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Best teams at taking the platoon advantage

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We know the importance of getting the platoon advantage. Which teams are getting it most often?

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Over and over we hear about the importance of the platoon advantage. On offense a team wants to get as many plate appearances as possible to be a confrontation between opposite-handed opponents (e.g., left-handed batters against right-handed pitchers). On defense you want to avoid this situation as often as possible, instead aiming for plate appearances to be a confrontation between same-handed opponents (e.g., left-handed batters against left-handed pitchers). It is a consistent struggle, and is likely the primary factor influencing differences in day-to-day lineups, late game pitching changes, and corresponding calls for a pinch hitters. So, on the offensive side of things, how often are teams managing to gain this advantage?

Here I am going to look at the percentage of plate appearances that each team was with or without the platoon advantage. These data do not exclude any plate appearances and are not park or league adjusted. Switch-hitters are included. Hitters with large, small, or reverse-splits are lumped together, and no distinction is made between plate appearances against starters or plate appearances against relievers. Data are through Monday's games. Here they are:

Num Team Total PA % With % Without Difference
1 CLE 5245 74.99 25.01 49.98
2 NYY 5110 72.29 27.71 44.58
3 OAK 5307 71.53 28.47 43.06
4 TOR 5197 68.40 31.60 36.80
5 SDP 4960 67.62 32.38 35.24
6 SEA 5038 65.44 34.56 30.88
7 PHI 5296 64.99 35.01 29.98
8 HOU 5159 61.52 38.48 23.04
9 SFG 5186 60.57 39.43 21.14
10 MIN 5283 58.81 41.19 17.62
11 CHC 5210 57.04 42.96 14.08
12 CIN 5103 53.01 46.99 6.02
13 TBR 5316 52.95 47.05 5.90
14 LAA 5293 52.77 47.23 5.54
15 NYM 5236 52.31 47.69 4.62
16 BOS 5283 51.79 48.21 3.58
17 WSN 5217 51.77 48.23 3.54
18 CHW 5157 50.77 49.23 1.54
19 STL 5153 50.75 49.25 1.50
20 ARI 5183 49.24 50.76 -1.52
21 KCR 5130 48.67 51.33 -2.66
22 TEX 5121 48.43 51.57 -3.14
23 PIT 5266 47.80 52.20 -4.40
24 DET 5265 46.63 53.37 -6.74
25 LAD 5256 46.25 53.75 -7.50
26 COL 5229 46.13 53.87 -7.74
27 BAL 5157 45.96 54.04 -8.08
28 MIA 5241 45.64 54.36 -8.72
29 ATL 5214 43.21 56.79 -13.58
30 MIL 5132 38.82 61.18 -22.36

Avg. 54.87 45.13 9.74

It might be surprising to find the Indians and the Yankees at the top of the list. They have the platoon advantage in ~75% of their plate appearances. A closer look at the typical lineups of these teams reveals that this advantage comes as a function of their using lineups that feature many left-handed hitters in a league comprised of mostly right-handed starters. Cleveland has given 68.6% of all their plate appearances to left handed batters, and the Yankees have had a lefty hitting in 65.6%; league average is 44.3%. The other end of this spectrum is the Brewers who use a righty-heavy lineup (just 18.5% of plate appearances have gone to left-handed batters). As a result they are rarely gaining the platoon advantage. The Athletics, a team heralded for their use of platoons, find themselves near the top of the list. This is likely more by design and a result of roster flexibility than a function of playing a lefty-heavy lineup.

So the next question we can ask is whether the percentage of plate appearances a team has with the platoon advantage relates to run scoring. Correlating this measure with runs scored per game reveals that there is not much of a relation (r2 = 0.006). I did not expect the relation to be overwhelming but it being basically non-existent was not something that I considered. Perhaps it is just a matter a small sample size. To check I collected the percentage platoon PA, and runs scored per game data for each team's 2009 - 2013 seasons and re-ran the correlation (including the 2014 data). The relation is even smaller (r2 = 0.001). This could be a result of many things. For example, lumping many different player types together and dividing them into two broad categories (against same- or opposite-handed pitching) will make it harder to detect any signal amongst the noise.

Another important aspect to consider is that while the platoon advantage is an advantage it is not everything. Poor players/teams can (and likely will) perform poorly, even with the advantage. Looking back to the 2014 data we can see this by incorporating wRC+ and wOBA into the picture. Of the top 10 teams in %with from the table above we find that 5 have an above average wRC+ (i.e., >100) and 5 are below average. Oh and how about their ranks in runs scored per game?

Num Team % With wRC+ R/G Rank
1 CLE 74.99 104 10
2 NYY 72.29 93 22
3 OAK 71.53 105 2
4 TOR 68.40 105 6
5 SDP 67.62 81 30
6 SEA 65.44 91 20
7 PHI 64.99 88 19
8 HOU 61.52 97 17
9 SFG 60.57 101 13
10 MIN 58.81 100 5

The ranks are all over the place. The Padres might be enjoying the platoon advantage in the majority of their plate appearances, but they are just bad. To further this point, below I have given the team's overall wOBA this season, wOBA with and without the platoon advantage and the observed wOBA performance split for reference. Each of the wOBA values was calculated using the weights given on the FanGraphs guts page.

Num Team % With wOBA wOBA with wOBA without % Split
1 CLE 74.99 0.317 0.325 0.286 12.30
2 NYY 72.29 0.308 0.310 0.302 2.60
3 OAK 71.53 0.318 0.327 0.300 8.49
4 TOR 68.40 0.327 0.331 0.316 4.59
5 SDP 67.62 0.283 0.292 0.260 11.31
6 SEA 65.44 0.300 0.312 0.276 12.00
7 PHI 64.99 0.299 0.309 0.282 9.03
8 HOU 61.52 0.309 0.312 0.307 1.62
9 SFG 60.57 0.309 0.309 0.309 0.00
10 MIN 58.81 0.315 0.313 0.317 -1.27
11 CHC 57.04 0.303 0.314 0.286 9.24
12 CIN 53.01 0.296 0.298 0.289 3.04
13 TBR 52.95 0.308 0.337 0.274 20.45
14 LAA 52.77 0.321 0.323 0.321 0.62
15 NYM 52.31 0.294 0.312 0.274 12.93
16 BOS 51.79 0.303 0.315 0.294 6.93
17 WSN 51.77 0.316 0.324 0.305 6.01
18 CHW 50.77 0.316 0.333 0.301 10.13
19 STL 50.75 0.311 0.318 0.300 5.79
20 ARI 49.24 0.303 0.322 0.282 13.20
21 KCR 48.67 0.306 0.312 0.301 3.59
22 TEX 48.43 0.305 0.325 0.286 12.79
23 PIT 47.8 0.322 0.327 0.316 3.42
24 DET 46.63 0.331 0.343 0.325 5.44
25 LAD 46.25 0.319 0.322 0.315 2.19
26 COL 46.13 0.333 0.365 0.305 18.02
27 BAL 45.96 0.322 0.323 0.322 0.31
28 MIA 45.64 0.309 0.322 0.298 7.77
29 ATL 43.21 0.302 0.333 0.278 18.21
30 MIL 38.82 0.317 0.324 0.310 4.42

Sorry to pick on the Padres again, but even their .292 wOBA with the advantage, which they have often, is simply not going to get it done. They are fortunate to have taken the majority of their PAs with the platoon advantage or their run scoring numbers would be even more dismal. You still need productive players. Surprise! This is something that the Athletics have done things well. Not only have they ensured they will have the advantage in most of their plate appearances but they also had players in those plate appearances that performed. The combination of these things has lead to their solid offensive season.

So at the end of all this what can we take away? Going into this analysis I will admit I expected more of a relation to be evident between a team's percentage of PAs with the platoon advantage and their runs scored. Perhaps that was naïve. But it was part of my exploration of this concept. Regardless, we now have an idea of which teams have been taking the platoon advantage most often, for 2014 anyway. Yet, as shown, we also know that gaining the advantage frequently is not a magic elixir that will make a team a scoring machine.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Chris Teeter is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @c_mcgeets.