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March 25, 2007
Tell Me a Lie and Say That You Rake Lefties
Camus once said that the true measure of leisure is having time left over to set your fantasy lineup to take advantage of platoon splits.
OK, Camus never said that, but who's to say he wouldn't have if the Internet, at that moment, was anything more than a nerve ending inside Al Gore's brain?
There's just so much to recommend in taking advantage of a platoon split. Here's a neat way to introduce the idea to friends. You approach a friend who in all likelihood is playing Magic: The Gathering and ask, "Um, hey, did you know that Freddy Sanchez murders left-handed pitching? You're welcome."
Knowing the right moment to make the most of a platoon advantage can be crucial. Here's a few players for whom it pays to be careful which arm releases the pitch.
He's still a .290 EqA guy overall, but it would appear he doesn't hit for power against left-handed pitching, as he went .270/.392/.399 during his 2006 campaign, a line that just isn't roto-friendly. This, however, was most likely a one-year trend--his OPS for the past three years against left-handed pitching actually exceeds what he did against right-handers (810 over 798). Given more at-bats, he should be able to surpass his 2005 totals against southpaws. With a player who is already 28, that's all the upside you're likely to see.
Going into the 2006 season, not a single Red Sox corner infielder or DH type was known for raking lefties, and Manny Ramirez has been all over the place against southpaws recently. Enter purported lefty-raker Mike Lowell. Although the effect weakness versus one side has on team hitting is probably overstated (see sidebar), Lowell was the victim of much scrutiny when setbacks followed his best ever overall season in 2004. That year he posted a .298 EqA and was a nine-win player according to WARP.
Just as quickly Lowell hit .236/.298/.360 for a full season, and talk began that he'd lost his bat speed completely. Lowell's overall .284/.339/.475 effort in 2006 was pretty close to his career averages. Where did that bounceback come from?
2004 2005 2006 overall .293/.365/.505 .236/.298/.360 .284/.339/.475 v. LHP .344/.429/.672 .304/.362/.478 .241/.316/.380 v. RHP .236/.298/.360 .221/.283/.333 .302/.349/.514
This was pretty out of character for Lowell, although it wasn't the first time that his offense was better against the right than the left. Whether this is sustainable is an open question, but more than anything the Red Sox hope his defense holds up, even if his apparent success against righties disappears.
A switch hitter, Hudson got hot from the right side last year, but this was also a sample-size aberration. His last three years combined from each side:
As a lefthanded batter: As a righthanded batter: .276/.339/.437 .277/.339/.435Spooky, right? Sources say this may be the subject of the next Hilary Swank movie.
A useful infielder, Sanchez had his breakout season in 2006, which was followed by a collective call of "fluke" from most people, and a corresponding echo of "sleeper" from fantheads. Freddy's sparkling line-drive rates aside, he improved from both sides of the plate. What he did against left-handers was just wrong-it's best not to look directly at this triple slash: .442/.460/.581. Scary stuff. If you're in a shallow league, subbing that in once or twice a week could be a fun little surprise for your adversaries...it may only be 120 at-bats, but it's a 120 at-bat stretch that will be legendary in your own mind. He may struggle defensively at second base, but let's hope that doesn't carry over to the plate.
The Cleveland Outfielder Factory:
It's a good thing I would trust Mark Shapiro to platoon me anywhere, because the man the rest of the AL Central calls Shapsy has arranged a group of outfielders who, collectively, struggle against left-handed pitching. This is in the Billy Beane mode--as when after shipping Andre Ethier down the coast to the Dodgers he quipped to the excellent Tyler Bleszinski of Athletics Nation: "At some point, you have to be aware that you're going to have an all left-handed team." ("Quip" may be stretching it, but this isn't Gary Sheffield, it's the best GM in baseball.)
Last three years against 2006's pathetic effort LHP in majors David Dellucci .185/.284/.321 .200/.292/.550 Shin-Soo Choo .200/.259/.200 .278/.350/.278 Grady Sizemore .223/.293/.376 .214/.290/.427 Trot Nixon .207/.325/.295 .204/.336/.312 Jason Michaels .300/.385/.444 .291/.349/.450
Even their designated lefty-masher doesn't so much mash as lightly dice. The facts of the case are these: even Tony Soprano couldn't motivate these muckety-mucks to challenge Johan Santana, Mark Buehrle and the Tigers' many lefties. Suddenly I love the Andrew Miller pick that much more.
Lefty mashers have been getting the short end of the stick with teams more inclined to an extra pitcher instead of a bench player. It used to be Matt LeCroy was honored with feasts and sacrifices everywhere he went, but lately it's the Endy Chavez-types getting all the accolades. Who knew the key to sticking was to not hit from either side of the plate?
Fortunately, help is on its way to Cleveland in the form of switch-hitting outfielder Trevor Crowe. Oddly enough, Crowe was originally selected as a 20th-round pick in 2002 by the A's. The Indians nabbed him with 2005's 14th-overall pick after time spent bopping .403/.477/.715 in his last season at the University of Arizona. He spent his first 60 games at the Indians' High-A affiliate.
Trevor Crowe High-A Kinston against LHP .366/.489/.507 against RHP .311/.426/.450 Double-A Akron against LHP .229/.386/.371 against RHP .235/.295/.311
His last 39 at-bats were in Akron, where he struggled in a short trial against older pitching, especially amidst various injuries and a failed second-base experiment. He hasn't quite lived up to expectations, but his time at Kinston indicates he may soon be able to help Cleveland's outfield problem.
With the No. 13 pick in this year's amateur draft, Cleveland might consider targeting someone like Rutgers shortstop Todd Frazier. This year the righthanded hitting Frazier has punished Big East lefthanders. As a cold weather player, splits mean little, if anything, at this point in the season. Still, it's hard to say he's not off on the right foot. At 6'4", 220, scouts are already projecting him as a corner outfielder. Shin-Soo and I will wait for you, Todd Frazier.