doesn’t necessarly have to be another knock against Bobby Cox though.
One of the “Great 8” Richmond Braves when I was in school there from 89-93, Klesko was my favorite ABrave of all. Still, I was glad he and BCox parted company when they did, for it looked like he and development were going separate ways.
The “Great 8” were: SS Chipper Jones, 1B Klesko, C Javier Lopez, 2B Ramon Caraballo, LF Melvin Nieves, CF Mike Kelly, RF Tony Tarasco and 3B Jose Oliva. A depressing feeling to look back at this stuff … must … go … sniffle ….
Of course I should add that the “Great 8” was a moniker used to pleasurable effects by the Richmond newspaper (the Times-Dispatch) during the 1993 season. Those RBraves were fun to watch.
Bobby Cox’s strength as a manager is in puting players in roles that they can succeed in
I’m not sure how this applies to Klesko, though. He’s clearly a better hitter now than he was in Atlanta. Sure, he couldn’t lefties while here, but it always struck me that this was because for his first few years here he just didn’t get to face them – of course your skills against ML lefties are going to be weak if you never get to face them. And then by the time he did, he was pressing because he knew his future playing time depended on it.
but the Braves have been in a win now mode for 12 years and haven’t had a lot of time for on the job training
Sure they did. In 1994 they platooned him with Dave Gallagher, and in 1995 they platooned him with Mike “I put the K in” Kelly. These guys were just brutally awful, and it wouldn’t have cost the team a whole lot of any on field performance to let him Klesko get in his development time against major league lefties.
The other annoying thing with the way the team handled Klesko, as I mentioned in another thread, was their insistence that he cut down on his strikeouts and put the ball in play more. And sure, his whiffs dropped, but so did his main skill, hitting homers, replaced with some doubles instead. Nice, but not the big mighty Klesko swing I dearly loved.
FWIW, I thought Klesko was a _great_ baserunner, and I was thrilled to see his stolen base numbers his first two years in SD. I didn’t think he had _that_ in him, but he always seemed good at taking the extra base and the like in Atlanta.
Here are Klesko’s splits his three seasons in San Diego.
and for fun, let’s through in his last season in Atlanta
Last season was the first time in his 11 seasons that Klesko was a good choice for a corner spot against lefties. And yes I realize he only 54 plate appearances against lefties in ’99.
San Diego had to invest two seasons worth of at bats at a Mike Kelly level (career OPS: .721) to see any payoff. And after 10 seasons of not hitting lefties and one season of hitting them, which to you sounds like the true level of ability?
San Diego had to invest two seasons worth of at bats at a Mike Kelly level (career OPS: .721) to see any payoff.
But that’s exactly my point. Given the time to play and the chance to relax without fear that he’d lose playing time based on his next AB vs. lefties, Klesko played _no_worse_ even for those two seasons than the guys who platooned with him early in his time with Atlanta. In fact, that 723 OPS would have been 100 points better than what the Braves got from Dave Gallagher in 1994 (224/326/296), and about 150 better than what they got from Mike Kelly in 1995 (190/258/314).
Okay, so in 1994 the team was trailing Montreal in the standings. Not prime development time for Klesko, but then Gallagher sure wasn’t doing squat either. In 1995, the team finished 21 Games ahead of the second-place Mets. No time for a little development there? By the time he got full-time PT in 1996 he had gone two full seasons without regularly facing lefthanded pitching. And that’s a situation in which he was to be expeccted to succeed?
All of this ignores one thing, of course. Coaching. Maybe it’s just the fact that SD has better hitting coaches than Atlanta ever did. Maybe they were able to spot what was wrong with his approach vs. lefties, and is improvement has nothing to do with simple playing time. Maybe, like Odalis and maybe Jermaine Dye, he was just never going to achieve a certain level of success under Atlanta coaching. *shrug*
I don’t think we can judge Klesko’s entire Atlanta career on how he was used in 1994 and 1995. Remember, those were his first two full seasons, and the team already had two other lefty power bats in the lineup (McGriff and Justice). Not many teams want to use three lefty hitters against a lefty pitcher. So in that instance, the young guy rides the pine.
One thing a lot of Klesko apologists/Bobby bashers seem to overlook is that Klesko is at least 20 pounds lighter now than he was when he was a Brave. That added mobility, endurance and flexibility has made a huge difference in his game.
I’m not so much judging his entire career by 94/95 as pointing out that in those two years his skills had time to atrophy. He went from everyday player in the minors thru September of 1993 to getting no regular time against lefties again until April of 1996. And then the struggles he had in 1996 had everyone going, “Oh, well clearly they were right to platoon him all this time”, as if 30 months of downtime wouldn’t affect his swing.
And really, I can’t point this out enough – no matter what qualms the team had about the lineup composition they were fielding, lefty power hitters or whoever – they instead chose to play two horrible hitters as the other half of the platoons. What point is there to “the young guy rides the pine” if the young guy taking his place is hitting like raffy Belliard?
As for his current shape, I haven’t seen him play enough for SD to judge that, but he was always in good shape with Atlanta. He may have been a big guy but he was far from Mo Vaughn territory. His endurance was never a problem in Atlanta, and while he was no gazelle in LF, he played all-out out there.
I think overall Klesko is a black mark against Cox’s tenure as a manager. That shouldn’t be taken as too strong of a criticism, because Cox has plenty of good points to far outweigh this one. But Klesko was never managed well. His development as a hitter may have been stunted by the way they played him and didn’t play him. Cox was frequently outmanaged for platoon advantage in the postseason when it came to Klesko (leading, for instance, to Ryan getting only 12 PA in the 1996 Series, only 2 more than Terry Pendleton). Heck, they even gave Tyler Houston and Eddie Perez more time at 1B that season than they did Klesko, and his rust at the position might have contributed to his extra innings error in game 4. I’m not blaming that error on Cox per se, but getting a guy into games at 1B twice during a season doesn’t exactly ‘put him in a position to succeed’ when called upon in that situation in the World Series.
I am thrilled that Klesko has gone on to be a league hitting star (and base-stealer!) in San Diego. I’m glad he’s worked hard to prove his detractors wrong. And I just wish I still got to see the big lug’s mighty swing as a Braves regular. Goodness knows, that bat would be mighty useful now in a lineup of righty hitters with a cast of thousands at 1B.
Klesko had 88 PAs vs. lefties in 1995 – about 25% of his total PAs. So he wasn’t completely inactive against lefties in that shortened year. He actually hit them pretty well, too – .234/.341/.442. Cox then decided to play him pretty much full time in 1996, and his numbers vs. LHP fell dramatically to .230/.285/.324 in 139 ABs (4th most on the team). Of the 34 HRs Ryan mentions that year, 3 were against LHP – one every 46 ABs.
Cox then gets into his head that Ryan can’t hit lefties, and the platoon starts up almost in full swing again. The question of whether it the right decision seems to have been answered in San Diego. But to continue…
My search for Ryan’s minor league splits has proven largely fruitless. I did find out he hit .239 against LHP in 71 ABs in AAA in 1993, but that doesn’t tell us much. From what I’ve heard, he had pretty normal minor league splits for a LH batter (and he was very highly touted by BA, Bill James, etc).
If platooned with a lefty-masher (and better defender) in Gerald Williams, it wasn’t too bad. Now Dave Gallagher or Danny Bautista…I don’t want to go there.
It will take more than one year of Klesko doing well against lefties before I can declare him ‘cured’ against southpaws. However, it is conceded that playing full-time has helped his psyche.
His trade was a silly and costly mistake. It left (no pun intended) the Braves with no LH power other than Chipper. Hopefully that will be rectified somewhat this year with Fick. We’ll see.
Thanks, Mike. Those 1995 numbers are better than I would have thought, for more PA than I would have thought. Hmmmm.
And kudos on finding at least one minor league stat on him. Been searching for any info on that for years.