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Throughout the winter, we'll be doing our positional series, and I'll be examining splits at each position.

Splits aren't super useful for seasonal leagues that have a weekly roster lock, but they're important in daily leagues. In daily leagues, exploiting matchups is critical, and splits are one component of a matchup that can increase the chances of a productive day.

Splits can also be helpful in certain seasonal leagues. For example, I play in a 12 team seasonal Yahoo league that allows daily free agent pickups and daily lineup maneuverability. In this league, I sometimes leave the last spot of my roster open so that I can stream fringe players in good situations and good match ups. These are the type of players that aren't quite good enough to roster for the entire season (hence being available as FAs) but can be productive for a day or two against ineffective opposite handed pitchers in a good run scoring environment. This strategy works well in shallower leagues but becomes more difficult to use the deeper the league is.

There are different types of splits that fantasy owners can use to squeeze out as much value as possible. Pitch locations are an under-the-radar split. The nature of the swing paths of some hitters makes their swings more tailored to hit certain pitch locations than others. For example, Yoenis Cespedes’ bat path makes it easier for him to crush low pitches (.585 slugging) but more difficult to hit high pitches (.285 slugging). Fantasy owners can attempt to use this to their advantage by avoiding this type of low-ball hitter in potentially unfavorable matchups and using them in favorable ones. Specifically, pitchers who like to pitch up in the zone and have repertoires fit to pitch up in the zone do not appear to be the ideal matchup for a hitter with this profile. Instead, targeting pitchers who like to pitch down in the zone and have repertoires fit to pitch down in the zone—think Martin Perez types—make for better plays.

Some hitters have more pronounced home/road splits than others. Brian McCann is a good example of a catcher in recent years who fits this description. The pull heavy McCann found a lot more power success in Yankee Stadium than he did in road parks. As a Yankee, McCann had a .230 ISO at home and just a .134 ISO on the road, and the splits were reflected in his park-adjusted metrics as well. McCann is now in Houston, but that's just an example. I often made it a point to use McCann in home games in Yankee Stadium against weak right handed pitchers in my daily fantasy leagues because McCann’s swing was more equipped to hit for power in that specific stadium than most other stadiums.

The most commonly used split and the one we’ll focus on in this article series is lefty/righty splits. Batters have an advantage when they face opposite handed pitchers, some more than others. This can be amplified when those types of batters face pitchers with large platoon splits of their own. The main reason platoon splits exist is because the angle an opposite-sided pitcher throws the ball at is easier for the batter to see than the angle a same-sided pitcher throws the ball at.

Left-handed hitters generally have a wider platoon split than right handed hitters. In 2016, right-handed hitters had a .763 OPS against LHP and a .725 OPS against RHP league wide, a difference of about 40 OPS points. Left-handed batters had a .757 OPS against RHP and a .670 OPS against LHP league wide, a difference of about 90 OPS points.

Some research indicates that platoon splits take a long time to stabilize for hitters. Because of that, determining which players legitimately have more pronounced splits can be difficult. In order to avoid as much noise as possible, it can be a safe idea to assume most hitters will have a platoon split similar to the league wide split. In 2016, this was around 40 OPS points better vs. LHP than against RHP for right handed hitters and about 90 points better against RHP than LHP for left handed hitters. It protects against putting too much weight on smallish sample platoon splits, which could be extreme and possibly be misleading.

However, there are problems with this, too. Some hitters do have significant platoon splits as a part of their skill set, and waiting years for platoon splits to stabilize is not realistic for fantasy owners. As fantasy owners, we often need to strike quickly before the rest of the league catches on. Players’ skill sets can also change in the time it takes for platoon splits to stabilize.

I feel comfortable using platoon splits after decent amount of plate appearances against that side, usually after 200 or so PA. I know that I might get burned by small sample noise, but I also know that I can get burned by waiting too long to strike on players who might be undervalued at the time, and as the sample gets larger, the more the rest of the world catches on.

Here are some left/right splits for players who recorded at least 200 PAs at catcher in the last two seasons. The table includes all catchers who had an above average OPS against that side. The table is sorted in descending order from highest OPS to lowest OPS. Since there are more right handed pitchers than left handed pitchers, the sample sizes are larger in the RHP table.

Vs. RHP table. League average Catcher OPS vs. RHP: .683

Catcher

OPS

ISO

BB%

K%

Kyle Schwarber

.936

.272

14.7%

24.0%

Willson Contreras

.841

.213

10.8%

25.5%

Jonathan Lucroy

.818

.172

8.5%

16.0%

Buster Posey

.802

.138

9.3%

10.2%

Yasmani Grandal

.787

.227

13.9%

23.8%

Stephen Vogt

.787

.187

9.5%

16.4%

Nick Hundley

.767

.173

7.1%

18.7%

Brian McCann

.763

.197

10.3%

18.5%

Robinson Chirinos

.753

.220

8.8%

24.2%

Russell Martin

.746

.192

9.7%

24.9%

J.T. Realmuto

.744

.129

4.6%

15.8%

Yadier Molina

.742

.109

5.4%

10.6%

Salvador Perez

.742

.181

3.4%

18.4%

Miguel Montero

.740

.159

13.5%

23.9%

Matt Wieters

.738

.171

6.8%

19.0%

Jason Castro

.732

.192

11.4%

31.1%

Blake Swihart

.727

.128

6.7%

26.3%

Tucker Barnhart

.727

.114

9.4%

15.3%

A.J. Pierzynski

.722

.129

3.5%

9.5%

Travis d’Arnaud

.720

.142

7.0%

18.2%

Hank Conger

.718

.182

9.4%

27.9%

Welington Castillo

.716

.165

6.0%

25.1%

Wilson Ramos

.713

.145

5.2%

18.1%

Francisco Cervelli

.710

.080

11.0%

18.9%

Sandy Leon

.705

.106

6.8%

23.5%

Chris Herrmann

.704

.190

6.5%

30.4%

Vs. LHP table (min 150 PA). League average catcher OPS vs. LHP: .710

Catcher

OPS

ISO

BB%

K%

Buster Posey

.879

.180

10.8%

8.4%

James McCann

.878

.253

7.6%

26.9%

Francisco Cervelli

.868

.112

12.4%

16.3%

Nick Hundley

.831

.170

5.0%

23.1%

Welington Castillo

.828

.237

9.6%

26.5%

Russell Martin

.808

.191

16.3%

22.5%

Wilson Ramos

.803

.205

6.3%

15.5%

Yasmani Grandal

.786

.133

17.8%

22.3%

Tyler Flowers

.761

.128

11.4%

25.0%

Josh Phegley

.757

.164

6.7%

17.7%

A.J. Ellis

.754

.160

14.2%

15.4%

Chris Ianetta

.750

.147

15.9%

22.4%

Jonathan Lucroy

.726

.176

9.2%

20.6%

Derek Norris

.720

.150

8.9%

23.8%

Brian McCann

.714

.158

10.3%

20.9%

Some thoughts on various catcher eligible players:

Kyle Schwarber apparently will retain catcher eligibility this year in Yahoo leagues, so I included him in the table. Schwarber made an amazing recovery to come back from that horrible knee injury and hit .412 in the World Series with a .971 OPS. Schwarber said he tracked a lot of pitches on a pitching machine using the nastiest pitch setting the machine had in order to prepare for the series, which appeared to work. It wasn’t just the numbers; Schwarber’s timing wasn’t nearly as off as I thought it would after being away from the game for six months, and his pitch recognition looked on point. This gives me more confidence that he won’t get off to a terribly rusty start in 2017 because the missed reps didn’t seem to affect him as badly as it would most other hitters. Schwarber’s value will be greater in leagues where he has catcher eligibility and fantasy owners should adjust their ADP accordingly in seasonal leagues. In daily leagues, Schwarber has shown little ability to handle LHP to this point, and his 44% strikeout rate against lefties (although in a small sample) is alarming. I expect Schwarber to continue to destroy RHP but wouldn’t use him against LHP until he shows signs of progress against lefties.

Travis d’Arnaud is completely an enigma to me in 2017. He has flashed so much potential. His bat speed is electric when he’s going right, and he had a prolonged stretch of incredibly potent offensive catcher production for a span of about 500 PA. In mid 2014, d’Arnaud made a swing adjustment after being demoted to Triple A and hit .270/.329/.486 with 22 HR and a .216 ISO in 544 PA after it, dating from his minor league recall through all of 2015. I thought he was really going to hit in 2016, but he injured his right rotator cuff trying to throw out a base stealer in April and just never got going. His swing looked slower and longer, and he didn’t seem to have the same bat control. A lot of his batted balls were buried into the ground instead of being squared up. I have no idea what to expect from him in 2017. d’Arnaud is one of the more boom or bust candidates I can see at catcher this year, and no outcome with him would really surprise me–except him getting injured. I am optimistic by nature, so I am not giving up on his talents yet. He could very easily rebound and become a top-10 fantasy catcher.

Stephen Vogt is a catcher I like using in daily leagues against weak RHPs in hitter friendly road parks. When players are priced based on their overall production, a large platoon split can often provide value if you only use them against their strong side. Since Oakland is pitcher friendly, my eyes get wide when Vogt goes to places like Yankee Stadium and Rogers Centre to face below average righties that give up a lot of production to left handed batters.

I wrote about Yasmani Grandal in our staff catchers to target piece that ran on Monday. I am a believer in a healthy Grandal being a very productive offensive catcher. Grandal’s shoulder issues over the last two years are real to me. In 2015, he hit .285/.394/.500 with 14 HR in about 300 PA through the end of July. He hurt his shoulder sometime in August, and hit .129/.268/.198 after that with only two home runs. Grandal looked very limited offensively, and appeared to be gutting it out for a playoff team that needed his strong pitch-framing behind the plate. He then had shoulder surgery in the offseason, and it took a while for him to bounce back. After July 1, Grandal hit .267/.376/.581 with 20 HR. Assuming he’s finally healthy, I think Grandal could be in line for his best season yet. Grandal’s value skyrockets in OBP leagues because his high walk rate helps compensate for a low batting average. In daily leagues, Grandal is a switchhitter and hits for more power against right-handed pitchers.

Obviously, it should go without saying that a catcher who has an .870 OPS in 150 PA vs. LHP, like James McCann and Francisco Cervelli do over the last two seasons, is not comparable to Buster Posey’s .870 OPS vs. LHP, because Posey has a track record 10 times longer than that versus LHP. What this does do though is perhaps point us in a direction of some catchers who might be undervalued in daily leagues when they face a weak LHP in a good run scoring environment, while considering that the sample is small enough to contain a lot of noise.

Wilson Ramos is an interesting player for 2017. He had ACL surgery in October and isn’t expected to be back on the field until May or June at the earliest. What is intriguing about Ramos is that he had Lasik surgery on his eyes before the 2016 season. Ramos said that his pitch recognition improved tremendously, and it showed up in his production. Ramos had an .850 OPS in 2016, up from a .711 OPS in his career prior and a .616 OPS in 2015. Ramos will likely DH instead of catch in 2017, but he will retain catcher eligibility in most leagues and could be a great stash candidate in seasonal leagues.