Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage

Platoon is a 1986 Oliver Stone film about the horror of wars and duality of man for a young soldier in the Vietnam War, starring the always amazing Tom Berenger (or since this is a baseball site, you may know him better as Jake Taylor of the Cleveland Indians).  Sadly, I cannot say that I have seen the movie, but perhaps I should.  I did enjoy another Tom Berenger soldier movie called Sniper where ***SPOILER ALERT*** his character was a sniper.  But I just like sniper movies in general.  Don’t worry though, I am not some guy who is gung ho about firearms.  Instead, they actually frighten me quite much.  I am just a camping sniper when I play Call of Duty so these sniper movies fascinate me.  But back to the topic that I am here to talk about.

The platoon that we need to be talking about here is a situation in baseball where two players share the same position on the same team and split time in the lineup at that position.  The most common usage for a platoon by baseball managers is to use a right-handed hitter at a position when there is a left-handed opposing starting pitcher on the mound, and to use a left-handed hitter at that same position when there is a right-handed opposing starting pitcher on the mound.  The reasoning for this is that the majority of hitters have more success versus pitchers of the opposite handedness.  There are various reasons that would seem to back up this fact, some of which include that versus pitchers of the same handedness, breaking pitches break away from the batter which a lot of players have difficulties with, and hitters tend to have an easier time seeing the ball come out of the hand of a pitcher of opposite handedness.  The extreme to which a player is better versus one-handedness than the other varies from player to player, and some may even have “reverse splits” where they are actually better against same handed pitching.  But generally speaking, hitters are more successful versus opposite handed pitching and this is something that is exploitable in fantasy baseball.

Players that are part of a platoon situation obviously are not going to play every day, which often leads to season long fantasy owners to turn their heads in another direction when drafting or perusing the waiver wire looking for that extra bench bat or to replace an injured player.  However, I am here to tell you that utilizing these types of platoon players in fantasy baseball can be very savvy, if used correctly, and can provide a ton of positive value.  However, it does depend on your league type to fully implement this strategy at its optimum.

We’ll take a look at a couple of real life scenarios to show the benefit of creating a fantasy platoon by examining players that are relegated to a platoon situation in real life, whether it be by using two players who are in a real life platoon on their Major League team, or by using two players from different teams that have favorable splits versus one handedness.  For the first scenario, let’s look at the center field situation in Detroit.

In 2014, Rajai Davis was considered to be the fourth outfielder for the Tigers, but he did receive considerable playing time versus both right-handed and left-handed pitching as he played all outfield positions and assumed a full-time role after the Tigers traded Austin Jackson to the Mariners.  Davis, a right-handed hitter, displayed much greater success against left-handed pitching last year.

Rajai Davis in 2014 vs. LHP: .356/.382/.557 with 4 HR, 18 RBI, 24 R, 9 SB, 7 BB, 26 K in 149 AB

Rajai Davis in 2014 vs. RHP:  .247/.290/.327 with 4 HR, 33 RBI, 40 R, 27 SB, 14 BB, 49 K in 312 AB

So as you can see, Davis crushed lefties with a .939 OPS, as opposed to a very weak .617 OPS against pitchers of the same handedness.  And though not as pronounced as last year, this has been a trend throughout Davis’ career.  Although, the one drawback that happens for the majority of speedy righties versus left-handed pitching is that they will tally stolen bases at a lesser rate due to the fact that left-handed pitchers typically are tougher to steal bases off of since they are facing any runner that is leading off of first base.  But in the case of Davis, the increase in overall offensive production versus lefties more than makes up for the slightly lower rate at which he records a stolen base.

In the off-season prior to the 2015 season, the Tigers traded second base prospect Devon Travis to Toronto in exchange for Anthony Gose, a light hitting but speedy left-handed hitting outfielder, much like Davis except from the left side of the plate.  Gose had the Minor League splits that showed that he produced better against right-handed pitching than left-handed, and heading into the 2015 season he had logged 616 Major League plate appearances spread over three seasons with the Blue Jays that also showed the same types of splits.  Take a look:

Anthony Gose 2012-14 vs. LHP:  .208/.246/.267 with 0 HR, 4 RBI, 10 R, 3 SB, 6 BB, 43 K in 120 AB

Anthony Gose 2012-14 vs. RHP:  .241/.316/.350 with 5 HR, 32 RBI, 61 R, 32 SB, 41 BB, 127 K in 432 AB

Coming into the 2015 season, the Tigers wouldn’t say that it was going to be a strict platoon in center field with Davis and Gose, probably because they were worried about Gose not performing well out of the gate since his overall career line versus righties actually was worse than Davis’ versus righties.  But so far, for all intents and purposes it has been a platoon situation for these two players.  We can see it in the numbers below:

Rajai Davis starts in 2015 (through May 17) – 10 vs. LHP, 7 vs. RHP

Anthony Gose starts in 2015 (through May 17) – 1 vs. LHP, 23 vs. RHP

***Davis and Gose have both been in the starting lineup in 3 games (all vs. RHP)

So Davis is clearly the guy the Tigers prefer to use when facing a left-handed starting pitcher, and for the most part Gose is the guy versus righties, although Davis does get the occasional start versus a righty whom he may have a good track record against or to give one of the other Tiger outfielders/DH a day off.  This lineup construction by Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has been paying some nice dividends through 38 games of the 2015 season with Davis hitting lefties well and Gose taking care of the righties.

So how do you take advantage of this in fantasy baseball?  Well, as I said earlier, to take full advantage of it does depend on the league type that you play in.  The best situation to use a platoon strategy like this is for leagues where lineup changes can be made daily and you can substitute players in and out of your lineup for any player whose game has not started yet on any particular day.  Let’s say you drafted both Davis and Gose, or drafted one of them and picked up the other one off waivers.  Whatever the case, the two players in this platoon situation have made it on to your roster.  What would their stats look like combined as “one player?”

Since Davis and Gose play for the same team, you will know ahead of time which player is going to be in the starting lineup on any given day (starting lineups can be found a few hours before scheduled start times on sites such as Daily Baseball Data or the fantasy platform that you use should indicate if a player on your roster is in his team’s starting lineup for the day).  So I’m going to show the combined stats of Davis and Gose for each day if you were to insert the one who was slated to start on any given day in this platoon.  For those 3 games where both Davis and Gose were in the starting lineup, I will use the lefty Gose’s stats since they were facing a right-handed starting pitcher in all of those games.

Davis as a starter in 2015 (through May 17, excluding those 3 games):  .286/.375/.482 with 1 HR, 5 RBI, 15 R, 7 SB, 7 BB, 11 K in 56 AB (14 games)

Gose as a starter in 2015 (through May 17):  .347/.389/.505 with 1 HR, 8 RBI, 17 R, 5 SB, 7 BB, 31 K in 101 AB (24 games)

Davis and Gose combined as “one player” (through May 17):  .325/.384/.497 with 2 HR, 13 RBI, 32 R, 12 SB, 14 BB, 42 K in 157 AB (38 games)

That’s one heck of a line through 38 games of the season that in effect could be yours if you were to have both of these players on your fantasy roster.  Through May 17, out of all Major League hitters, this “one player” would be 26th in AVG, 2nd in runs, and tied for 4th in SB.  Is that something that you might be interested in?  That is incredible combined production out of two players who could have been had in the very late rounds of any draft, or even one or both could have been picked up off the waiver wire in some leagues.  Let’s compare this “one player” to a mystery player’s current season stats.

Davis and Gose combined as “one player” (through May 17):  .325/.384/.497 with 2 HR, 13 RBI, 32 R, 12 SB, 14 BB, 42 K in 157 AB (38 games)

Mystery player (through May 17):  .327/.374/.411 with 1 HR, 6 RBI, 28 R, 14 SB, 18 BB, 23 K in 147 AB (36 games)

***Note: While the Davis/Gose combo numbers are nice, the AVG/OBP/SLG line is inflated due to Gose’s incredibly high .493 BABIP in those appearances.  So there will be regression coming for Gose and that platoon as a whole.

The “one player” combo of Davis and Gose has very similar numbers to our mystery player, right?  Any guesses on who it might be?  I’ll give you a hint:  it’s a player that hits leadoff like the Davis/Gose combo normally does.  Next hint:  he was around the 30th player off the board in drafts, which would make him a 2nd or 3rd round fantasy pick depending on league size.  Third hint:  he wears pinstripes.  Okay, give up?  Our mystery player is none other than Jacoby Ellsbury.

Would you rather have spent a 2nd/3rd round pick on Ellsbury, or spent two very late round picks on Davis and Gose?  I know which one I would prefer.  Obviously there is a draw back to this as you would have to use two roster spots to extract the awesome production from this “one player,” but if you have the space then I am all for it.  Now let’s take a look at how this strategy doesn’t necessarily just apply to real life platoon players who play the same position on the same team like Davis and Gose.

You can build your own fantasy platoon with a couple players that you know have really good split numbers versus a certain handedness of pitchers.  For instance, do you have a utility spot that you don’t know what to do with?  Well, you can pair David Peralta and Adam Lind together.  Both of these left-handed hitters do much better against righties than lefties.  Using this example, there are going to be a lot of days where both Peralta and Lind both face righties, which means you would have to make a manager’s decision between the two on which to start.  But it’s going to be a rarity where both of their teams are up against a left-handed starting pitcher since southpaws only account for about 30% of all Major League starting pitchers.  So when one of their teams is set to face a lefty, then you start the other one who is likely up against a righty.  With this example you will probably run into some rough days, like when the one player that you decide to bench for the day goes 3 for 4 with 1 HR and the one you started goes 0 for 4 with 2 K.  Or when the player you started gets pinch hit for in the 7th inning when the opposing team brings in a southpaw for the lefty vs. lefty matchup.  So this situation is not as exact as when the two players are on the same team like Davis and Gose, but it still can be effective.  Consider this, Peralta and Lind’s combined numbers versus righties this year through May 17:  .298/.379/.562 with 10 HR, 29 RBI, 28 R, 1 SB, 24 BB, 32 K in 178 AB.  Now you wouldn’t have all of those pretty stats for the previously stated reasons, but it is just an idea of what creating your own fantasy platoon could do.

This wouldn’t be a recommended strategy for leagues where you submit your lineup for the week and then can’t edit it till the following week, but if you are in a weekly league and own any players or want to own any players that have platoon-able splits, then make sure to check out their upcoming matchups for the week to see who the scheduled opposing starting pitchers are going to be and what hand they throw with.  If the Red Sox are set to play 7 games in a week and all of them are scheduled to be against right-handed pitchers, then fire away with Pablo Sandoval who is crushing righties.  But if the Red Sox are set for a 7-game AL Central road trip to Detroit and Chicago where the scheduled starters for the opposing teams are David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lobstein, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, and John Danks, then you may want to look for another option at third base for the week as 6 of those 7 pitchers are lefties and Sandoval can’t hit lefties worth a lick.

Also, I would like to point out the importance of knowing the platoon players for DFS (daily fantasy sports) when constructing lineups for sites such as DraftKings, FanDuel, Fantasy Aces, etc.  Knowing which players are part of a platoon because they have strong splits versus a certain handedness of pitcher will help you to find a lot of value plays each and every day in DFS.  It’s finding those value players who are in good situations to out produce their price tags that will allow you to spend some extra money on an ace or a couple more higher priced elite hitters.

In conclusion, you don’t necessarily need to shy away from drafting, picking up, and using players that are part of real life platoons.  It’s not always going to work out perfectly, but it makes for a very interesting option with a little good fortune, and if executed correctly.  Now excuse me while I go put in my Major League blu-ray because as I discovered while typing this article, Platoon is not available on Netflix!  I need my Tom Berenger fix.

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7 thoughts on “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage

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  7. Great stuff!

    My name is Derek and I’m the founder of the Foxsports/Yardbarker.com syndicated sports and entertainment site nocoastbias.com. In short, the site is a hub for the most talented writers from across the country and I think you would be a great fit. If you’re interested, feel free to shoot me an email at derek (at) nocoastbias (dot) com. Thanks!

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