The Hardball Times has had some tremendous articles on platoons over the last few weeks. Bojan Koprivica wrote a three-part series that you can read here, here, and here, and Brad Johnson outlined some predictable real-baseball platoons that you can replicate in fantasy here. Teams like the Rays and the Athletics make it easy. Half of their lineups consist of platooned players, and so if you are looking for that advantage in leagues with daily lineups and sufficient bench spots, you can just mirror their starting lineups in your own. However, just because many other teams do not employ platoons does not mean that you cannot create fantasy platoons of their players.

Last season, right-handed pitchers started 68 percent of all games. As an example, let’s say that I have two batters from two different teams that I wish to platoon against right-handed pitchers. To make the estimate easy, let’s assume that each hitter plays on the same days as the other but in different games, Game A and Game B. If we assume that the handedness of pitchers in each game on a given day are independent events, then the probability that either or both hitters will face a right-handed starter equals one minus the probability that neither hitter faces a right-handed starter:

P(A(RHP) or B(RHP)) = 1 – P(A(LHP) and B(LHP) = 1 – (0.32 * 0.32) = 0.90

With two batters, I have a 90 percent chance of having at least one of the two enjoying a favorable matchup against a right-handed pitcher. If my bench is really deep, I could even add a third platoon option that plays in Game C:

P(A(RHP) or B(RHP) or C(RHP) = 1 – P(A(LHP) and B(LHP) and C(LHP)) = 1 – (0.32 * 0.32 * 0.32) = 0.98

With three batters, I have a 98 percent chance of having at least one hitter facing a right-handed starter.

The reason such a platoon can be so effective in fantasy is that owners frequently overspend relative to expected production on hitters versus pitchers. There are several reasons that makes some sense. First, pitchers are more likely to suffer an injury. Second, pitchers are easy to stream to take advantage of match-ups against poor offensive opponents and pitcher’s parks. Still, if everyone in your league shares that mentality, elite hitters will have severe inflation, and you will need to play backward, so to speak, to capitalize.

This exact scenario played out for me before the 2012 season in the inaugural draft of my Ottoneu linear weights league. For those who are unfamiliar with the format, linear weights attempt to assign points for events that match their value in terms of run expectancy in real baseball. But, really, the specifics of the scoring don’t matter. All you need to platoon hitters is a league with daily lineups.

In last year’s draft, elite hitters were selling for 10 percent and more above my price sheet. Some owners believe that you should allow each auction to set tier prices and then look for relative bargains in the tiers based on your own preferences. I do not. To me, my price sheet represents the fair value of every player I deem is above the replacement level based on the league format. Every dollar spent over my prices or spent on a player not on my sheet represents a dollar of discount I can capture in another player. For that reason, I am particularly susceptible to a pitcher-heavy team because I always let the preferences of other owners dictate my budget allocation.

In this case, I ended up with a staff of Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, and David Price and a bullpen of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Kenley Jansen, Glen Perkins, Chris Perez, and Jim Johnson for basically half of my \$400 budget. I kept all of those pitchers except for Johnson, who I traded in-season. However, I lost my one impact outfielder, Adam Jones, to arbitration—Ottoneu allows owners to vote off a player from each team, and he was best value selection in 2012. I was left with a handful of inexpensive outfield keepers in Shane Victorino, Garrett Jones, and Tyler Colvin, a skeleton crew of players with clear splits. With most of my money tied up in keepers at other positions and with plenty of bench slots, an outfield platoon was clearly my best bet.

For a platoon to be worthwhile, it needs to replicate the production of starter-caliber players, trading bench spots for the cost savings. However, those costs savings only exist if a player’s platoon value is hidden. Sure, you can platoon a couple of players with small splits, but those players tend to be more expensive since they can be used every day. The value picks tend to either platoon in real life or to have more dramatic splits that depress their overall numbers.

I wanted to find some outfield candidates to target, and so I calculated the points per plate appearance for batters versus both left and right-handed pitchers from 2010-2012. All of the at-bat events were simple to handle, and I distributed stolen bases and caught stealings based on the ratio of plate appearances against each pitcher hand. I also included a minimum of 200 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers over that time frame.

I cannot simply sort by points per plate appearance versus right-handed pitchers and pick out the best ones because, even though I plan to use these platoon players only in games started by right-handed pitchers, they will still face some number of left-handed relievers in those games. Therefore, I first calculated how often left-handed and switch-hitters faced left and right-handed pitchers in games started by a right-hander in 2012.

Fortunately, the ratios were fairly consistent for all players. On average, a left-handed hitter faces a right-handed pitcher in 88.7 percent of his plate appearances and a switch-hitter does the same in 90.5 percent of his plate appearances in a game started by a right-handed pitcher.

Using those two averages, I calculated the combined points per plate appearances for left-handed and switch-hitters in games started by a right-handed pitcher based on their production facing each handed pitcher from 2010-2012. I also included a column of the discrepancy between points per plate appearances versus right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Here are some interesting names, bookended by the overall points per game of select players.

Tier 1 Points Per Plate Appearance, 2010-2012:

Player Hand LHP PA RHP PA PointsPerPA LHP PointsPerPA
- RHP PointsPerPA
Mike Trout       1.68
Justin Morneau L 347 571 1.66 0.69
Shin-Soo Choo L 458 874 1.62 0.87
Brandon Moss L 63 260 1.60 0.51
Joe Mauer L 453 772 1.57 0.56
Andre Ethier L 417 786 1.57 0.91
Carl Crawford L 266 522 1.53 0.52
Buster Posey       1.51

As you can tell based on the bookends of Mike Trout and Buster Posey, these guys are the elite platoon options. As such, all of them play every day in real baseball and will fetch the price of their non-platoon peers in an auction. That said, both Morneau and Moss are fairly cheap in most leagues—though keep in mind Moss has the smallest sample—and Choo and Ethier may be cheap enough to deploy in a platoon, where they go from solid to elite.

Tier 2 Points Per Plate Appearance, 2010-2012:

Player Hand LHP PA RHP PA PointsPerPA LHP PointsPerPA
- RHP PointsPerPA
Andrew McCutchen       1.46
Luke Scott L 209 652 1.45 0.66
Anthony Rizzo L 107 261 1.43 0.80
Wilson Betemit B 184 507 1.39 0.56
Pedro Alvarez L 281 691 1.34 0.54
Matthew Joyce L 132 591 1.33 0.80
Lance Berkman B 112 466 1.31 0.78
John Jaso L 111 654 1.30 0.87
Garrett Jones L 311 858 1.30 0.65
Ryan Doumit B 309 675 1.29 0.57
David DeJesus L 222 754 1.28 0.65
Pablo Sandoval       1.27

For the most part, the next set of players are fairly inexpensive. I was able to buy Joyce and keep Jones at a combined \$7, and I would have done more if more of the names on this list were outfielders. For owners in two-catcher leagues, take note that Jaso, Doumit, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the third tier could be combined into an above-average platoon for very little cost.

Tier 3 Points Per Plate Appearance, 2010-2012:

Player Hand LHP PA RHP PA PointsPerPA LHP PointsPerPA
- RHP PointsPerPA
Seth Smith L 135 704 1.24 0.98
Will Venable L 135 780 1.23 0.51
Eric Chavez L 49 386 1.22 1.22
Jason Kipnis L 241 431 1.21 0.58
Adam Lind L 241 725 1.20 1.08
Jarrod Saltalamacchia B 76 402 1.15 0.65
Dewayne Wise L 83 274 1.14 0.51
Derek Jeter       1.14

Tier 3 is a bit less useful from a practical standpoint, but not because of their lesser point totals. These guys have still outproduced players like Derek Jeter of the past three seasons per plate appearance in games started by a right-hander. However, Smith and Venable are in real-baseball platoons, which make them obvious to other owners that want fantasy platoons. For players in deeper leagues or in AL- or NL-only leagues, DeWayne Wise and Eric Chavez may be worth a buck or two at the end of an auction. If they find the playing time, they can be useful players versus right-handers.

In the end, I netted Garrett Jones, Tyler Colvin, Matt Joyce, and Will Venable for a total of \$11 to cover my fourth and fifth outfield spots. As a basis of comparison, Nelson Cruz sold for \$11. I had to forfeit some bench slots I could have used on prospects or pitchers with upside, but with an elite staff and a team ready to win now, I believe it will be worthwhile.

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1. Bob said...

Great article.  I’ve been looking to use a platoon for my UTIL spot and I’m having a hard time deciding which players to use.  I have it narrowed down to 3 players and 2 of them have obvious platoon splits while the other is more of a situational split.  What would you do with Moreland, Joyce and Carlos Quentin if you could have 2 out of 3?  Would you go with Moreland and Joyce and just play them vs RHP’s or would you do one of them and Quentin and use Quentin away from Petco and Home vs LHP?  Thanks for the help.

2. Sean said...

Something that I have always tried to do is get two players who could, or should be, platoon players in real life (but aren’t) and pair them up on my fantasy team.  For example, for all the left handed bats you’ve listed, the key is to get a right-handed handed bat on the same team to platoon them with.  Thus, when a lefty pitcher is starting play the righty, when a righty is on the mound, play the lefty.  For the sake of example, a potential “fantasy platoon partner” for Justin Morneau would be Trevor Plouffe and his .266/.333/.517 line vs LHP.  There’s also Napoli/Ortiz at 1B, Ross/Kubel in AZ, many more…

3. Scott Spratt said...

Hey, Bob.  If you’re just talking about roster construction, I think I’d go with Joyce and Moreland.  Even though Quentin probably has the highest ceiling, his injury history scares me, and as a right-handed batter, he is best deployed against lefties away from home.  That said, if you can carry them all, I’d probably play Quentin when he’s healthy, away, and against a left-hander ahead of either Joyce or Moreland against a right-hander.