- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Some ALCS Platoon Issues

Tonight’s ALCS Game One between the Yankees and Rangers features two left-handed starters in CC Sabathia and C.J. Wilson. Later in the series, each team will also march out southpaws Andy Pettitte and Cliff Lee. While the number of left-handed starters in this series is often mentioned, it often isn’t made clear how much of a difference it will make for particular hitters (beyond all four of those pitchers between being either good or great). With that in mind, let’s take a look at the platoon skills of some of the hitters involved in this series. A more detailed analysis would take into account both the hitter and the pitcher’s expected platoon performance, but for the sake of space and simplicity, I’ll simply deal with a few hitters. You can read this for more details — in short, a player’s platoon skill is almost always closer to the average for the population to which he belongs than it appears. For the overall projection, I’ll use wOBA as derived from CHONE’s August 28 hitter projections.

Yankees’ left-handed hitting centerfielder Curtis Granderson has well-konwn struggles with southpaws. In his major league career, he has a .378 wOBA versus RHP, and a sub-Kendall .274 versus LHP — almost a 30% split over 859 PA vs. LHP. Even after regression, the split is still huge. CHONE projects a .353 overall wOBA, so I estimate Granderson’s skill versus RHP at .369, and versus LHP at .305. Some will point to his offensive surge in late in the season or his hits versus lefties in the ALDS, but I’ll stick with the preponderance of the data. Joe Girardi has sometimes done something more teams should do with players with big platoon splits, putting Granderson near the bottom of the order versus lefties and further up versus right-handed hitters.

Brett Gardner actually has a pretty small observed split, but only 262 career PA versus LHP. Given his .340 wOBA CHONE projection, his estimated skill vs. RHP is .347, and .321 vs. LHP. It’s a difference, but he’s not helpless against lefties.

The likely 2010 American MVP, Josh Hamilton, has a pretty big observed split, but that isn’t all that uncommon for outstanding hitters, especially lefties. After regression, given his CHONE projection of a .386 wOBA, we’d expect him to have a .400 wOBA versus RHP, and .355 versus LHP. The Yankees should definitely be looking to Boone Logan in later innings versus Hamilton, but thouhg Hamilton is not a great hitter versus lefties, is still pretty good against them.

Each team also features a right-handed platoon guy. It’s a sad commentary on sports media today that all the attention paid to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira‘s pasts with the Rangers has caused us to forget that this is also the Battle for the Soul of Marcus Thames. Thames is well known as a lefty-masher, but since his .344 wOBA projection is based so heavily on being platooned a good deal of the time, his projection versus LHP is only for a .357 wOBA — good, but not dominating. He isn’t worthless versus RHP, with a projected .334 wOBA against them, but Lance Berkman should be getting most of those plate appearances.

Speaking of the media overlooking players, perhaps no more shameful example can be found than in the general absence of stories about Jeff Francoeur‘s 100th home run. Francouer is often said to be a good platoon guy despite everything, but, as has been discussed before, his usefulness there tends to be exaggerated, perhaps because he’s so horrible versus RHP (.302 career wOBA) that his merely decent (for a corner outfielder) performance versus LHP (.346 wOBA) seems more impressive than it actually is. CHONE sees him as a bad hitter — .315 wOBA, which comes out to a useless .307 wOBA versus RHP, and a .334 wOBA versus LHP… about what we estimated Thames’ skill to be against RHP.