Fantasy Baseball: Hitters Who Outperformed the Traditional Platoon Splits Theory in 2016
Back in the old days, there wasn't a whole lot of strategy with regard to which hitters played and which didn't in fantasy baseball -- your studs were always in the lineup if they had a game, no matter what.
But times, they're a-changin'. While Ron Burgundy may have never heard that song, fantasy baseball owners have and they can thank daily fantasy sports for that. DFS has literally changed the game on a day-to-day basis because it's forcing owners to research the details of a matchup more in depth than ever before, and one of those areas is platoon splits.
As a general rule of thumb, it's a good idea to avoid a left-handed hitter facing a left-handed pitcher, and vice versa. That rule doesn't pertain to certain studs, but it's still a rather popular theory. With that in mind, it's advantageous to leverage hitters who buck that particular trend and produce at an above-average rate in that situation.
To help get the fantasy baseball 2017 research going in the dead of the offseason, we found players who outperformed the traditional platoon splits theory this past season, thanks to FanGraphs' new splits leaderboards, in order to see if there are any trends to take advantage of.
Hitters Who Excelled Lefty vs. Lefty in 2016
Without wasting time, let's just get into it, shall we? Below is a table of the top-performing left-handed hitters who accumulated at least 60 plate appearances against the left-handed pitchers.
There are a bunch of advanced stats to give context, but the criteria to be here was they had to post at least an .800 OPS in 2016.
|Michael Bourn||2 Tms||75||5.33%||25.33%||.100||122||28.85%||.844|
Mostly because the sample size is smaller than the rest, but also because if you're going against the grain, you want that power upside to come along with it. Since none of them posted an average ISO (Isolated Power) above .123 in 2016, it's probably best to avoid them, especially at the start of next season.
Daniel Murphy has always hit left-handed pitching well, but the power wasn't there (.280/.314/.398 versus lefties for his career). As we can see, that's changed, but it wouldn't be shocking for DFSers not to obey the general platoon splits theory since he had a breakout campaign.
Saunders hasn't been known to hit lefties well throughout his career (.686 OPS), so this could be an aberration. However, he had such a terrible second half (.638 OPS) that his ownership levels could be low at the start of 2017, even if he performs well. If this trend continues, ride it until it ends.
Freeman is fresh off a career year in the power department, and while his recent success against lefties doesn't span across his career, he took a significant step forward in his overall development as a hitter. Belt has been solid over the years, but isn't in the same tier as those elite first baseman (like, Anthony Rizzo). So, he could be a valuable pivot when necessary.
As a frame of reference, below is a table displaying the league average in each category for the 76 total left-handers who accumulated 60-plus plate appearances against southpaws last year, compared with the average of the top performers:
|2016 League Average||139||7.53%||21.79%||.126||84||28.28%||.682|
|2016 Top Performers Average||153||8.85%||19.20%||.172||130||30.39%||.857|
Hitters Who Excelled Righty vs. Righty in 2016
The same parameters were used (at least 60 plate appearances and .800 OPS) to find the right-handed batters who excelled the most in 2016 against right-handed pitchers, but the sample size is much greater (246 players total).
There are a lot of familiar names, but some other intriguing options, as well.
|Jung Ho Kang||PIT||288||7.99%||20.14%||.275||139||38.97%||.896|
|Jonathan Lucroy||2 Tms||410||7.80%||16.83%||.195||129||33.11%||.874|
You know those familiar names I'm talking about -- players like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson and Jose Altuve, among others. We're not going to talk about them because they fall in that "matchup-proof" bucket most of us are already aware of.
There are two other buckets to note here, though -- rookies with limited big-league service time and others you'd never think about playing in traditionally unfavorable platoon situations.
The rookie bucket includes plenty with top-prospect pedigree, such as Trea Turner, Alex Bregman, Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez. They all performed very well in this situation (Sanchez is in another category by himself), but we're still not sure what their "norm" is going to be in the Majors. Looking at minor-league splits is helpful, but it's something to monitor as they gain experience and word about how to get them out travels around the league.
Those who surprisingly bucked the traditional platoon split school of thought include Mark Trumbo, Chris Carter, Jedd Gyorko, Khristopher Davis and Mark Reynolds. Whether it's their past history or role on their respective teams, these are the guys I least expected to appear here.
The masses would generally stay away from them with a right-handed starting pitcher on the mound, and probably nobody would blame them. That also creates potential opportunity for you if the situation is right and a trend has formed, though.
For another frame of reference, here's the league average for right-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers (with at least 60 plate appearances) compared to the top performers:
|2016 League Average||280||7.15%||22.20%||.152||88||30.78%||.707|
|2016 Top Performers Average||392||8.37%||19.81%||.219||132||34.95%||.875|
This exercise wasn't done to solidify the fact that Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant and Joey Votto (among others) are some of baseball's best. Just as we talked about with starting pitchers who overperformed or got a little unlucky last season, we're trying to find value in areas where others may not look.
Pouring through platoon splits pertains a little more to DFS than season-long fantasy baseball, but it's useful to everyone. You'd probably be one of the very few comfortable with picking up Drew Butera off the waiver wire with the sole purpose of his facing a right-hander before dropping him after the game finished.
Leveraging players who aren't as obviously good as others in this situation could mean saving a few extra bucks during the lineup construction phase, and we all know that saving a little money in one spot helps create a well-balanced roster, which can go a long way once the last out of the night is recorded.