When you go to the FanGraphs leaderboards, the first group of players that comes up are the “qualified” players. For position players, at the end of the season, that equates to the players who had 502 or more plate appearances. This year, there were 143 such position players. But there are plenty of players vital to teams that don’t show up on among qualified players. Whether you call them platoon players, role players or simply part-time players, they almost always find themselves out of the limelight. Today, let’s take a look at the ten best part-time players of the 2012 season.
We’ve already defined these players as those with less than 500 PA. But we need to go a little further. There are plenty of regular players who didn’t reach 500 PA, but were most certainly not part-time players. Guys like Joey Votto and Matt Kemp would have easily reached 500 PA had they been healthy. There are also players who didn’t reach 500 PA, but started more than 100 games — guys like Ryan Ludwick, Todd Frazier and Jeff Keppinger. It’s hard to call them part-time players as well. Finally, there are players who only seem like part-time players because they were called up in the middle of the season. A player such as Luis Cruz falls into this category. Cruz wasn’t called up until July 2, but from then on he started in 73 of the 77 games in which he played. That’s an everyday guy in my book. So I combed the list to try and strip some of those players out, looking at the percentage of games started to games played. Obviously, that leaves some gray areas, but I’m more comfortable parsing the list a little than I am just leaving it alone and calling guys like Votto part-time players because they didn’t reach 500 PA.
1. Carlos Gomez: 452 PA, 98 GS / 137 GP, 3.5 WAR
It took six seasons and three organizations, but Gomez finally turned in an above-average season at the plate. He still proved to be fairly allergic to taking a walk, and he swung at more pitches than ever, but when he did make contact, the ball went further, as his HR/FB of 14.3% was a career-best. Much of his improvement can be traced to his performance against right-handed pitching. In 163 PA against righties in 2011, Gomez posted a paltry .254 wOBA. In ’12, that bumped up to a career-best .329 in 288 PA. He also had a career year on the bases, placing fifth in the National League with 37 steals and eighth in the NL with a 6.3 Bsr. Combine all of that with his trademark good defense, and you have a very useful player.
2. Craig Gentry: 269 PA, 66 GS / 121 GP, 2.9 WAR
In his first full season in the majors, Gentry proved an indispensable presence in the Rangers’ outfield. Not much of a hitter against right-handed pitching, Gentry continues to improve against southpaws. In 2012, he posted a .381 wOBA against lefties, good for 20th place in the American League (min. 100 PA vs. LHP). He didn’t see as much time down the stretch, but that had more to do with David Murphy figuring out left-handed pitching for the first time than anything else. Gentry probably can never be an everyday guy unless he learns to hit right-handed pitching, but a true center fielder who can hit lefties is a great asset nonetheless.
3. Ryan Hanigan: 371 PA, 98 GS / 112 GP, 2.9 WAR
This past season was supposed to be a coming-out party for Devin Mesoraco, with Ryan Hanigan splitting time and keeping the heat off of him. Mesoraco couldn’t meet the hype for at least one season, but Hanigan did stick to the script by taking the heat off of him with a productive season. For the fifth straight season, Hanigan walked more times than he struck out, and in 2012 he did so while playing in more games than he had previously. Hanigan doesn’t bring much in terms of power production — only four players in the majors that compiled at least 350 PA had a worse ISO than Hanigan’s .063 mark — but he gets on base and plays good defense. That’s a pretty good combo for a catcher, and as the season progressed he was rewarded with more starts as a result of his good play.
4. Justin Ruggiano: 320 PA, 74 GS / 91 GP, 2.8 WAR
Five years after his major league debut, Ruggiano was finally given a chance to stick with a team, and he made the most out of it, cranking 13 homers for the Marlins. He wasn’t just a masher though, as exemplified by the above-average walk rate that he posted. Ruggiano and his 146 wRC+ became an attractive center-field option for the Marlins — the other five players who saw time in center for Miami posted wRC+’s of 79, 72, 47, 15 and 5. Depending on how much Gorkys Hernandez the team wants to see, Ruggiano may not open next season as a starter, but he should find some role in Miami.
5. John Jaso: 361 PA, 83 GS / 108 GP, 2.7 WAR
As I write this, the top headline on Jaso’s player page reads “John Jaso? Really?” Fitting so, as Jaso’s 10 homers in 2012 matched his career total entering the season. His emergence was weightier than his raw numbers too, as his emergence landed Miguel Olivo and his .267 wOBA on the bench more frequently. Like Hanigan, Jaso has great plate discipline, as he has walked 140 times against 128 strikeouts in his career. The added power helped turn him into the Mariners’ best hitter.
6. Tyler Colvin: 452 PA, 99 GS / 136 GP, 2.7 WAR
After a disastrous 2011 season, the Cubs couldn’t kick Colvin to the curb quick enough, and the Rockies were there for the rebound. The left-handed hitting outfielder may prove to be another Coors Field creation, as he hit just .244/.274/.413 away from Denver, but for at least one year he was a pretty superb Coors Field creation. On the team, Carlos Gonzalez bettered Colvin’s .435 wOBA. In the second half, Colvin even mixed in 18 starts at first base, which will give the Rockies another option there once Todd Helton is put out to pasture.
7. Brandon Moss: 296 PA, 68 GS / 84 GP, 2.4 WAR
To say that Moss’ season came out of nowhere would be a supreme understatement, as Moss compiled more extra-base hits in 2012 than he did plate appearances in 2010 and 2011 combined. The emergence of the Moss/Chris Carter platoon was a big part of Oakland’s second-half offensive surge. Moss’ power surge put him in some elite company — in the past five seasons, only Jose Bautista, Jim Thome, Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Napoli, Carlos Pena, Prince Fielder and Moss have posted a single-season ISO of .300 or better (min. 250 PA). Expecting him to duplicate that performance in 2013 would be folly, but even with some regression he should be an integral part of Oakland’s lineup.
8. Gregor Blanco: 453 PA, 90 GS / 141 GP, 2.4 WAR
Despite a .302 wOBA and the acquisitions of Xavier Nady and Hunter Pence, Blanco found himself in demand thanks to Melky Cabrera’s suspension, and he kept contributing positively. Blanco led the team defensively, was the team’s second-best baserunner and worked counts better than anyone on the team other than Buster Posey. In other words, Blanco did a lot of little things well. Add up those little things, and you have a productive player.
9. Justin Maxwell: 352 PA, 77 GS / 124 GP, 2.3 WAR
One of the bright spots for the Astros, Maxwell achieved one of the three true outcomes in more than 46 percent of his 2012 plate appearances. He did most of his damage against left-handed pitching, as righties absolutely ate his lunch. Against lefties, he posted a .63 BB/K, but that number fell to .15 against righties. Still, the power is genuine, and that is something that Houston will need in their move to the AL.
10. Jonny Gomes: 333 PA, 74 GS / 99 GP, 2.1 WAR
He of the custom boxing bathrobes, Gomes is never short of personality. And with a career .211 ISO, he is also rarely short of power at the plate. Oakland was Gomes’ fourth team in five seasons, and with Chris Young coming to Oakland, he may add a fifth team next season. When he gets there, he’ll keep doing what he does — mashing lefties (.418 wOBA in 2012) and performing just well enough against righties (.316 wOBA in 2012) to be functional.