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Platoon-Useful NL Outfielders

Right along the fringe of most leagues, there’s a class of mostly-replaceable, mostly-interchangeable, mostly-lefty, definitely-still-useful platoon outfielders. If you only play them when they have the handedness advantage, and act cutthroat about them when you face a roster crunch, you can get the most out of them while reducing your risk. It’s a tried-and-true strategy in most head-to-head leagues on the pitching side, where streaming is ubiquitous. Maybe it makes sense to have a semi-streaming spot on your offense in your tighter, more active leagues — and if that’s the case, it probably makes sense for that player to be a first basemen or outfielder.

Here are some guys in the National League that fit the description of a fantasy-platoon outfielder. Either their complete offensive upside is only above replacement when they have the platoon advantage, or they legitimately seem to have a platoon situation going on. If there are so many of this type in one half of the league, maybe they truly are replaceable in your standard mixed league.

The first tier are mostly owned, but definitely useful in a fantasy fourth outfielder kind of way. Alfonso Soriano (56%) and Lucas Duda (60%) aren’t platooned all the time by their major league teams. It’s also not clear that Duda will have a platoon split, but he is a lefty and his slugging percentage is .358 against southpaws. Soriano is playable against pitchers of either handedness, but he’s better used against lefties. His slugging percentage has been about .460 against righties since 2008. The safest way to use these guys is with the platoon advantage behind them.

Then you have your players that could be full-time injury replacements in a pinch, or platoon partners for a longer stretch, since their major failing is just a lack of great upside. By keeping them on your bench, you can gain extra games on light days, easy on-roster fill-ins for slight nicks to your starters, and the occasional platoon swap-out if one of your starters is facing a tough starter throwing with the wrong hand.

Norichika Aoki (3%) is strong at the plate, but even as Mike Axisa extolled his virtues today, he had to admit that he’s mostly a batting average guy with a few steals sprinkled in. If you needed steals, you’d have Ben Revere (8%) or Juan Pierre (13%) on your team (and you’d be sitting them against lefties, too). But if you need a solid batting average at every outfield position, Aoki might be safer (his BABIP is certainly lower), and he does have a bit more pop as the weekend showed us. Alex Presley (4%) is also in this in-between land. He might be the least batting-average safe name so far, but he did go back to the minors and cut his strikeout rate and triple his walk rate, so he should play against righties going forward. He didn’t have a huge split in the minors, but the lefty did slug 75 points higher against righties. He’s owned in 11% of leagues, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis fits the Presley mold. With a 28.3% strikeout rate and a .398 BABIP, he’s probably on his way back to earth, but if you played him only against righties, you might escape the worst of his regression. In the minors, the lefty was .254/.373/.381 against lefties (.315/.420/.559 against righties).

Lastly, you have a group of interchangeable outfielders that really should only be used in the platoon advantage. These you could churn and burn — and drop whenever keeping them around becomes cumbersome.

Other than walk rate, Garrett Jones (4%) is putting up the same bad-batting average okay-power package he puts up every year. He has nine plate appearances against lefties this year, and he should never be in your lineup with a southpaw on the mound. That said, even his career .274/.347/.486 line (with about 25 homers per 160 games) isn’t worth protecting a roster space for (once you take away 1/4 of the value).

If you hesitate to drop Jones, consider these other players that can do what he can do in the right situation. Scott Hairston (4%) is better used against lefties or in fantasy leagues that award points for chin size. In almost 800 plate appearances against lefties, Hairston’s slash line is .282/.334/.510, and once you give him a bonus for the possibility of stolen base or two, the LF/CF/RF starts to look useful on a bench. Tony Gwynn Jr (3%) is starting most days right now, but even once Matt Kemp returns, he could be the other half of a lefty speed platoon with Revere and Pierre. Nate Schierholtz (2%) has a reverse split. It doesn’t come in enough plate appearances to really believe in, though. With a decent BABIP, he should be able to hit over .260 with better-than-league average power and a little speed.

Tyler Colvin (1%) and Chris Heisey (14%) might be more interesting that platoon bits to some. Certainly, their platoon histories aren’t robust enough to really consult at all, but their flaws make them more useful to fantasy teams that can hide them on their bench. Colvin obviously strikes out too much (27.6% this year, 25.9% career, 13.5% swinging strike rate this year, 13.6% career) to be a regular in most leagues. The lefty also has a reverse platoon split, backed up by a lower strikeout rate against lefties — maybe he’s just a guy you plug in when your platoon starter needs to sit. The righty Heisey also has a reverse platoon split (but also a .258 BABIP against lefties for some reason) and an iffy strikeout rate, but he absolutely murdered lefties in the minor leagues, and that’s the safest time to use him in fantasy.

At the right time, and on the right team, most of these players can be useful even to a mixed-league fantasy team — especially in head-to-head competition. They’re perfect deep-bench parts, and you might need to know these names the next time one of your outfielder’s grab a hammy. They are also known as “Useful Injury Replacements.”