When talking about players strengths and weaknesses, ultimately the discussion will veer towards: “What they really need is a platoon because player X can’t hit Y-handers to save his life.” Okay, so maybe not every baseball discussion goes this way, but I’m sure you’ve all heard it, and perhaps even said it before. That’s why it may come as a shock, but the differences in platoon splits amongst right handed hitters are basically non-existent.
Let’s take a look at that statement again. I’m not claiming that right handed hitters don’t hit lefties better than righties. In fact, right-handed hitters hit lefties 9% better than righties. What’s surprsing is that all – or virutally all – right handed hitters share the same platoon advantage. So all right handed hitters OPS against right handers will be 9% better against southpaws than against right-handers (northpaws?).
Without a lot of indepth explantion, this is a concept that has been revealed by Bill James, and covered by Rob Neyer. Here is probably the best one paragraph explanation I could find:
In fact, if every player played enough games — thousands and thousands of games, I mean — eventually all of them would have roughly the same platoon split. There is some evidence that some types of hitters will have slightly larger platoon splits than others, but essentially they’re all the same. I know, it sounds crazy. But everyone who’s looked at this with any degree of sophistication has come up with the same answer. As James wrote in 1988, “It’s innate. You can’t get away from it.”
This is a topic that I broach about once a year (in the context of Craig Monroe), but seeing as I have many more readers this year than I did last year, I thought it was worth addressing again. If you’re interested in the past articles, here they are. And if you want more elegant explanations, I suggest this article by Jon Weisman. As Jon points out, the best way to judge a player’s ability against left handers is to look at their performance against right handers.
Now that some explanation is out of the way, let’s look at how it might impact the Tigers. I’ve compiled a listing of the Tigers’ right handed hitters and their splits last season and prior to last season.
So what to make of this data? If one agrees with the previous assertions, we would expect to see corrections in the platoon splits as the players accumulate more at-bats. This should be good news for Chris Shelton, and Omar Infante. Both players have hit right handers surprsingly well, and if the 9% advantage holds true, they should stand to benefit.
Craig Monroe despite pretty drastic swings from year to year isn’t that far off from the expected value. Brandon Inge’s numbers are still heavily skewed from pre 2004 when he, quite frankly wasn’t an offensive threat.
Now the frustrating thing is that none of this is really predictive, at least in the short term. My point in all this is that while there is definitely an advantage to platooning right handed hitters, that advantage isn’t magnified or diminished based on the player.