Fantasy Strategy: Platooning your hitters
You know, I hear all the time about how certain players are substantially better against left-handed pitchers, or maybe exceptionally weak against righties, or vice-versa, or whatever. But just recently did I consider employing this knowledge as a part of my strategy. Sure, if Carlos Pena was up against a tough lefty, I’d sit him, more than likely, but I didn’t check his splits until recently. He’s currently batting .122 against left-handed pitchers, against righties hitting .252, with four times as many homers (16) in twice as many games (the ratio is less drastic looking at at-bats, I’ll admit).
That’s worlds of difference. Neither figure is a particularly good average, but it’s no different than starting a .200 hitter vs. a .300 hitter. Of course not every fantasy team will have the option of substituting in a better option, be it due to a deep format or a lack of bench space. But would you really draft a guy to hit .122 with 15 homers (Pena’s numbers against lefties, extrapolated)? What about .252 with 32 homers, and 83 RBI to boot? Much more appealing, right? Well, the appeal isn’t just in the numbers; it’s in the DIFFERENCE in the numbers. Josh Hamilton is currently batting .188 against Lefties, .346 against Righties. Dustin Pedroia, a mere .266 against righties, yet .410 against lefties makes opponents think ‘intentional walk.’ Now you see why managers bring in relievers to face one or two guys only – This is night and day, folks; turning a batting average liability into an asset overnight.
David Wright, for instance, is hitting lefties at a .273 clip, righties at .242. But over the course of his major league career, the difference (for a much larger sample size) is substantial; .345 vs. .289. Basically, David Wright is average for a third basemen against righties, but against lefties, well, he’s David Wright.
Both right-handed hitters and those that bat from the left can have splits that are fairly divergent when it comes to the pitcher they are facing. It does appear, however, that the discrepancy is less astounding when looking at good hitters, I mean really good hitters. Todd Helton’s split is .303/.332; most of us would take either figure (and yes, he is a really good hitter, this year included). Albert Pujols is a respectable .339 against lefties, while he only hits .325 against righties (i.e., Helton-esque).
On the other hand, some marginal hitters actually turn in good averages against the right arm (or left). Jeff Francoeur, often considered a batting average liability, has a career .300 average against left-handed pitching, and that includes his abominable 2008 when he hit just .210 against them (he bounced back to hit .344 against them the next year).
So what does it all mean? Just something to consider when you are trying to boost your team batting average a smudge, or perhaps choose a starting lineup from comparable options. Listen, you need every edge you can get.