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How To Value Platoon Hitters In Fantasy Baseball

Chas McCormick

Chas McCormick

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In this week’s “By The Numbers” breakdown, the analysis will focus on platoon hitters and how to value them in fantasy baseball. Plate appearances and at-bats are king when it comes to compiling production over a full season. However, the quality of the production obviously separates certain players due to efficiency or the value of the categories in which they are contributing.

The trick lies at the point in a draft or making a roster decision, in which the line between quality and quantity becomes blurry. This situation usually arises with platoon players and their ability to produce strong per plate appearance statistics, but at the expense of overall volume. This can limit and lower both the ceiling and floor for a platoon hitter.

So how do you properly determine the value for a platoon player? You need to research two variables: efficiency and opportunity. The first will determine how productive a hitter can be and the second will weigh how often they will actually be available to produce those results.

In fantasy sports, conventional wisdom is that opportunity is king and that talent is not worth the paper it’s printed on without an outlet for production. However, a popular school of thought is to always draft talent because cream rises to the top and “life finds a way.” As you may have guessed, when it comes to platoon hitters you are going to want to lean more on opportunity. The goal will still be to target talented hitters, but if there is no path to earning a full-time role that talent will only get them so far.

So with that in mind, let’s begin our research by identifying ideal environments for opportunity when it comes to platoon production.

Platoon Opportunity

The new CBA will introduce a full-time designated hitter into the National League, which will certainly benefit some of the platoon options. However, most teams will use the opportunity to hide a player with poor defense or give certain players a breather from the field. That being said there will be plenty of at-bats to go around and this is certainly an area where certain platoon bats may gain value.

The second most important variable to consider is the teams themselves, and more importantly who the manager is and how they have utilized platoons in the past. Most baseball fans and fantasy managers know that the Rays are known for micromanaging their lineup, but not many other managers are well known for their tendencies. Uncovering this information is invaluable if one is to properly identify platoon hitters who may have a boost in value this season.

Let’s take a look at some players that dealt with modest to severe platoon situations in 2021:

American League:

Chicago White Sox: Gavin Sheets, Andrew Vaughn, Josh Harrison

Cleveland Guardians: Andres Gimenez, Bobby Bradley

Houston Astros: Chas McCormick, Jose Siri

Minnesota Twins: Luis Arraez, Max Kepler

Oakland Athletics: Tony Kemp, Seth Brown, Chad Pinder

Seattle Mariners: Dylan Moore

Tampa Bay Rays: Austin Meadows, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz

Texas Rangers: Willie Calhoun, Kole Calhoun, Brad Miller

National League:

Arizona Diamondbacks: David Peralta, Josh VanMeter, Jordan Luplow

Chicago Cubs: Andrelton Simmons, Rafael Ortega

Cincinnati Reds: Jake Fraley

Colorado Rockies: Raimel Tapia

Los Angeles Dodgers: Cody Bellinger, Gavin Lux

Miami Marlins: Joey Wendle

New York Mets: J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith

Philadelphia Phillies: Matt Vierling

Pittsburgh Pirates: Ben Gamel, Anthony Alford

San Diego Padres: Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, Jurickson Profar

San Francisco Giants: Tommy La Stella, LaMonte Wade, Mike Yastrzemski, Darin Ruf, Wilmer Flores

St. Louis Cardinals: Lars Nootbaar

There are several interesting platoons that are dependent on different variables. First, you have the galaxy brain teams such as the Rays and Giants. They are going to platoon no matter what, we know this. Secondly, you have the “too many bats to play everyone” teams such as the Mets and Dodgers. The National League DH will help sort out playing time somewhat but these situations are unlikely to be resolved until free agents have signed and these rosters are set. Finally, you have the rest of the league that mostly installs a platoon due to old-fashioned split production.

As you may have guessed, the teams that led the charge in terms of “lineup diversity” were the Giants, who were way out in front, and the Rays. This is to say that these two squads had the least consistent lineups in baseball, spreading plate appearances out to more players than the league average. San Francisco and Tampa Bay were followed by the Padres, Guardians, and Marlins to round out the top-five. For those wondering which teams are lurking on the opposite end of the pendulum, the Braves carried the most consistent lineup (by far) last season. Atlanta carried nearly the same starting lineup as often as possible in 2021. The remaining teams in the bottom five were the Tigers, Diamondbacks, Phillies, and Mariners. This is not to say any of these teams do not platoon, this simply implies which teams are more or less likely to use one. However, things can easily change based on personnel, coaching, and analytics.

Ryan Venancio of Fantrax did a study where he tabulated teams that had the most, or least players with at least 150 plate appearances. The idea being to suggest which teams were resting players more often and using platoons. Here is a chart of the date below:

unique-games-played-1-1024x868.png

unique-games-played-1-1024x868.png

Platoon Efficiency

Once proper opportunity is identified, the second and most important variable is to make the most of each and every plate appearance. In other words, it’s time to locate hitters with a productive platoon split.

Here is a table of the most productive platoon splits in MLB sorted by OPS, filtered to a 250 plate appearances. If you would like to create your own custom leaderboard, Fangraphs or Baseball Reference are great options.

platoon_chart.png

platoon_chart.png

The 2022 Schedule

The format in which you play fantasy baseball will change the strategy in which you deploy platoon bats. The most straightforward plan will come in leagues with daily roster moves (or DFS) due to your obvious ability to attack each matchup one day at a time. However, for those in leagues with a weekly or bi-weekly lineup lock, you will need to scout the schedule ahead of time in order to determine if a right or left-handed hitter will gain an advantage.

A question that is harder to answer is how to value platoon options in a draft, especially in comparison to full-time players with low-end production projected. You can call this the “Joc Taylor” conundrum because sometimes you need to choose between Joc Pederson vs Michael Taylor. Feel free to change the name, it will not hurt my feelings.

chart_31.png

chart_31.png

If you want to project platoon at-bats over a full season you have a couple of options at your disposal. The first is to simply trust the work of a popular projection system such as ATC or The Bat X, but even they will tell you that the playing time aspect is the noisiest aspect of their system. A second option, which we will dig into below, is to manually dig into the schedule and identify any advantage you can see.

The example we are going to work with now are a hitter’s divisional games because they take up the largest percentage of the schedule. This is a minor variable, but if one division happens to be loaded with an uncommon number of left-handed pitchers then you are likely to pull bonus value out of an efficient right-handed platoon hitter over a full season. This may sound tedious and is far easier on a micro-level (week to week) than a macro level (full season), but the exercise will help you maximize plate appearances and win your league.

Here are the breakdowns by team based on projected starting pitchers within their own division:

divison_split.png

divison_split.png

It is important to remember that this is purely an individual and incomplete variable that you can use as a tool to prepare for the season when it comes to projecting platoon hitters. Even though this is only a partial schedule, divisional games take up a significant chunk of a player’s plate appearances.

Using the chart as a guide you can assume that there is a likely chance that a left-handed platoon hitter on the Royals, Tigers, Marlins, or Cubs could receive additional at-bats due to the way their divisional opponents have constructed their starting rotation. As for right-handed bats, the entire American League East, Astros, Diamondbacks, and Padres could see a minor advantage over a full season.

Using this information combined with other variables in platoon selection, players such as Yandy Diaz, Chas McCormick, Wil Myers, Joey Wendle, and Rafael Ortega stick out as potential hitters who may benefit. However, you can use these methods to conduct your own research in the future.

Conclusion

The chore of going through platoon splits can seem monotonous, but in today’s game, they are becoming more and more prevalent. Any advantage you can gain over your opponents in fantasy is worth exploring and every plate appearance counts. It is important not to lean too heavily on any single piece of information and use every variable at your disposal to inform your final decision.

Plan ahead and stay ahead by scouting advanced scheduling to give you an edge in FAAB or in the draft room. Why spend $10 on a player next week when you can prepare and spend $1 this week? Remember, volume is king and the champion in most competitive leagues typically comes down to a fantasy manager who maximized plate appearances.