When the Cubs called up both Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters, we sort of expected the Cubs to play both of them somewhat regularly. There was also a cryptic tweet by Carrie Muskat that said that "(Vitters) will play against RHP"
What exactly did that mean?
- It couldn't mean that he would only play against RHP because Vitters himself is a RH hitter who holds his own against righties, but excels vs. lefties.
- So may be it was a typo and she meant he would just play against LHP...or
- maybe it just means that Vitters will indeed play against RHP, meaning he won't be in a strict platoon.
So far, Vitters has started one game and it was against a left-handed starter, so the fears are that maybe the second bullet is correct, with Vitters in a strict platoon with the increasingly unpopular Luis Valbuena.
Valbuena is a LH hitter who plays solid defense, but it's by no means Gold Glove quality. He's also struggled to hit over .200 since being called up. Valbuena is a decent player, but whether he was an everyday player, even before the call-up was always very much in doubt. A solid LH bat who can play all around the infield? Yes. An everyday 3B? Well... you'll find few people who would say that's a realistic ceiling for him.
Josh Vitters, on the other hand, has a ceiling that most scouts would describe as an average everyday 3B. It's very likely he's not near that ceiling right now, but neither is Valbuena.
So why not play Vitters and let him get experience?
The biggest concerns for Josh Vitters, as we all know, is below average defense and poor plate discipline. At the plate, he is the polar opposite of Brett Jackson in that he has a fluid swing to go with excellent hand-eye coordination -- a combo that is both his strength and weakness. It is a strength in that it allows Vitters to make contact, sometimes very hard contact, very easily.
It is a weakness in the sense that it gives Vitters the confidence that he can hit just about anything (which he pretty much can). The problem, though, is not whether he can hit everything a pitcher can throw at him. It's whether he should be trying to hit some of those pitches in the first place.
Vitters will help a pitcher out not just by swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, but by making contact with pitcher's pitches that are on the fringes of the strike zone. What I mean is that, after watching Greg Maddux for so many years, we all know there are certain areas where pitchers like to throw strikes. Those are areas where good hitters may still be able to make contact, but they're also not able to drive the ball the way they would like. Maddux made a living of throwing strikes (or at least close enough to get the call) in those zones. Now, most pitchers, even at the MLB level, cannot pitch with that kind of precision, but Vitters has a tendency to turn every pitcher into Greg Maddux by expanding those small fringe areas of the strike zone just enough to get himself out. In other words, he increases the pitcher's margin for error on his location outside the zone rather than waiting for the pitcher to make a mistake in the zone and give him a pitch he can drive.
To be fair, Vitters has improved in that area, though we have to keep in mind that he's doing it in AAA, which is filled with fringe MLB pitchers who lack the kind of stuff, movement, and command to make Vitters pay consistently for his aggressive approach. The PCL is also a hitter's league, so while Vitters' numbers would be impressive in an MLB setting, they aren't as eye-opening in the PCL.
It's likely here that this isn't as much about the Cubs wanting to play Valbuena as it is trying not to expose Vitters too much right away. There are average MLB pitchers who can carve Vitters up right now, so the Cubs are simply trying to limit his exposure and trying to find match-ups where they think he can succeed. The guess here is he will indeed play against LHP but I will add a word to Muskat's tweet and say that he will also play against some RHPs.
So don't take this out on Valbuena. The Cubs know exactly what he is, so there isn't much to lose throwing him out there at his age and seeing if he can become an adequate MLB'er who can play some long term role with the team. Vitters, on the other hand, has the potential to be more, so the Cubs will do what they feel is best for his development as a hitter as well as working to improve his defense.