The Mockingbird

The Lost Platoon

with 12 comments

If you’re reading a baseball blog you already know right-handed hitters hit left-handed pitchers better and the other way around. Baseball strategy revolves around it: lineups are shifted based to match up with the other team’s starter, managers often make multiple moves in one inning, LOOGY’s have careers, all for the sake of getting the right matchup. And it works- you don’t have to go any further that the Blue Jays 2007 season to see the effect it can have on a team: the club destroyed left-handed pitchers better than any other club in the American league, but struggled against even mediocre righties.

But did you know there’s (at least) another platoon advantage that’s almost as important?

The Book” (an absolute must-read) looks at the handedness advantage and finds there is an average effect of 20 points (of wOBA, which is like a superior version of OPS but on the same scale of OBP). Nothing surprising there. But then look at the matchups between groundball/flyball pitchers/hitters and it turns out there’s a 16-point platoon advantage there as well. It works the same way-groundball pitchers fare much better against groundball hitters than they do flyball hitters, and vice-versa. It makes sense, really. If you swing down already and a pitcher is already throwing low, sinking stuff, you’re just going to pound it into the turf.

The effect of the two advantages are so close that if a manager gets one matchup right but the other one wrong, he may as well not have bothered at all. On the other hand, if he gets them right, a pitching change could have twice the effect. But have you ever heard someone say “ah, he’s going to the pen to get the grounder-grounder matchup?” No- instead people go absolutely bezerk if the platoon advantage everyone knows about isn’t followed to the letter.

One thing that makes the GB/FB platoon more difficult to take advantage of is that players are close to neutral when it comes to flyballs/grounders, while everyone is affected by the lefty/righty splits. But the Blue Jays pitching staff has some extreme cases, as they induced an incredible number of ground balls last season. In 2007 the Jays were tops in the league in groundball percentage at 49%, with one other team at 47% (Texas), one more at 46% (Colorado), and the rest at 45% or lower (the league average is 43%).

The only Jays starter who is a flyball pitcher is Shaun Marcum (40%). Roy Halladay was on the other end of the spectrum (53%). Here’s a look at how the average OPS of ground ball and fly ball teams these two pitchers faced was affected:

Name OPS effect on GB teams OPS effect on FB teams Difference
Roy Halladay -0.150 +0.033 0.183
Shaun Marcum +0.079 -0.115 0.194

Tampa Bay and Cleveland roughed up Roy so badly in a few games that overall, fly ball teams actually hit better against him than they did during the rest of the rest of their season. But the Doctor was just merciless against groundball-heavy teams. Marcum is the other way around, and the difference in his performances against each group is just as large.

While there isn’t much of a way to take advantage of this for starters, but it could easily be leveraged for relief decisions. Here’s who’s in the mix for the Blue Jays bullpen next year:

Blue Jays Bullpen
Name GB%
Scott Downs 60%
Brandon League 59%
Brian Wolfe 56%
Casey Janssen 49%
Jeremy Accardo 49%
Jason Frasor 45%
B.J. Ryan (2006) 43%
Brian Tallet 40%

Even if you don’t need a double play, putting Scott Downs against left-handed ground ball hitters is a deadly combination, as 60% is among the very best in the league. On the other end of the spectrum, Brian Tallet should do relatively well against power hitters, who tend to be fly-ball hitters (like Frank Thomas, who lead the league in flyball percentage last year). That could somewhat explain how he managed to give up only one home run last season. B.J. Ryan provides a nice alternative to an otherwise groundball-heavy pen, and Brandon League was at an unheard-of GB% of 77% in 2006 (which is why J.P. emphasized the need for him to get his sinking movement back and not just the velocity on his fastball).

Unfortunately, it’s not likely that this will be taken advantage of next season (except for “gut moves” about what pitcher is right for a certain batter). The Book also confirms that big-league teams do not take advantage of this effect whatsoever. But at least now you can add another layer of complexity to your armchair managing and/or problem gambling.

hype it up!


Written by halejon

February 5, 2008 at 5:09 am

Posted in Seriousness

12 Responses

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  1. It is a thing of beauty, and really not all the surprising when you think about it. Isn’t anyone else concerned about the prospect of an all-righty rotation? I for one hope Chacin has a sober spring and lands that 5th spot…


    February 5, 2008 at 5:41 am

  2. I guess…but it seemed to work ok last year. The Yankees are the only team in the East who really mash right-handed pitching. I’ve always thought that Gus would be a terrific 5th starter, but after all that’s gone wrong with him I think it would be a bonus if he ever pitches for the Jays again. Did you know he has the 5th most wins of any lefty in Jays history?!


    February 5, 2008 at 6:17 am

  3. If you can get into a situation where you can combine both the R/L platoon and the GB/FB platoons favourably for a bullpen, you could really do some damage.

    Though, for the sake of not having 4 hour games, you might not want to end up like Joe Torre, setting league records for the number of relievers used in a game. Every game.


    February 5, 2008 at 3:57 pm

  4. Do strikeouts have any effect here? Janssen and Accardo are tied at 49%, but last year Accardo struck out batters at a much higher clip (.85/IP vs .54/IP).

    I also found it interesting that the top 3 teams in inducing ground balls last year all play in ballparks known for being launching pads.


    February 5, 2008 at 6:00 pm

  5. No, K’s are factored out- it’s just % of batted balls. It’s weird, I would have thought that Janssen was a ground ball machine, but’s he was very high in OF fly outs but very low in HR’s. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

    Yah, that’s too good to be random. I wonder if it’s pitch selection or different types of pitchers being acquired (or thriving) in those parks.


    February 5, 2008 at 6:26 pm

  6. Having taken an unfashionable (or perhaps irrational) pro-League stance; it is good to see some statistical back-up to my “he’s the set up man” position

    League into set up role, Janssen to rotation. Sounds good to me.

    lloyd the ghostrunner

    February 5, 2008 at 8:17 pm

  7. Too bad it’s 2008 Lloyd, not 2006.


    February 6, 2008 at 5:03 am

  8. I am also wildly optimistic about what League is going to do next year, but I think setup out of spring training might be pushing it. The Jays weren’t crazy about putting that pressure on him last season, and coming off an injury (or whatever you want to call it) and a lost year doesn’t seem right. I really think he’ll be amazing next year though. There was never anything seriously wrong with his arm and that hard, sinking, outside corner stuff he can lay down is just disgusting.


    February 6, 2008 at 6:34 am

  9. This could be useful if Roy is scheduled not to start against a groundball team unless he misses a days rest, Gibbons might pitch him with early.

    Catch the taste

    February 7, 2008 at 8:10 pm

  10. Yah, there are always a few occasions where the rotation could be juggled to have him face one team or the other. It would probably be considered (especially since he doesn’t seem to mind going on short rest at all) if he was a lefty with the option to face a lefty team, but nobody really seems to know about the groundball effect. Sigh.


    February 8, 2008 at 12:48 am

  11. […] this season, which is a great addition for a not-overpowering pitcher like himself. As I mentioned last week, Marcum was the Jays’ only real flyball pitcher in 2007 and it cost him in the Homerdome, as […]

  12. […] as his extremely high GB% of 61% in 2007 and 67% last year. In a post from last winter, I noted that he topped the Jays bullpen (as if Cito would even consider groundball pitcher-baller matchups!) in grounders, and was even up […]

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