Dan Johnson or Willy Aybar? Who Should The Rays Start vs. Cliff Lee | The Process Report

Dan Johnson or Willy Aybar? Who Should The Rays Start vs. Cliff Lee

In game one of the American League Divisional Series, Joe Maddon made the controversial decision to start Rocco Baldelli at designated hitter versus Cliff Lee. Based on career numbers, Baldelli would seem like a fine choice. In 629 career plate appearances, he has hit .295/.346/.485 vs lefties. The problem as many of you know is health. Baldelli’s unique condition has limited him to just 219 PA vs. lefties since 2007. With Rocco out once again due to his disorder, the Rays will have a new DH in the rematch.

The question is who?

Conventional wisdom says Willy Aybar. After all, it was Aybar who replaced Baldelli on the ALDS roster and started game two against left-hander C.J. Wilson. In his five year career, Aybar has fared well against southpaws – hitting .267/.349/.435 against them.  Since joining the Rays, he has racked up 1,003 at-bats with 417 of them against LHP. As R.J. pointed out, after the Rays dumped Pat Burrell, it was Aybar who started at DH in the two games the Rays played against Lee. 

On the other hand, conventional wisdom is not always the Rays’ way of doing things. This brings us to our second option – Dan Johnson. After sitting out the first two games of the ALDS, Johnson was in the lineup for both Rays’ victories in Arlington. By now we know what to expect from Danjo: a few hits, a lot of walks, decent power, and some strikeouts.

Unlike most left-handed batters, Johnson does not have extreme splits against left-handed pitching. His slash line of .244/.343/.427 against righties is his better line, but his slash against lefties isn’t far off. In 387 career PA, he has hit .243/.346/.403 against pitchers of the same handiness. In fact, Johnson’s walk rate vs. LHP is actually a bit higher than it is against RHP and nearly 4% higher than Aybar’s.

The one advantage that Aybar appears to have is  in the power category. His slugging percentage is .32 points higher than D.J.’s; however, his .168 ISO (Isolated Power) is just .8 points higher than Johnson’s .160.

Joe Maddon has said he is keeping options open and hasn’t decided on a DH just yet. However, looking at both options*, the process of starting either Aybar or Johnson starting game five is pretty sound.

*If you’re looking for our best guesses, I would say Johnson gets the start, but Anderson thinks it will be Aybar.

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