By Eriq Gardner //
In the fantasy baseball lexicon, “platoon” is a dirty word. Few fantasy team owners want to hear that one of their players is being benched against either left-handed or right-handed pitching.
But in leagues that allow daily lineup adjustments and enough roster room to accommodate extra batters, platoons represent a tremendous buying opportunity.
Take Seth Smith.
Smith is a smooth-hitting left-handed batter in a crowded Colorado Rockies outfield. Because he competes for playing time with Carlos Gonzalez, Brad Hawpe, Dexter Fowler, and Ryan Spilborghs, Smith doesn’t play every day. That doesn’t make his playing time unpredictable, though. Throughout this season, Smith has consistently gotten starts against right-handed pitching.
On those days, he’s been fantastic. In 56 games he’s started this season, Smith has posted an .840 OPS. To put that in context, it’s top 50 in the MLB this season, ahead of Alex Rios, Carlos Quentin, and Justin Upton, to name a few players who dwarf Smith in ownership percentage.
The fact that Smith has been so valuable in games he’s started shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Over the years, Smith has feasted on right-handed pitching. Since 2008, Smith has an OPS of .911 against right-handed pitching. Only 28 batters with at least 400 AB in that time frame can claim a better record versus right-handed pitchers. He’s bested players like Ryan Braun, Chase Utley, and Evan Longoria in that category.
The reason that Smith doesn’t play every day? Well, a crowded Colorado Rockies outfield is one factor. Another is that Smith doesn’t fare as well against left-handed pitching. His career OPS versus lefties is .622, albeit in a relatively small sample size.
Still, given the opportunity to play Smith on days he’s starting, what fantasy owner couldn’t have used these stats to date: a .281 AVG, 11 HR, 31 RBI, and 36 Runs.
The stats are even more impressive when paired with a player who might have been activated in place of Smith when the Rockies outfielder had the day off.
Let’s assume a team owner has gotten 56 games from Smith and another 45 games from a replacement-caliber player. What kind of stats would be required from Smith’s fantasy platoon partner to match Jayson Werth’s 2010 production of a .292 AVG, 15 HR, 64 Runs, and 56 RBIs? Answer: Not much.
Werth is owned in nearly every league, whereas Smith is owned in less than 10% of leagues. Pairing Smith with another discounted player like J.D. Drew or Jason Kubel offers aggregated production that can potentially surpass the offerings of a player like Werth.
Consider this a market inefficiency if you’re in a league with daily transactions. For years, real-life MLB managers have been exploiting platoons. For owners in roster-flexible leagues willing to do some daily research on match-ups, having a fantasy platoon can be just as rewarding.
For more on platoon splits, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office
By Eriq Gardner
Let’s pretend we have two teams each drafting one batter at C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF1, OF2, OF3.
The roster of Team A is the following: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Reynolds, Jason Bay, Jayson Werth, Nelson Cruz, Ben Zobrist, Elvis Andrus, and Mike Napoli.
The roster of Team B is the following: Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Markakis, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Jones, Robinson Cano, Alex Rios, Orlando Cabrera, and Bengie Molina.
Team A should be the far superior team if you go by any Average Draft Position measure. These are all heavy hitters who contribute some nice speed; however, when we take a look at projections, we’re not quite that certain that Team A would finish ahead of Team B.
Here are the projected team statistics for Team A:
And here are the projected team statistics for Team B:
As you’ll see above, Team A has the clear upper-hand in HRs and SBs. However, Team B holds a small edge in RBIs and Rs and a big edge in AVG. How did we pull this trick?
The answer tells us something important about player value and is something to keep in mind when using player raters and managing a roster into the season.
Team A is a squad comprised of the top-rated players at every position who each project for less than 550 at-bats.
Team B is a squad comprised of players who are rated relatively lower compared to the other squad, but who each project for somewhere between 575 to 650 at-bats.
In other words, the extra ABs translate to added counting numbers, particularly important in context stats such as R and RBI. In addition, more ABs mean a bigger contribution to the overall team average. Last year’s best best performers against draft position included Aaron Hill, Chone Figgins, and Victor Martinez. Is it a coincidence that each of these players led their position in ABs?
We’re all trained to weight heavily the categories that are seemingly dependent on core skills like power and speed; player raters in particular give a little bit of extra credit to steals because of the overall scarcity. But HRs and SBs aren’t the only categories worth considering when taking a look at a player. And core skills are not the only factors worth examining. Teams doing well in undervalued categories and teams healthy enough to gain a playing time advantage can find their way to fantasy success, perhaps to the astonishment of their league-mates.
For more on competitive factors in fantasy baseball, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.