Who is platooning in 2013?

Back in February, I wrote about platooning in baseball and how teams deployed that tactic in 2012. I introduced a stat I called PlatoonPA, which is a measure of how many plate appearances a player and his team were able to convert from the confrontation of same-handed opponents to the more advantageous one of the opposite-handed ones.

Here is a brief excerpt from that article, because who doesn’t get a kick out of quoting himself?

I decided to look only at starter-versus-starter confrontations. Why? Because I liked the purity of it. It’s like Effron’s dice—the pitching team is forced to make the first choice (it’s not really a choice, as starting pitchers are used in order, not to create match-up advantages), which enables you to choose your hitting team in a way that will give you the best odds to win.

Everything that happens later in the game, once the pinch-hitters and relief pitchers enter the stage, is a game of action and reaction where both teams have a chance to turn the handedness of the confrontation in their favor. As I said, it’s not the only way to go about it, but it is the one I chose.

Matching your starting lineup to the handedness of the opposing starting pitcher is indeed the time and the place to gain advantage.


While you have better-than-average odds of a favorable matchup for your batter while the starters are in, those odds quickly sink once replacements take the stage. Matt Joyce leads the league in 2013 PlatoonPA. As a starter facing a starting pitcher, only three percent of his plate appearances were against a left-hander, yet in the rest of his at-bats that number rose to 33 percent, just about the league average.

We might miss an advantageous plate appearance or two by focusing only on starter-versus-starter duels, but we are capturing the core and have a much healthier signal-to-noise ratio than we would by looking at the entirety of the stats. So, in short, if you want to beat the system, you do it by penciling into your lineup card batters who are opposite-handed of the pitcher. Everything else is just shaving your beard before you step on the scale.

So, who are the 50 players who were platooned the most in 2013, you ask? These are the top 50 players so far this season.

Rank	Player	        Team	Bats	plPA	vsL	vsR	xVsL	xVsR
1	Matt Joyce	tba	L	77	8	242	85	165
2	Sean Rodriguez	tba	R	73	116	10	43	83
3	Nate Freiman	oak	R	71	108	4	37	75
4	Gregor Blanco	sfn	L	67	16	240	83	173
5	N. Schierholtz	chn	L	64	9	241	73	177
6	Jonny Gomes	bos	R	60	112	45	52	105
7	Brandon Moss	oak	L	60	21	222	81	162
8	Luis Valbuena	chn	L	59	5	216	64	157
9	Nate McLouth	bal	L	59	43	269	102	210
10	Andy Dirks	det	L	59	13	221	72	162
11	Matt Tuiasosopo	det	R	58	89	11	31	69
12	Will Venable	sdn	L	57	29	226	86	169
13	Cody Ransom	chn	R	56	90	26	34	82
14	Eric Sogard	oak	L	56	12	192	68	136
15	John Jaso	oak	L	54	0	162	54	108
16	Mark DeRosa	tor	R	54	84	28	30	82
17	Chris Denorfia	sdn	R	53	133	102	80	155
18	Alexi Amarista	sdn	L	53	6	169	59	116
19	Garrett Jones	pit	L	53	0	272	53	219
20	Jesus Guzman	sdn	R	53	96	31	43	84
21	Derek Norris	oak	R	53	106	54	53	107
22	Scott Hairston	chn	R	52	73	0	21	52
23	David DeJesus	chn	L	49	12	196	61	147
24	A.J. Pollock	ari	R	47	117	107	70	154
25	Jason Kubel	ari	L	47	3	156	50	109
26	Travis Hafner	nya	L	46	14	178	60	132
27	Mike Aviles	cle	R	45	98	70	53	115
28	Ryan Flaherty	bal	L	43	5	141	48	98
29	Gaby Sanchez	pit	R	43	69	66	26	109
30	Jordan Pacheco	col	R	43	81	28	38	71
31	Xavier Paul	cin	L	42	3	131	45	89
32	Jeff Baker	tex	R	40	64	16	24	56
33	Miguel Tejada	kca	R	39	72	41	33	80
34	Jason Castro	hou	L	39	38	264	77	225
35	Jason Bay	sea	R	39	89	62	50	101
36	Craig Gentry	tex	R	39	73	42	34	81
37	Seth Smith	oak	L	38	38	192	76	154
38	Juan Francisco	mil	L	38	2	142	40	104
39	Skip Schumaker	lan	L	38	13	145	51	107
40	David Murphy	tex	L	38	39	218	77	180
41	Ike Davis	        nyn	L	38	33	177	71	139
42	Conor Gillaspie	cha	L	38	22	231	60	193
43	Todd Helton	col	L	38	38	176	76	138
44	Ryan Roberts	tba	R	37	73	32	36	69
45	Brandon Belt	sfn	L	37	53	226	90	189
46	Steve Pearce	bal	R	37	64	18	27	55
47	Mike Carp	bos	L	37	2	116	39	79
48	Jason Giambi	cle	L	36	0	114	36	78
49	Eric Chavez	ari	L	36	3	121	39	85
50	Chris Young	oak	R	35	94	84	59	119

As you can see from the leading duo, the Rays faced right-handed starters just about twice as often as left-handed ones. Thus, without mixing and matching, one would expect both Rodriguez and Joyce to have a similar mix in their plate appearances, which is shown in the last two columns, expected plate appearances versus left-handed starters (i>xVsL) and versus right-handed starters (xVsR).

In reality, they were very heavily platooned. Instead of 85 plate appearances versus left-handers, Matt Joyce, a left-hander himself, only had to face them eight times. By doing so, the Rays increased his odds of production on 77 such occasions, thus generating 77 platoon plate appearances.

You will notice that there are no switch-hitters on this list. I have purposely stayed away from them, as it is anything but trivial to make a well-educated guess which side the switch-hitters actually perform better from, at least in an automatic, algorithmic way.

So, while there are switch-hitters who deviate from the expected handedness mix, we don’t necessarily know if it is because of their own strengths or because they are covering for a teammate’s weakness. More on them in a separate article later, perhaps. Only one switch-hitter would have cracked top 50, anyway, Andres Torres with his 56 PlatoonPA, and Daniel Nava places second on that list with 31.

Tampa Bay has the No. 1 and No. 2 on the above list, but that will only bring them to fourth place on the team classification as no team in baseball has platooned even remotely as aggressively as the Oakland Athletics. With seven players on the top 50 list and Adam Rosales just barely missing the cut, the A’s have over 100 platoon plate appearances more than anyone else.

Team	plPA
oak	464
chn	332
sdn	326
tba	298
cle	272
ari	272
nyn	269
sfn	265
mia	226
hou	218
nya	218
bal	215
kca	207
pit	203
det	202
tex	187
bos	184
mil	183
lan	175
tor	164
sea	157
cha	154
sln	141
atl	140
was	129
col	123
cin	115
ana	96
phi	92
min	54

The A’s already have surpassed their mark from last year and are on pace to reach a record-breaking 600 platoon plate appearances. Considering that the value of a single platoon plate appearance is approximately 0.03 runs (calculating the regressed splits of the platoon players as described here), the A’s are on their way to scrape together almost two additional wins due to their roster usage.

And this is clearly by design. The trades for Jaso and Young targeted players with pronounced observed splits, and the Jaso acquisition was especially valuable, as it allowed the A’s to expand platooning to the less traditional catcher’s spot. Increased usage of Sogard allowed them to mix and match in the infield, as well, showing how left-handed-hitting catchers, second basemen and shortstops are perhaps the new undervalued commodity.

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Comments

  1. Will H. said...

    Nice work! And I hear you on the “shave your beard” thought – plus it would be tough to run easily – but as a Nats fan I have a visceral reaction every time Davey Johnson leaves LaRoche in at a high-leverage point versus a leftie just because he properly started him against a RH starter. I’m pretty sure the numbers would show that the mismanagement of substituting platoon advantage for starting position players against relievers (as opposed to just putting in the right choice to replace pitchers) has led to more than a few runners stranded that shouldn’t have been.

    Regardless, enjoy the piece.

  2. John said...

    Great stuff. Thank you for this. I can never get enough of analysis of platoon splits.

    What would be fantastic is a list of players who have bad platoon splits, so that we know which players to avoid in certain situations.

    Perhaps next year we could have a similar report a few times during the season, showing the players performing well and badly.

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