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March 11, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

Fantasy Platoon Options

by Bret Sayre

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One of the first articles I wrote here at Baseball Prospectus was a detailed look at how platoon splits, when deployed tactically and objectively, can create a surplus of value by taking two roster spots and turning them into one “super position player.” And the great thing about this concept is that you can keep using it from year to year, just with different names. There are always going to be players with flaws available later in the draft, but there’s a competitive advantage to being able to use certainly players in a way that optimizes their strengths and negates their weaknesses. Here’s what the original experiment looked like:

The exercises below show the benefits of using one of your bench spots specifically to platoon one of your final offensive players, using the 2012 season as the example. The guidelines of the exercises are simple. For each scenario, I took two players who were drafted outside the top 200 last pre-season and set a fixed schedule of when one would be in the lineup over the other—leaving no room for subjectivity. The only exceptions to this were when one of the players was not in the starting lineup (out) or one of the players was participating in a doubleheader (in). Then, I went back through the 2012 game logs to determine the actual statistics and value earned out of this “alternative arrangement.” But before we dive in, we have to set a baseline of value for the roster spots.

Let’s assume, for the purpose of this demonstration, that this owner would have gone with a more standard strategy of taking one full-time offensive player and one flier on a starting pitcher with his/her two final draft picks. Let’s also assume that we’re dealing with a 12-14 team mixed league with five bench spots. The 200th player drafted in a league this size yields a positive return on investment if he earns $4 over the course of the season. Let’s even say that the owner is particularly prescient and is able to squeeze $6 of value out of the starting pitcher by sitting him for a few harsh matchups; even this brings us to a $10 overall value for the two picks.

The conclusion we came to is that by creating an objective framework to work within at the start of the season, a fantasy owner could replicate the season of a high-end position player with two players freely available later on in drafts. And there were two main ways to accomplish this—either the ballpark split or the platoon split. So to follow up on last year’s post, I’m going to dive into the players who you can use this strategy with in 2014 for various sized leagues.

For ballpark splits, there’s really not a whole lot to do as far as player evaluation. These player splits tend to skew towards the team level, so when we’re looking for players to use here, they’re going to come from the places you’d expect. Hitters on the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Reds, and Yankees are likely to be more valuable at home, and some of the names that fall into that draft range are Corey Dickerson, Kelly Johnson, and Ryan Ludwick. Conversely, hitters on the Giants, Padres, Pirates, and Marlins may be more likely to find success on the road. Take potential sluggers like Michael Morse, Garrett Jones, and Andrew Lambo as examples.

However, for the platoon splits, all of this is very player-dependent. We’re looking at players who have at least a .750 OPS versus opposite-side pitching over the last three years combined, and who demonstrated at least that mark specifically in 2013. Additionally, these are all going to be players who have ADPs outside of the top 200 overall (including some who are available much later). And here are the best players to try to use this strategy with:

The Platoon Strategy (vs. RHP)

Adam Lind, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

  • Three-year line versus RHP: .280/.344/.493 in 960 AB
  • 2013 line versus RHP: .309/.385/.539 with 20 homers, 59 RBI in 369 AB
  • 2013 NFBC ADP: 235

In shallower formats, the best left-handed masher to appease the platoon gods is Lind, who is terrible enough against lefties that it overshadows his borderline excellence against right-handers. He takes the crown from Garrett Jones, who can still be used for this exercise in a much smaller capacity. If Lind can stay healthy, which hasn’t been the easiest thing for him to do lately, he can hit close to .300 with 20 homers against right-handed pitching again.

Gerardo Parra, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Three-year line versus RHP: .291/.349/.440 in 1,074 AB
  • 2013 line versus RHP: .297/.343/.476 with 10 homers, 66 runs, 10 steals in 424 AB
  • 2013 NFBC ADP: 327

Whereas Lind was about the power, Parra is a good example of bringing out solid all around production from this system. With Justin Upton and Adam Eaton both jettisoned in the recent past, Parra is staring at all the playing time he can handle in the desert against righties. And his track record suggests that he’ll make the most of it. Double-digits on both sides of the ledger are a real possibility again to match his strong batting average.

Nate Schierholtz, OF, Chicago Cubs

  • Three-year line versus RHP: .275/.325/.480 in 858 AB
  • 2013 line versus RHP: .262/.300/.499 with 20 homers, 65 RBI, 6 steals in 409 AB
  • 2013 NFBC ADP: 337

There may not be nearly as much of a track record with Schierholtz, who had not shown his 2013 power production in previous years, but he’s also going to come the cheapest of these three options. Of course, now to further complicate things, he’s being rumored as a trade candidate (with Detroit as a potential match)—though if he ends up somewhere without an incumbent corner outfielder, the point remains the same. I wouldn’t expect another 20 homers off of right-handed pitching in 2014, but he doesn’t have to amass that total in order to be a worthwhile broad side of a platoon here.

The Platoon Strategy (vs. LHP)

Marlon Byrd, OF, Philadelphia Phillies

  • Three-year line versus LHP: .300/.337/.489 in 317 AB
  • 2013 line versus LHP: .344/.376/.583 with 8 homers, 31 RBI in 163 AB
  • 2013 NFBC ADP: 249

The rest of the options in this section may come cheaper, but Byrd’s line against lefties in 2013 was something else. Then take into account that he did it all while playing in parks that suppressed his power. In 2014, he’s going to take his age-defying show to Citizens Bank Park, so even regression from a skill standpoint may not mean regression from a raw stat standpoint here.

Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox

  • Three-year line versus LHP: .314/.377/.491 in 358 AB
  • 2013 line versus LHP: .313/.398/.525 with 5 homers, 16 RBI in 99 AB
  • 2013 NFBC ADP: 476

There’s good reason for Konerko, even with all his name recognition, to be drafted down in the nether regions this season. Actually there’s two of them: Jose Abreu and Adam Dunn. It’s those two names that are going to keep Konerko limited to part-time duty on the South Side, but fortunately for him, that’s where he does some of his best work. Even in a rough 2013, he still found a bright spot against southpaws, and the party can continue on what is likely to be his going-away tour.

Chris Denorfia, OF, San Diego Padres

  • Three-year line versus LHP: .314/.377/.491 in 487 AB
  • 2013 line versus LHP: .284/.355/.479 with 9 homers, 30 runs, 26 RBI, 4 steals in 190 AB
  • 2013 NFBC ADP: 514

The secret is partially out on Denorfia at this point, though he still remains cheap to acquire because he doesn’t (and shouldn’t) play much against right-handers unless forced into action by injury. Of course, Cameron Maybin’s injury (and Carlos Quentin’s future injury) may just do that, but that doesn’t affect what we’re looking at here. What we are looking at is a potential .300 hitter with 8-10 homers and strong counting stats in fewer than a third of your games.

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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