Basic Hitter Platoon Splits, 2002-2010

I’ve written about platoon skill generally and as applied to different players in the past. Today, I’d like to briefly take a look at general platoon performance as expressed in wOBA over the past decade or so (FanGraphs’ player pages have splits since 2002), noting some general tendencies and perhaps a couple of surprises.

As noted in my post from 2010 based on The Book‘s chapter on platoon skill, the main thing we want to look at for a hitter’s platoon skill is how large the split is compared to his overall wOBA. This avoids certain logical absurdities and remains consistent with the fact that better hitters tend to have larger splits (in terms of straight wOBA). Thus, on each table I’ve given the hitter group’s wOBA versus left-handed pitching, right-handed pitching, and overall, along with the percentage (“Split%”) of the split (e.g., for lefties (wOBA versus RHP minus wOBA versus LHP) divided by overall wOBA). I’ve also included the percentages of plate appearances versus left-handed pitchers (“vLHP%”). In all cases, I’ve excluded pitchers and also the rare cases in which hitters decide to hit from the “wrong” side for whatever reason (this is sometimes done by switch hitters against knuckleballers, for example).

Let’s begin with the group that tends to have the largest and most persistent splits, left-handed hitters.

The seasons in which left-handed batters have done the best overall have generally been the seasons with the larger split. As mentioned above, we know that better hitters generally have larger splits on a “raw” level, but to see the percentage split generally (but not “perfectly”) correlating with better seasons for lefties is surprising. I’m not saying there is anything significant here, it may just be random variation. But it is interesting.

How about right-handed hitters?

As we would expect, right-handed hitters have a lower overall wOBA than left-handed hitters due primarily to their having to deal with the harder side of their platoon more often. They have been facing left-handed pitching a bit more often than have left-handed hitters. As with left-handed hitters, the size of the split generally correlates with the overall performance of the group. And, of course, right-handed hitters have much smaller splits. Uh, wait a minute…

Click to Click image to embiggen

(Click image to embiggen)

What the heck happened in 2007? I have no idea. I’ve checked my query a few times, and get the same result: right-handed hitters had a slightly bigger split than left-handed hitters in 2007. Perhaps I (or someone else) can take a look more closely to see if there’s any specific cause or if it’s just a random occurence.

Finally, let’s take a look at switch hitters.

A negative percentage means that the switch hitters hit southpaws better that season. There is a fair bit more variation in switch-hitter platoon skill than either lefties or righties, which is why it doesn’t take as many plate appearances to establish that skill. As we see here, the splits are generally pretty small overall, which would tend to support The Book‘s finding that most switch hitters are helping themselves out by hitting from both sides of the plate. Only in 2002 did switch hitters have a larger split than right-handed hitters, and that was the smallest split for righties in our sample.

Let’s compare the overall wOBAs for left-handed, right-handed, and switch hitters since 2002 in one final, indulgent graph.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

This doesn’t have to do as much with platoon splits as with batter handedness in general, but is still interesting. We generally expect left-handed hitters to do better than right-handed hitters because lefties usually have the platoon advantage. What is interesting to me is that switch hitters, despite always having the platoon advantage, have usually hit worse as a group than even right-handed hitters, at least in the last few seasons. At the moment, I haven’t looked to see if this is just for this period or not. Is it he positional distribution, some other cause, or just random variation? But that’s a topic for future research…



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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KJOK
Guest
5 years 2 months ago

I don’t think lefties just hit better overall because of the platoon advantage. I think it may also have to do with more Catchers, Shortstops, 2nd baseman and 3rd baseman hitting right-handed than the overall player pool percentage of right handers.

neuter_your_dogma
Guest
neuter_your_dogma
5 years 2 months ago

And pitchers, if included. Wow, those 2010 numbers really did stink. Where have all the good switch hitters gone?

Steve
Guest
Steve
5 years 2 months ago

Chipper Jones got hurt.

phoenix2042
Guest
phoenix2042
5 years 2 months ago

tex sucked

philosofool
Guest
philosofool
5 years 2 months ago

Small samples mean bigger season to season fluctuations.

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker
5 years 2 months ago

The fielders are also setup for a right handed batters. The LF is stronger than the RF, the SS and third baseman are better fielders than the second and first baseman.

david
Guest
david
5 years 2 months ago

“embiggen” is a perfectly cromulent word.

Dan M
Guest
5 years 2 months ago

Here’s a theory: Guys with big power are less likely to become switch hitters. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like a lot of switch hitters are slap at the ball kinds of guys. Maybe the people who become switch hitters tend to be speedsters that want to get a step closer to first base? Or maybe teams are more likely to give their last couple bench spots to switch hitters which causes there to be an especially high number of mediocre switch hitters? Or maybe switch hitters just aren’t as good at hitting.

spaldingballs
Member
5 years 2 months ago

Me knowing these names is probably selection bias, but when I think “switch hitter” the first guy I think of is Mickey Mantle. Texeira and Chipper also come to mind. Also guys like Swisher and Weiters are considered power hitters. Then again, it could be total selection bias.

phoenix2042
Guest
phoenix2042
5 years 2 months ago

probably selection bias. the reason why you have heard of them is that they’re good. you wouldn’t think about them very much if they sucked.

knucka11
Guest
knucka11
5 years 2 months ago

The main reasons that I can come up with why guys end up switch hitting is
a) the kids who develop early are forced to bat off handed in pickup games to “level the field” because otherwise they dominate, so they develop the ability to hit well both ways, or
b) the more typical path, speedster slap hitters do it to give themselves a better chance to reach the majors, but they are already punch-and-judy hitters and hitting with their non-natural side is not generally going to give them new skills.

bill
Guest
bill
5 years 2 months ago

The switch-hitters being bad might just be a SSS issue. There’s clearly way more lefties and righties than switch-hitters, so a few good/bad hitters can swing the average wOBA of switch hitters much more. Lately there haven’t been a ton of great switch hitters either.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 2 months ago

If you’re a left-handed player, you’re basically relegated to a “batting first” position. Thus lefty batters are generally good hitters and they often get a better view of the toughest pitch to hit from a RHP (slider).

Throw in that they never really see enough LHP’s to get good at hitting them, and they’re essentially specialists against RHP, which they see at least 2/3’s of the time.

The expression in coaching is to teach your son to throw right and hit left to give him the greatest advantage/opportunity.

Choo
Member
5 years 2 months ago

The art and application of switch-hitting has reached a cross-roads it seems.

There are only a few established young switch-hitters with ceiling (Carlos Santana, Matt Wieters, Pablo Sandoval, Justin Smoak, Josh Bell) and virtually none of the elite hitting prospects bats from both sides. Meanwhile, the percentage of slap-and-dash types who are taught to switch-hit in the minor leagues in an effort to enhance versatility continues to grow. Those are the guys who really kill the group.

As for the veteran switch-hitters who typically carry their faction, many suffered through down years in 2010 and appear to be winding down physically (Chipper Jones, Carlos Beltran, Jimmy Rollins, Lance Berkman, Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Brian Roberts, Jose Reyes, Shane Victorino and whoever I missed). Some of those guys will bounce back in 2011. Some of those guys are toast.

Of the producers from 2010 (Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Victor Martinez, Wilson Betemit, Rafael Furcal and Coco Crisp, Andres Torres, Neil Walker, Ben Zobrist) it’s entirely possible that more than half of them will appear on the naughty list 7 months from now.

2011 should be a dead-cat bounce season for switch-hitters, but that doesn’t change the fact that the cat is dead.

philosofool
Guest
philosofool
5 years 2 months ago

Nick Franklin will resurect the cat when he hits twenty seven bombs in 2013.

MGL
Guest
MGL
5 years 2 months ago

Reasons why switch hitters can and are lesser hitters:

Switch hitters can hit less overall is because they are not as vulnerable to a LOOGY or ROOGY in high leverage situations, so that lower overall, non-leverage weighted wOBA is mitigated by a comparatively higher wOBA in higher leverage situations.

As well, they can hit in more games than either the average RH or LH batter, as the average RH and LH batters are benched occasionally against tough (i.e. high platoon split), same-side pitchers. So they get to accumulate more WAR than a RH or LH batter, even with lower rate stats.

It is also true that better defensive players tend to be switch hitters for various reasons (low power or just not good hitters in the first place, therefore they learn to switch early, it takes more athleticism to switch, a power hitter is reluctant to learn to switch, etc.).

In general if you are a poor hitter early in your baseball career, you are more likely to switch.

gradygradychase
Member
gradygradychase
5 years 2 months ago

Very interesting…

I think the reason is there are fewer switch hitters who are great batters, of course weighted by the overall number of players.

Table
Guest
Table
5 years 2 months ago

“The seasons in which left-handed batters have done the best overall have generally been the seasons with the larger split. As mentioned above, we know that better hitters generally have larger splits on a “raw” level, but to see the percentage split generally (but not “perfectly”) correlating with better seasons for lefties is surprising. I’m not saying there is anything significant here, it may just be random variation. But it is interesting.”

Isn’t this simply because during these years left handed batters did better than usual against right handers (the majority of their PAs) thus widening the split?

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