Shane Victorino and Platoon Panic

We have already run two pieces on Shane Victorino since he signed his new contract with Boston by Eno here and by Michael Barr at RotoGraphs. They are both fine pieces in their own right, but one issue that needs more discussion is Victorino’s platoon split.

As people noted elsewhere in the signing’s aftermath (and analyzed in some detail earlier this season by Jack Moore), Victorino, a switch-hitter, has a very pronounced platoon split, hitting left-handed pitching well and right-handed pitching poorly. In 2012 Victorino hit just .229/.295/.333 versus righties while facing them about in about three-fourths of his plate appearances. How much does this split really hurt his overall value?

Let me be clear up front: this post will not re-hash every aspect of Victorino’s game, such as his good base running or whether he will be even better in right field than he has been in center. This is not a general “how does this contract look in context” post, as Eno already did a good job in that respect. This post is a response to the notion that Victorino’s big platoon split in itself is something that makes him less valuable than he would be otherwise.

I am not always sure what people are implying when they mention Victorino’s (or any other player’s) big platoon split. If they mean that a big split means that his overall offense projects to be worse than any other player’s, then that can be pretty readily dispatched. As mentioned in The Book‘s chapter on platoon splits, one should not project a player’s offense as if his platoon splits represented two separate players who are combined into one. A hitter’s plate-appearances against left-handers tell us something about his true talent against right-handers, and vice-versa. The way to project a hitter’s platoon split is to first project his overall true talent, then estimate his platoon split and apply that projected split to the overall projected hitting line. It is not as if Victorino has faced a different proportion of left- and right-handed hitters than the average major-league hitter. A bit more than a quarter of his career plate appearances have been versus left-handed pitching.

One might expect me to point out how much Victorino’s split can be expected to regress to the mean. However, Victorino has more than 1200 plate appearances versus southpaws during his career, and switch-hitters’ splits stabilize much more quickly than those of either right- or left-handed hitters. So while we cannot simply assume that his split from 2012 is what it will be in 2013, it is pretty big.

For an overall hitting projection, we are still waiting on systems like ZiPS and Steamer. My own crude weighted average with regression and a slight age adjustment projects Victorino for a wOBA of about .325 next season. It is nothing sophisticated, but is good enough to work with for the purposes of this post. Using that overall projection and applying projected platoon skill, I have Victorino’s true talent as .366 wOBA versus left-handed pitching and .309 versus right-handed pitching — a big split.

Does the big split make Victorino a mere “platoon player?” Some think so, but that misunderstands what a platoon player really is. Pretty much every player has a split, and would be more valuable if roster space allowed all players to be platooned. Of course, as noted, Victorino has a particularly big split. However, if a .325 wOBA is good enough for him to play full-time, it does not really matter how it is distributed. A true platoon player is generally one whose overall wOBA is not good enough to start full-time, and only projects to be an average or better overall player when having the platoon advantage. For example, if Victorino was a .305 true talent overall wOBA player with a projected .325 wOBA versus lefties, then he probably be a platoon hitter (leaving aside defense and baesrunning). However, we have Victorino at .325 overall.

Leaving aside the debate of whether or not a .325 overall wOBA is good enough given Victorino’s position and other skills, does a particular projected distribution versus left- and right-handed pitchers in itself make his offense less valuable? After all, about three-fourths of the average player’s plate appearances come against right-handed pitching. Still, in terms of traditional linear weights, this does not make Victorino less valuable. If a player has a .325 wOBA versus both left- and right-handed pitchers rather than Victorino’s .366 and .309, in terms of offensive linear weights it would be worth… exactly the same. By traditional linear weights, this is not different than a player who has a .309 wOBA for the first three-fourths of the season and a .366 for the last one-fourth. It still comes out to .325 overall. What is the problem?

This is not to deny that there are disadvantages to having a big platoon split. Late in close games, a player with a big split can be exploited by opposing managers who bring in specialist relievers. In this connection, it is interesting to note that Victorino has a noticeably lower career wRC+ (81) in high-leverage situations than in low- (108) and medium-leverage (106) situations. Without getting into the play-by-play data, this is not necessarily primarily due to facing a high proportion right-handed relief specialists in high-leverage spots, but it is a reasonable inference. Opposing managers certainly should be looking to match Victorino up versus righties in big spots.

Even granting the threat of specialist relievers in high-leverage situations is a problem for a player with big splits, how much does this really matter? Victorino has almost 4300 career plate appearances, and only 377 (under 10 percent) of them have come in high leverage situations, a seemingly fairly typical proportion. Without getting into the murky waters of how to weight things by leverage, one can grant that it does hurt his value a bit.

However, a big split also can have advantages even with a full-time player. A manager willing to adjust his batting order so that Victorino (just pulling spots out of my hat without looking closely at Boston’s projected order) hits second versus lefties and seventh versus righties could get a bit of an advantage. Over a full season, the seventh spot in the order probably gets about 100 fewer plate appearances than the second, and assuming a basic three-fourths distribution of pitchers, that would mean 75 more plate appearances on his “good side” for Victorino. Although 75 plate appearances is not very many, keep in mind that Victorino had just 78 plate appearances in high-leverage situations that year. If one is important enough to worry about, so is the other. Moreover, if one wants to quibble over a small number of plate appearances, one could also make the case that if Boston has even a mediocre left-handed bench bat, the manager could leverage Victorino’s off-days in that way, too.

Like just about every player in his thirties, Shane Victorino is not what he used to be. Still, 2012 is not the only season on his resume, so simply projecting him to repeat 2012 is bad analysis. With respect to the issue at hand, although Victorino’s big platoon split is eye-catching, when thought about carefully, it does not significantly hurt his projected value. Whether or not Victorino’s new contract is a smart one for Boston, his platoon split is not an very strong argument against it.



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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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Spike
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Spike
3 years 7 months ago

I don’t know… hitting weakly against 2/3 of the league’s pitchers (RHers) seems like it should be something to consider when thinking about spending $13M/year for a RFer…

Nick
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Nick
3 years 7 months ago

Did you even read the post?

Spike
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Spike
3 years 7 months ago

umm yes. we are supposed to take comfort in what the overall average comes out to. as in the example of a player who goes 3/4 of the season with a .309 w/OBA and then 1/4 at .366, the weak numbers are accumulated over an inordinate number of games, which can sink a team… I mean, you can’t win more than 1 game at a time even if you run up the score on other teams. Being a liability against 2/3 of the arms in the league matters.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
3 years 7 months ago

but a .366 is not so high that it’s going come out to gravy runs that mean nothing, nor is .309 so bad it’s going to contribute nothing. Your point would be valid if we’re talking about a whole team that scored 5 runs a game on average but only by scoring 15 1/3 the time and 0 2/3 the time. But a difference of 60 wOBA points in one player out of a lineup of nine is not dramatic enough to cause the effect you describe.

If all goes well, Victorino will be worth 3-4 wins next season, so we’re talking about the outcomes of about 4 games. A single player typically has a small enough effect on the win probability of a single game that there is really nothing he can do to waste runs by scoring too many.

Crumpled Stiltskin
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3 years 7 months ago

It is considered for something. But an average player is an average player no matter how you slice it. And seeing that he’s an outfielder, and all teams have to carry an extra one anyway, its kind of an ideal position to be in when you can occasionally sit and rest a guy and not lose that much.

Basically, if Victorino, or any player like this, is killing left handed pitchers, and the team is stocked with average guys around him, then his team is going to win a lot higher than 50% of their games versus left handers, but slightly lower against right handers. And it should normalize to an 81 win team.

Average is average.

Mike
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Mike
3 years 7 months ago

SSS (as always), but his post-season numbers are normal, which is when you’d think opposing coaches would try to make him hit left handed. He’ll probably be fine (if he ages normally)

Caleb W
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Caleb W
3 years 7 months ago

Why look at 200 postseason plate appearances when there are 4300 perfectly acceptable regular season PAs to use to draw a conclusion?

david h
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david h
3 years 7 months ago

“… but that misunderstands what a platoon player really is. Pretty much every player has a split, and would be more valuable if roster space allowed all players to be platooned. Of course, as noted, Victorino has a particularly big split. However, if a .325 wOBA is good enough for him to play full-time, it does not really matter how it is distributed. A true platoon player is generally one whose overall wOBA is not good enough to start full-time, and only projects to be an average or better overall player when having the platoon advantage.”

I disagree with this. It appears you are falling into a trap of labels. If the bad side of the split its bad enough,a team should consider a platoon regardless of how good the good side is.

Imagine a player with a .500 wOBA against righties and .000 against lefties. He’d still be at .375 overall – great for an every day player. But every team should still bench him against lefties.

Now, this type of player is highly unlikely,but theoretically possible, and shows that the logic of treating a guy with a big split as one overall player doesn’t hold up.

There are certainly other considerations – roster size, for instance, means teams can’t platoon for everyone, and players might be unhappy platooning to the point that it affects their performance. And even in Victorino’s case, with much of his value coming from defense and baserunning, he may well be worth playing full time. But to determine whether he should be platooned against righties by considering how good he is against lefties, or by whether he fits the traditional “platoon player” type, does not make much sense to me.

Spike
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Spike
3 years 7 months ago

exactly.

Roy
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Roy
3 years 7 months ago

Taking that even further, wouldn’t it be better to have .500/.000 wOBA than a .325/.325 split. With the player with extreme splits, one could platoon in a Replacement-level player with a .285 wOBA and end up with .392 wOBA. So, wouldn’t it be better to have a player that rakes from one side and absolutely sucks from the other than it would be to have an average player.

Crumpled Stiltskin
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3 years 7 months ago

Only if you have an infinite amount of roster spots.

You win a lot of games with a team of all average guys. 81 to be exact.

Ryan Howard
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Ryan Howard
3 years 7 months ago

Me like this idea!

Will
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Will
3 years 7 months ago

“However, if a .325 wOBA is good enough for him to play full-time, it does not really matter how it is distributed. A true platoon player is generally one whose overall wOBA is not good enough to start full-time, and only projects to be an average or better overall player when having the platoon advantage.”

I dunno, extending your reasoning, a player with a .425 wOBA against lefties and a .283 wOBA against righties (still averaging to .325) would not be considered a platoon player?

That position seems flawed. The platoon cutoff has always been pretty simple, IMO. If you derive significant (relative) negative value from a player from only one side of the plate, using whatever metric you prefer, then that is a platoon player. It doesn’t matter how good they are from the other side.

Will
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Will
3 years 7 months ago

hm, cross post. great minds…

Synovia
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Synovia
3 years 7 months ago

The guy you’re proposing, if he plays better than average CF, is still a 4WAR or so player, so no, hes not a platoon player. He’s a borderline allstar.

Rujonaut
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Rujonaut
3 years 7 months ago

One thing I would mention (though this may be more relevant to the posts regarding the merit of the signing) is that the Sox are fortunate enough to have a CF and 2B who can/will hit 1st and 2nd in the lineup. The 1-6 spots will be taken up by a CF, 2B, 1B, DH, LF, and 3B, though not necessarily in that order. That means 7-9 can be made up by some combo of C, RF, and SS. The sox will probably have relatively strong production out of C, so it’s possible Victorino will be a very valuable 8. Because they currently have an offensively strong player in 3 positions that aren’t known for offensive strength, I really don’t mind if Victorino’s offense continues to slip. RF in Fenway is huge, and Farrell is going to send runners no matter what, so I like his skillset for our lineup.

ralph
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ralph
3 years 7 months ago

You say “As mentioned in The Book‘s chapter on platoon splits, one should not project a player’s offense as if his platoon splits represented two separate players who are combined into one. A hitter’s plate-appearances against left-handers tell us something about his true talent against right-handers, and vice-versa. The way to project a hitter’s platoon split is to first project his overall true talent, then estimate his platoon split and apply that projected split to the overall projected hitting line.”

But Victorino is a switch-hitter. Which is closer to being two separate players than a player who bats from only one side, presumably.

So it seems like it’s at best hasty to pretend that studies of platoon splits from players who always bat from the same side of the plate would automatically apply to switch-hitters, which seems supported by your own statement that “switch-hitters’ splits stabilize much more quickly than those of either right- or left-handed hitters.”

I guess my key point is that estimating a switch-hitter’s true talent is considerably more complicated than for an entirely LHB or RHB.

KMav
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KMav
3 years 7 months ago

In his career Shane Victorino has a split of 159 points. Fairly dramatic. However it pales to the split of the switch hitting Big Puma. Lance Berkman’s split is 230 POINTS! Maybe he should have been platooned and thought of as more of a crappy hitter with less value.

KMav
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KMav
3 years 7 months ago

Make that 149 point split by Victorino vs. 230 for Berkman.

Also, even if he fades in the last year of the contract, Victorino will make the perfect platoon-slash bench player. Attitude, base running, defense, and versatility. Plus mash lefties.

Spike
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Spike
3 years 7 months ago

I think people aren’t saying he’s a bad player, just that the Sox overpaid.

JDub
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JDub
3 years 7 months ago

Attitude? Didn’t know the Sox were paying intangibles premiums

B N
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B N
3 years 7 months ago

I’m pretty sure the Sox paid for intangibles, in that they overpaid and won’t receive any tangible benefit for some of the money they spent. Isn’t “nothing” one of the ultimate intangibles?

Synovia
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Synovia
3 years 7 months ago

The Sox paid 13M a year. Thats the price for 2.3War.

Victorino’s fielding and positional adjustment are worth 3.5 WAR alone. He’s gonna have to put up about a .250 wOBA to be an overpay.

david h
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david h
3 years 7 months ago

The size of the split is irrelevant. What matters is the quality, and predictability, of the lesser side of the split. Berkman’s worse side didn’t require a platoon partner, especially for a guy who was something of a franchise player.

And even if it did, it would make him-or Victorino-“crappy.” It would just mean a team could win more by platooning him.

Spike
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Spike
3 years 7 months ago

this is the point! Berkman can’t his LHed pitching, which is only about 30% of pitchers. Victorino can’t hit RHers! Since righties make up about 70% of all pitchers, it’s a big difference.

When you could make up the weak side of a platoon and are being paid like a very good everyday player that would normally be a problem for most teams, but since the Sox were able to offload half their payroll on the Dodgers their in spend mode.

Spike
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Spike
3 years 7 months ago

they’re in…

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
3 years 7 months ago

I’m not sure the assumption that a player will maintain his splits in an actual platoon is a valid one.

KMav
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KMav
3 years 7 months ago

So a .777 OPS with crappy base running and awful defense doesn’t need a platoon partner, but a 732 OPS with defense and base running is death that needs to be platooned?

Spike
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Spike
3 years 7 months ago

what 732 OPS are you referring to? ShaneV’s OPS vs RHers last yr was 629.

david h
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david h
3 years 7 months ago

“So a .777 OPS with crappy base running and awful defense doesn’t need a platoon partner, but a 732 OPS with defense and base running is death that needs to be platooned?”

KMav: two responses.

1) A 777 OPS is probably not the worst on a team to platoon. A team can’t platoon for everyone, and there were probably lefties on Berkman’s teams who hit lefties far worse than he did, who presented a better chance to platoon than Berkman. Especially where Berkman is the star of the team, as I said earlier. Not many sportswriters and fans would accept the star player being platooned.

2) I never said Victorino should be platooned. In fact, it doesn’t look like any of the comments on this post suggest a platoon. And, though the Red Sox could probably afford it, not many teams could field a good roster while paying a non-starting-pitcher $13 million to play 25% of the time.

Ok, that may have been more than two points.

KMav
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KMav
3 years 7 months ago

Career OPS. Last year was an aberration. If they get the guy that hit last yeasr, they are in trouble. His 707 OPS from both sides would be a major problem.

KMav
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KMav
3 years 7 months ago

David h, if people are not suggesting he needs to be platooned, I am not sure what the negativity is about.

In the end, its about the total results. Just like with Berkman or any player. And Victorino has put up OPS’s of about 770 the last 2-3-4-5 seasons. That with his defense and speed make him worth what he got. From a WAR perspective, he is worth way more then his contract.

So I just see the point of his splits. If its that he is not your average switch hitter with somewhat similar splits, but more like a right handed hitter splits, fine. But so what? As the original writer pointed out, there are actually positives to that more then negatives.

david h
Guest
david h
3 years 7 months ago

KMav: My arguments were about the logic used in the article, and used in your Berkman v. Victorino post, not about whether Victorino should be platooned, nor about whether his contract was a good or bad deal. And it looks to me like most of the comments are about the soundness of those arguments too, not the soundness of the contract or the soundness of not/platooning Victorino.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
3 years 7 months ago

Is anyone aware of a study that shows whether a player’s overall hitting declines when platooned? My reasoning is an extension of the observation that a player’s platoon splits are not two separate players. Here’s what I mean, with a more realistic example perhaps (since Victorino is not going to sit against 75% of the league in a strict platoon):

James Loney has a career .291 wOBA against lefties and a .341 wOBA against righties, so while both halves are worse than Victorino, he is better against more of the league and in a tougher park for hitters. In 2011 that split became a more extreme .245/.350. that season he had 441 PA against righties and 140 against lefties in 158 games played, a 3.15/1 ratio. People surely noticed this increasing split in 2012, because last year he became mostly a platoon player, with a 367 vs. R/98 vs. L split of PA, or a 3.75/1 ratio. However, he probably should not have played against either, considering his wOBA split was .285/.226. The question this raises to me is this: what if becoming a platoon player contributed to his overall decline? Surely getting fewer plate appearances makes one worse at hitting, so based on my initial assumption, fewer plate appearance for left-split Loney may have a detrimental effect of right-split Loney. What if getting more PA against lefties actually does more for his overall hitting because it’s harder for him, making it better for practice?

In any case, this is just speculation. I wonder though, does anyone know of a good study on whether become a platoon player makes overall hitting decline? If so, that could invalidate some of the assumptions we make when evaluating the value of players with larger platoon splits.

Cus
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Cus
3 years 7 months ago

You have to keep in mind that his hand injury led to a more exaggerated split last year. Healthy, his split is pretty standard for a speedy switch hitter IMO.

Gabriel
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3 years 7 months ago

Over a full season, the seventh spot in the order probably gets about 100 fewer plate appearances than the second, and assuming a basic three-fourths distribution of pitchers, that would mean 75 more plate appearances on his “good side” for Victorino.

Not quite. It means that, relative to Victorino hitting second all season, he will have 75 fewer plate appearances when starting against right-handed pitchers. This is not the same as having an additional 75 PA from his better side. Victorino is further above league average against lefties than he is below the league average against righties, so the value is not the same. The equivalent way of looking at it is that lineup flexibility gives Victorino 25 extra PA against lefties, which is only one-third of the advantage suggested.

Moreover, not all of these PA will in fact come against lefties, due to pitcher changes during games. Relief pitchers will mainly be right-handed, so Victorino the advantage of lineup flexibility is even less.

Solo
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Solo
3 years 7 months ago

Why is it that switch hitters with large split differentials don’t abandon the idea of switch hitting in favor of their dominant side. Just because you can swing the bat from both sides doesn’t mean you should bat from both sides. Tiger Woods can probably hit a golf ball left handed better than 99% of all the RH golfers in the world. But does he compete that way?

I have a feeling that Victorino would do no worse against RH pitching as a RH batter than as a LH batter. In fact, he may do better since he can concentrate on his mechanics as a RH hitter and not worry about his mechanics as a LH batter as well. I think now that he has 3-yr contract which should set him up for life, he put away the notion that he’s a switch hitter.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 7 months ago

You’d probably be right if you were talking about a 16 year old ki (or maybe even a 20 year old prospect).

We’re talking about a guy who probably hasn’t seen a RH pitch from the RH side of the plate since he was 11 or 12. You’re asking him to relearn how to pick up the ball at release, etc. Relearn how the ball moves in the air and how to keep his eye on it. You’re asking him to learn to hit types of pitches he hasn’t seen in 20 years.

Its a huge undertaking. The results would probably be drastically worse for a good long period before they got better.

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