5 MLB Hitters With Strange Righty Versus Lefty Splits
I don't think I'd be going out on a limb to say that most of you look at the handedness of an opposing starter prior to filling out your daily fantasy baseball lineups for the day. It's a smart thing to do, considering most players see at least a small difference in how they perform versus righties as opposed to lefties.
The problem here is that not all players conform to the expectation that lefties fare better against righties and vice versa. It would be less than ideal to assume a right-hander gets a boost against a lefty starter when in actuality his performance is analogous to a tipsy toddler.
I wanted to take a look at some of the guys for whom this is true. This list below is far from extensive, but it should show you that it pays to check out individuals and their splits versus lefties and righties. As long as you always take the sample size of the data into account, this can help you avoid a costly mistake created by a generally factual assumption.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
There are a lot of things about Yasiel Puig that are maddening when it comes to fantasy. His streakiness is chief among those concerns, as I mentioned in our fantasy baseball outfielders preview. Potentially even more maddening is his inability to hit left-handed pitching last year.
Puig's numbers versus right-handers are fan-freaking-tastic. He hit .307/.384/.516 with a .393 wOBA against them last year. Then you see his overall slash of .296/.382/.480 with a .379 wOBA, and you realize something didn't go as planned against lefties last year. You'd be right.
Although Puig's on-base percentage doesn't take a huge hit (dropping to .377 against south paws), his slugging percentage nosedives into oblivion. Instead of hovering around .500, it drops to .359 against lefties, dragging his wOBA down to .335. Puig had roughly the same slugging percentage against left-handers last year as Denard Span, who is both left-handed and largely a singles hitter.
Is Puig a victim of sample size? Possibly. After all, Puig slashed .340/.419/.583 with a .427 wOBA against lefties in his rookie campaign. Even still, I know I will be avoiding him when the Dodgers are facing a left-hander early on to make sure that's the case.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Of the 104 left-handed batters who recorded at least 50 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers last year, not a single one had a higher wOBA than Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo was at .411 for the season. The only other lefy above .400 was Joey Votto, though his sample was limited to just 66 plate appearances. Next up? Nori Aoki at .386.
Not only does Rizzo just mash left-handed pitching, but he actually, almost across the board, fares better against lefties than righties. Check out the chart below to see for yourself.
However, as with Puig, I would take heed before going all-in on Rizzo's splits. After all, he slashed .189/.282/.342 with a .282 wOBA against lefties in 2013.
If I had to pick, I'd say that Rizzo is more likely to duplicate his 2014 splits than Puig. Not only did Rizzo have the improved plate discipline numbers as you can see in the chart, but he also mashed lefties to the tune of a 23.4 line-drive percentage. Rizzo got real gross at the plate real quick, and dude is a stud against all pitchers.
Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies
Not a lot went right for Ryan Howard in 2014. Sure, he stayed healthy and played more than 100 games for the first time since 2011, but he slugged .380 for the season and had a negative fWAR for the second time in three years. Things have been better.
One area that was an exception was Howard's numbers off of south paws. In his career, Howard is a .225/.303/.430 hitter with a .318 wOBA against lefties. Despite everything else being down last year, he jacked those numbers up to .230/.323/.447 with a .339 wOBA. It's always fun when you can talk about someone increasing their batting average to .230.
What's the craziest part about all of this? Howard struck out 37.0 percent of the time against lefties! Only Javier Baez did so more often against lefties among those with at least 50 plate appearances. How often did he fan? Just 48.1 percent. Ima faint.
The positive part about that is neither DraftKings nor FanDuel deduct directly for strikeouts. If he can keep that slugging percentage up, Howard could (somehow) provide value on sites that drive his price down too much because of his more generalized struggles.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Detroit Tigers
Yoenis Cespedes's righty-lefty splits look pretty jacked up on the surface. But when you dig in, you realize a whole new world of wonky that you never imagined existed.
Let's start with the basics. In 2014, Cespedes hit .279/.311/.466 against righties with a .337 wOBA. Against lefties, that plummeted to .199/.269/.397 with a .290 wOBA. Obviously, he was Puig-esque in his struggles against lefties. But his struggles are stupidly complex.
Normally, Cespedes isn't a big walker. He walks just 4.3 percent against right-handers. Against lefties, though, that number leaps to 9.0 percent. This is coupled with an increase in his strikeout percentage to 23.1 percent from 18.8 percent against righties.
Not only does Cespedes walk more, but he also might have more raw power. His isolated power mark is .199 against lefties compared to .187 against righties. It's a lot easier to have a high iso number when you hit .199, but the batted ball data backs this up.
On the table below, "LD%" is line-drive percentage, "FB%" is fly-ball percentage, "HR/FB" is home run per fly ball percentage, and "BABIP" is batting average on balls in play. Holy fly balls, Batman.
Only Ryan Hanigan had a higher fly-ball rate against lefties last year than Cespedes. The discrepancy in BABIP is to be expected based on his line-drive and fly-ball numbers. Everything else is pretty bonkers.
To me, this could be taken two ways with Cespedes. If you are in search of a bomb in a tournament, Cespedes against lefties might not be a bad play. However, if you're looking for a safe play in a 50/50, I would probably avoid Cespedes because nothing about him screams consistency when it comes to facing left-handed pitching.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Boston Red Sox
Pablo Sandoval is separate from the players above in that he is a switch-hitter, but I think his splits are wide enough to warrant inclusion here. Not only does Sandoval struggle more from the right side of the plate, but dude doesn't even look like a big-leaguer.
When batting left-handed, Sandoval was totally respectable last year, checking in with a slash of .317/.363/.461 with a .359 wOBA. If you flip him around, though? Mamma hide the kids because it's finna get ugly up in here.
As a right-hander facing left-handed pitching, Sandoval hit below the Mendoza line with a slash of .199/.244/.319 and a .247 wOBA. There were only eight players with at least 100 plate appearances as a righty versus a lefty that had a worse wOBA in this situation than Sandoval, and none of them received a $95 million contract in the offseason.
The interesting thing will be to see how the Green Monster affects this. He had a higher slugging percentage against lefties on the road than he did in San Francisco last year, though the reverse was true for his career as a whole. To this point, though, Sandoval has given no reason to be optimistic about his outlook as a right-handed batter and may be better served in a platoon.