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The Largest, and Oddest, Team Platoon Split

It has been three months since the season ended, and many of us are still trying to wrap our heads around the 2010 Blue Jays offense. It’s not often that we see the team with the fifth worst OBP in the league finish sixth in wOBA. Last week R.J. tried to make some sense of the matter and what it means for the 2011 offense. But I’m still stuck on 2010. The platoon split information I found over the weekend didn’t help matters.

In clicking through team platoon splits, I found myself on team wOBA vs lefties. Way down the list, third from the bottom, sit the Jays. The team that finished sixth in overall wOBA was surrounded by such offensive laggards as the Astros and Orioles. Surely they must have the largest platoon split difference in the league. That led to this chart:

For the Cubs this difference makes a degree of sense. Lefties and switch hitters accounted for just 1,696 of 6,139 team plate appearances (27.6 percent), and 169 of those PA were pitchers. Ditto the Marlins. They actually had only 1,273 of 6,194 PAs from lefties and switch hitters. That goes a long way in explaining why their differentials are so much greater than the third, fourth, and fifth most polarized teams.

The Blue Jays are a bit more left-handed than both the Cubs and the Marlins; about 36 percent of their PA came from lefties and switch hitters. But their best producers were overwhelmingly right-handed. Using a minimum 350 PA, their top four producers were Jose Bautista, Vernon Wells, John Buck, and Edwin Encarnacion, all right-handed. They also had a split year of right-handed shortstops, Yunel Escobar and Alex Gonzalez. Yet despite this right-handed heaviness, they still managed to hit righties better than any team in the league other than the Yankees — they tied for the top spot.

Bautista and Wells present the oddest cases here. Both of them hit righties quite a deal better than lefties — the difference being, of course, that Bautista held his own against lefties while Wells flailed his way to a .276 wOBA against them. But for his career, as we might expect, Wells has hit lefties a bit better than righties. Against lefties he has a .361 wOBA, while against righties that’s .341. That counts this year, of course, which constituted 10.8 percent of Wells’s career PA. In other words, his advantage against lefties was more pronounced before this season.

Bautista, too, historically has hit lefties far better than righties. In fact, he has the exact same career platoon split as Wells, .361 vs. lefties and .351 vs. righties. The difference is that Bautista accumulated 25 percent of his career PA last season, so the difference was even more pronounced previously. That makes his 2010 breakout that much more remarkable. Not only did he exceed his career marks by a significant margin, but he did it by crushing pitchers against whom he previously failed.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. Late in the season I wrote that batting coach Dwayne Murphy‘s philosophy likely had plenty to do with Toronto’s offensive success. Is there something that he does with these guys that makes them better against same-handed pitchers? Maybe it’s something akin to the home run drill that the Yankees practice. Again, I’m not really sure, though signs do point to coaching as a reason for the odd splits. But using one year’s data to draw conclusions probably won’t get us far. That’s why 2011 in Toronto will be an interesting year. The Jays will be more right-handed than ever. Can they possibly continue crushing righties as they did last season?