Two dudes, one lineup slot: A look at platooning in fantasy baseball

The platoon is seemingly being used more often in Major League Baseball, as teams have determined that two batters’ combined strengths are worth more than one better batter and a roster spot. It stands to reason, then, that in certain fantasy baseball formats it may also be wise to sacrifice a roster spot for a platoon edge. And if you were planning on carrying backup hitters anyway, it may not really be sacrificing a roster spot at all. Here are some things to consider, either when utilizing a platoon or simply using your bench slots more effectively in fantasy baseball.

Let’s consider a specific platoon idea that almost manifested itself on my team before I realized that Casey had ruined its chances. Adam Dunn and Lucas Duda are not highly sought after players, with average draft positions on ESPN of 222 and 260 and current ownership percentages of just 15.5 and 4.0, respectively. However, both have power, both have wide splits, and perhaps more importantly, both are left-handed.

Though they both bat left-handed, it is still very likely that at least one of them will have a good matchup each day. Unlike in real-life baseball, two players on a fantasy team don’t necessarily face same-handed pitchers. Dunn and Duda have each faced righties in at least 70 percent of their plate appearances to date, which is very close to the split for typical left-handed, every-day players (73 percent in 2013). It’s likely that Dunn’s percentage will increase even further as he is no longer the primary offensive weapon to be pitched around late in games. On any given day where both are playing, a fantasy manager can expected both to have the platoon advantage with about 50 percent probability, and at least one of them to have the platoon advantage with about 92 percent probability.

Below is a chart depicting these same two platoon advantage percentages for typical every-day players of various handedness combinations. It is based on 2013 league splits for every-day, non-switch hitters, and it assumes that hitters have the platoon advantage when facing an opposite-handed pitcher.

Platoon Both At least 1
L/L 50.1% 91.5%
L/R 19.0% 78.6%
R/R 7.2% 46.5%

Obviously, there will be some days when only one of the platoon pair is playing, and some days where neither is playing at all, but more often than not a platooning manager will be able to create a beneficial matchup. Basically, the take-away from this chart is to find two lefties with extreme splits—splits that will reduce their value to your league mates, but will give you the better version of those players when they’re in your lineup.

Generally, let’s assume that each player gets 500 plate appearances on the season—125 games with an average of four plate appearances in each. In the 180-ish days of fantasy baseball, I think it’s reasonable to expect them both to play on 100 of those days, one or the other to play 50 days, and neither to play about 30 days.* That should create 600 plate appearances between the two for your fantasy team. Of those 600 plate appearances, we’re likely to get about 150 with a “double advantage,” where both are facing righties and we get to pick the best matchup between the two to start the day. We’ll get another 350 lefty-vs-righty matchups. And in just 100 of those plate appearances, we’ll have to cover our eyes for lefty-vs-lefty matchups. For this reason, and because lefties tend to have wider splits, it makes sense to try to use two every-day lefties.

What can we expect from this two-headed machine?

Dunn against lefties: 2280 PA — .217/.337/.434 — 4.9% HR/PA

Dunn against righties: 2070 PA — .246/.379/.515 — 5.9% HR/PA

Duda against lefties: 360 PA — .222/.295/.333 — 1.9% HR/PA

Duda against righties: 877 PA — .257/.359/.456 — 4.7% HR/PA

These are the career splits for each of my platooners. Dunn may not be young anymore, but in the past two seasons he’s taken right-handed pitchers deep more than 7.0 percent of the time. I think a 5.9-percent home run rate is conservative, if anything. Averaging my two platoon players’ numbers, here’s what I could expect to get from my utility or 1B spot.

Dunn/Duda: 600 PA — .246/.360/.469 – 30 HR

This is probably a conservative prediction, too, because I didn’t add any bonuses for those days when  both are facing righties and I get to choose the most favorable matchup. For comparison’s sake, here are some full-season Steamer projections for other utility/1B guys that cost a lot more:

David Ortiz: 642 PA –.280/.373/.481 — 28 HR (51.0 Average draft position; 100.0% Ownership)

Chris Davis: 531 PA — .263/.345/.491 — 26 HR (6.5 ADP; 100% Ownership)

Albert Pujols: 634 PA — .277/.348/.512 — 33 HR (47.3 ADP; 100% Ownership)

The production just doesn’t drop off very much, if at all. An early-round pick can be saved for a higher-quality player somewhere else, while maintaining production from the platooning position. Of course, most fantasy managers cycle through a bench of at least a couple hitters. This isn’t some new idea, but I hope I’ve articulated how you can spend your low draft picks to fill an actual position or a combination of positions, using a few extra left-handed extremists.


*Caveats about pinch hitting aside, you may feel like 100 days is a lot of days for both of these quasi every-day players to play. But consider that the White Sox played 145 of their games in 2013 on the same day that the Mets played, and there were fewer than 10 days during the whole season on which neither team played a game.