Playing Platoons for Perked Up Production

Fantasy owners all have their little quirks. Every league has the guy who drafts closers way too early, or the owner (or owners) who just cannot stay away from their hometown team.

But me, I am the guy who builds a roster full of players with heavy platoon splits. I am the guy who will go the extra dollar for Matt Joyce, sign Brandon Moss and target Justin Morneau. I know full well that these players often ride the pine or put up ugly stats when left in the game for the wrong matchup. But I don’t care.

And not caring has served me well. The reality is, in certain circumstances, these players are vastly undervalued in fantasy. And this happens for a number of reasons.

First, there is just the general buzz around them. “Yeah, his stats are okay, but you know he can’t hit lefties at all.” Suddenly a lot of owners take a $10 player and discount him because he struggles in 30% of his PA. Forget the fact that the stats used to value the player already take his ugly split into account.

Second, the player’s numbers get deflated. Matt Joyce fell two home runs and three stolen bases shy of a 20-10 season in 2013 and without a doubt hitting those milestones would have impacted his standings. The fact that you could have used him in the 109 games he started and gotten 17 of the HR and all seven of his SB, and still had 53 games – a full third of a season – with another player to make up the difference, that fact somehow gets ignored.

The goal of any fantasy auction/trade/roster building exercise, though, should be to accrue the most production at the lowest cost, and platoon players can help you do that. Here is a perfect example:

Let’s say you needed to fill the Util spot in your lineup, and decided to target Evan Longoria. Not a bad option. And costly. In ottoneu he probably costs you $40+. In other formats, he will cost less, but still probably pushing $20.

What do you think it would cost to add Adam Lind and Justin Morneau, instead? $2-$5 total? An extra roster spot, yes, but if you have the bench depth to use that spot, what if I told you that Longoria is projected by Steamer to put up a .362 weighted on-base average and that if you used Morneau and Lind only against right-handed pitchers, you could get about a .360 wOBA? In formats with a lot of depth (like ottoneu) you could easily add a replacement level player for $1, play that guy when Morneau and Lind both face lefties on the same day and match that .362 from Longoria.

This is the beauty of platoons. And this example isn’t just something that I made up. I spent some time this off-season reviewing the work of Matt Klaassen at FanGraphs and Bojan Koprivica at The Hardball Times. Each of them has spent significant time reviewing platoon splits and looking at the best way to project a player’s “true split” – the split we can expect them to have going forward.

By standing on the shoulders of these giants, I was able to find the projected splits for all active players with at least 100 career PA (although I ended up throwing out guys with too few) and then use those splits along with Steamer projections to project each players wOBA vs. left- and right-handed pitching in 2014. This has allowed me to build out a series of platoon related lists – guys who should only be used in a platoon, guys who are best used in a platoon (but I wouldn’t blame you for playing them both ways), and guys who are ideal to complement a platoon.

Before we dive into the lists, I want to start off with a bit of methodology and offer up some strategic guidance. As for the methodology, I don’t want to a) take credit for work I didn’t really do or b) re-write something that has already been written well, so let me point you to the following articles:

You don’t need to go read all of those to be able to use the information presented here, but if you want to understand the details of what I did to find platoon splits, you can peruse those at your convenience.

Once I had the platoon splits, the next step was to apply them to the Steamer projections, centering them the way that Klaassen suggests in the first piece. Once I did that, I confirmed that wOBA correlates well with fantasy value (and it does – there is a .868 correlation between wOBA and points for hitters in ottoneu points leagues; the correlation will be lower in 5×5 leagues because of stolen bases and we will discuss that later) and then found two sets of replacement levels wOBAs – one for “small bat” positions (catcher, second and shortstop) and one for “big bat” positions (third base, outfield and first base). In the end, a .297-.303 range seemed to be about replacement level for the weak positions and .325-.331 wOBA proved about right for the strong positions.

Clearly these are not exact, but they will serve our purposes, which is to find guys whose strong-side platoon wOBA is well above replacement level while their weak-side platoon wOBA is below – guys who are actually creating negative value when you let them face the wrong-handed pitcher.

As for the strategy, I will provide my thoughts, but I also want to point you to more of Korpivica’s work for further reading, if you so inclined.

Here are my thoughts on using platoons.

  1. In 2012, the average player faced lefties in 29.4% of their plate appearances. In 2013, the average was 28.4%. So if you are only getting one half of a platoon, the left-handed hitter who crushes righties is a better bet.
  2. Fantasy platoons do not need a righty-masher and a lefty-masher. In fact, that is a pretty bad approach. Let’s assume your righty-masher starts 70% of the time. The other 30% of the time, there is a 70% chance the lefty-masher has the wrong matchup, too, which means about 21% of the time you have no good options (70-30 is not the exact right split, but the point remains). Again assuming a 70-30 split, if you have your L/R platoon, you will get 79% “good” games and 21% “bad” games. If you have two righty-mashers, you will get 91% good games and 9% bad games. You could also take a righty-masher and pair him with a relatively average guy with a limited split, and get 70% good games and 30% average games, which is still likely a better bet than the true L/R platoon.
  3. Just because a guy is a “star” or puts up star level production overall does not mean you are not better off platooning him. Jay Bruce projects as the #19 OF in my rankings, and you might think that means you have to start him daily, but if you let Bruce kill righties, his wOBA against lefties is just about replacement level for an OF (about Charlie Blackmon level). In fact, if you played Bruce when he faced righties, and when he faced lefties, played Blackmon against righties, leaving Bruce in when they both faced lefties, the results would be better than playing Bruce daily. Bruce is actually a perfect example of a guy you can improve on with a platoon, but don’t have to. His power plays just as well vs. lefties (or at least it did in 2013) and he isn’t hurting you against southpaws – just not maximizing the potential of that lineup spot.
  4. Platoons only really work in leagues with deep benches and daily lineup changes. If you don’t have a deep enough bench, you can get away with maybe one platoon, but you can’t use up all your bench spots with half-time starters. You also don’t want to mess around with them in weekly leagues, where you are stuck looking seven days out to play matchups. Matt Joyce faces four righties this week and three lefties – do you start him? Ugh.
  5. As noted above, the lists below are based on ottoneu Points League hitter projections, but they should easily translate to 4×4 leagues, which are also closely aligned with wOBA in their valuations. For 5×5 leagues, you will want to consider speed, but don’t forget that even if a base stealer doesn’t have a split in his effectiveness on the base paths, his ability to steal bases is highly tied to his ability to get on base – and so that overall platoon split still matters.

And with that, the lists. Let’s start with the Small Bat positions.

MI and C who Should Only Face Righties

Name ottoneu Positions
Jason Castro C
John Jaso C
Daniel Murphy 1B/2B
Luis Valbuena 2B/3B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Didi Gregorius SS
Dustin Ackley 2B/OF
Nick Franklin 2B
Eric Sogard 2B/SS
Scooter Gennett 2B
A.J. Pierzynski C
Hank Conger C
Steve Lombardozzi 2B/OF

There are three guys on this list who I think could graduate off it very easily. Jason Castro had a noticeable split in 2013, but was good enough from both sides of the plate to start for your team. Steamer looks at his 2010 and 2012 and doesn’t see nearly the same numbers. The BABIP will fall, but I think Castro could easily end up playing as an everyday fantasy catcher.

Nick Franklin and Scooter Gennett are the other two – neither has had much experience, so we may be reading too much into their splits at this point in their careers. I wouldn’t draft either of them expecting everyday performance, but the upside is there.

MI and C who Could Play Daily but Maybe Should Stick to Righties

Name ottoneu Positions
George Kottaras C
Jurickson Profar 2B/3B/SS

I hesitated to include Profar as – like Gennett and Franklin – I think it is too early to say what his splits will look like. But these are both guys I would be okay using daily. If you happened to have a bench player with the right matchup to spell them vs. lefties, I would take advantage of that, though.

MI and C who Should Only Face Lefties

Name ottoneu Positions
Brian Dozier 2B/SS
Hector Sanchez C
Ryan Hanigan C
Francisco Cervelli C
Adam Rosales 2B/SS
Jonathan Villar SS
Wilmer Flores 2B/3B
Mike Zunino C
Ruben Tejada SS

Much like Castro above, I am a Dozier fan, and a believer that he will prove more valuable than just a lefty-only platoon guy. It’s also worth noting that while I combined 2B, SS and C, SS is easily the weakest position, and so the guys on all of these lists who play SS probably deserve more credit than I am giving them.

MI and C who Could Play Daily but Maybe Should Stick to Lefties

Name ottoneu Positions
Jeff Keppinger 1B/2B/3B
Kevin Frandsen 1B/2B
Logan Forsythe 2B/3B/OF/SS
Alexei Ramirez SS
Anthony Recker C
Tony Abreu 2B
Tyler Pastornicky 2B
Everth Cabrera SS
J.P. Arencibia C
David Ross C
Zack Cozart SS

On both this list and the one above, ottoneu owners should pay particular attention to the catchers. With two catcher slots and only 162 games to fill in ottoneu, you can easily have a lefty-mashing catcher on your team and use him for his 50 or so valuable games to fill in around your starting catcher.

I’d also note that Villar and Everth Cabrera are perfect examples of guys for whom the wOBA evaluation is not ideal. In 5×5 leagues, you likely own these guys to steal you some bases, so you probably won’t be as focused on platoon splits.

And remember that lefty-mashers just are not that useful, since you only get to play them about 30% of the time.

MI and C Platoon Partners

Name ottoneu Positions
DJ LeMahieu 2B/3B/SS
Derek Jeter SS
Donnie Murphy 3B/SS
Jordy Mercer 2B/SS
Charlie Culberson 2B/OF/SS
Yunel Escobar SS
Jemile Weeks 2B/OF/SS
Josh Harrison 2B/OF/SS

These are all players who are not projected to be starting-caliber players, meaning you can get them cheap, but who look likely to provide above replacement level production regardless of who they are facing (well, regardless of what arm that pitcher throws with anyway). I’d still prefer to get two guys who both crush righties, but failing that, these guys are solid fallback options to avoid any really bad matchups.

Now we move onto the Big Bat positions.

CI and OF who Should Only Face Righties

Name ottoneu Positions
Justin Morneau 1B
Adam Lind 1B
Domonic Brown OF
Andre Ethier OF
Josh Hamilton OF
Ryan Howard 1B
Ike Davis 1B
Kole Calhoun OF
Pedro Alvarez 3B
Matt Joyce OF
Daniel Nava 1B/OF
Oswaldo Arcia OF
Colby Rasmus OF
Eric Chavez 3B
Logan Morrison 1B
Adam Dunn 1B
Brandon Moss 1B/OF
Kyle Seager 3B
Daric Barton 1B/3B
Nick Markakis OF
Adam LaRoche 1B
Curtis Granderson OF
Mike Carp 1B/OF
David Murphy OF
Mitch Moreland 1B

Again, there are some youngsters and breakout candidates who I am not sure belong on this list. Domonic Brown moves into everyday territory if he hits like he did last year. Kole Calhoun we know very little about. Same with Oswaldo Arcia. And I am not sure we have any idea who Ike Davis is.

Another name that jumps out at me is Kyle Seager. Steamer sees a step back for him – five fewer home runs and a .006 drop in wOBA. He is hurt by being lumped in with all CI here, but his split is legitimate and worth keeping in mind. I think he could play every day, but I am reconsidering that after seeing this data.

And finally, how about Josh Hamilton? Wondering what to do with him after his painful 2013? Well, if you can get him cheap and bench him against lefties, he could prove a nice little value play.

CI and OF who Could Play Daily but Maybe Should Stick to Righties

Name ottoneu Positions
Alex Gordon OF
Eric Hosmer 1B
Jay Bruce OF

I can almost guarantee that no one will platoon any of these three guys, and I don’t blame you. Hosmer’s breakout last year may mean we need to re-evaluate him after another few hundred PA, but all three of these guys become even more valuable if you can pair them with a dirt cheap platoon partner and sit them against tough lefties.

CI and OF who Should Only Face Lefties

Name ottoneu Positions
Shane Victorino OF
Cody Ross OF
Gaby Sanchez 1B
Nolan Arenado 3B
Mark Trumbo 1B/OF
Justin Ruggiano OF
Chris Johnson 1B/3B
Darin Ruf 1B/OF
Todd Frazier 3B
Jose Tabata OF
Drew Stubbs OF
Jesus Guzman 1B/OF

Lefty-mashing outfielders, like catchers, benefit from the abundance of space to play them, which makes them more useful than the 1B or 3B who hit lefties hard.

The most interesting thing on this list, though, is that Darin Ruf and Ryan Howard would clearly make a great platoon, and my advice to go with two righty-mashers goes out the window if the left/right combo are teammates. If Ruf ends up playing against all lefties and Howard plays against all righties, either as a real-life platoon or with Howard playing daily at 1B and Ruf playing often enough in the OF, then you can use them in a true platoon on your team, since you know that the days you need to bench Howard vs. a lefty, Ruf will have the platoon advantage you want.

Nolan Arenado is another young player I would argue may not belong on this list, but whose splits bear watching.

CI and OF who Could Play Daily but Maybe Should Stick to Lefties

Name ottoneu Positions
Jonny Gomes OF
Dayan Viciedo OF
Starling Marte OF
Khris Davis OF
Will Middlebrooks 3B
Torii Hunter OF
Michael Morse 1B/OF

Like others, I’d like to see more from Davis before writing him off as a big split guy, but keep in mind that you may be playing with the short side of a platoon if you draft him. Marte’s split is worth keeping an eye on, as well, but his speed plays regardless of who is on the mound.

CI and OF Platoon Partners

Name ottoneu Positions
David Freese 3B
Victor Martinez 1B

Short list, I know. A lot of the non-starting 1B qualify in the outfield, too (because when you have a first baseman whose bat is not quite good enough, you want to get him on the field somewhere else). I actually think Martinez may put up a better season than Steamer projects. The full missed season and the rough start to 2013 hurt his projections a lot, I imagine, but his second half was solid and the guy has always been able to hit. He may move up into low-end starter territory, but if not, know you can use him here instead. Freese may go the opposite direction and prove to be not useful at all, but as it stands, Steamer sees him outside the starting 3B tier (17th) but above replacement against both righties and lefties.

Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

9 Responses to “Playing Platoons for Perked Up Production”

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  1. Clayton says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    This is glorious.

  2. ILikeIke says:

    Great piece. Anyone in a mixed league go into a draft with this as a strategy for a roster slot? I’m intrigued to try

  3. James says:

    Been trying to identify and draft these players for years. Surprised Utley didn’t make the list for much better (or possibly only) play vs. right. In practice, how much dollar value (or rounds in draft) do you add when you know you can platoon based on daily match ups?

  4. stonepie says:

    brandon moss/adam lind at UTIL seems like a good, cheap source of power

  5. Chad Young says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    @ILikeIke – I use this approach all the time, but never in a draft league (mostly cause it has been years since I was in a draft league). But no reason it shouldn’t work there. If you can get a 4th round value from a 17th and a 20th, or something, that’s great.

  6. Chad Young says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    @James – I didn’t include players who only figure to play one side, because it is hard to predict that. Some cases (Joyce, Moss) are clear because they are in the same role on the same team. But some analysis I did suggested that there isn’t good year-to-year correlation here, in most cases. Utley’s career numbers are good enough both ways that he doesn’t need to be platooned, based on that.

    As for dollar value – what I am looking for is a guy whose overall line is like a $5 player, but that is because he creates $9 of value in a partial season against one side and either doesn’t play the other or loses value by being bad against the other. What I try to do is something like, “If I took only this guys strong side, and then replacement level stats the rest of the way, what would THAT player be worth. And then you want to pay $1 less than that (to save the $1 for the other half of the platoon).

  7. Chad Young says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    @stonepie – yes, agreed. I love Lind for just this reason. I own him in a couple leagues and will likely target him in others.

  8. brian_msbc says:

    I created lefty and righty specific auction values based on this theory. And it’s helpful, but what I’ve found is this strategy works best to target cheap bench players that can make a spot start. For instance, I have a $5 Rajai Davis this year that projects at a $12 auction value, but $22 vs lefties and only $7 vs Righties. Combined with a Drew Stubbs for $3 thats a $8 player and a $17/$4 split. I’ve got. Morneu and Matt Adams 1b combo ($10/$25, $11/$20) so I’ll always have a $20+ player at 1b (assuming they don’t face lefties on the same day). The problem is buying these players in the auction. The reason is their strong side price vs their auction price isn’t enough to justify buying them since you have to also buy their platoon partner. You are better off buying a star for less total auction dollars. I target cheap scooter gennetts, Adam Linds, Rajai Davis guys before the auction but target stars in the actual auction.

  9. brian_msbc says:

    Btw, I’ve got Adam Lind projected at $21 vs Righties and -$2 vs Lefties in 2015. His salary is $5 in my league. Considering he faces righties 73% of the time, this guy is a steal!