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Daily Fantasy Baseball Strategy for FanDuel and DraftKings - Platoon Splits
Can you believe it? Baseball season is almost here and with it comes months of waiting for that Coors lineup to post, sweating out weather reports, watching some nameless rookie ruin your dreams when you stack against him, and everything else that makes the summer great. At DFSR we're going to lead into baseball season with some strategy articles to get your mind spinning on all the nuances that comes with daily fantasy baseball lineups. If you want a lot of these ideas condensed into one place, make sure to download a copy of our free baseball eBook. There's a nice shiny link below.
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Now let's start looking at the baseball season.
The deal with platoon splits
If you have any experience whatsoever with daily fantasy baseball, you'll know that paying attention to righty/lefty match-ups is one of the principle backbones of setting an MLB DFS lineup. Almost all players in baseball are better when hitting against pitchers of the opposite handedness (though there are a few notable exceptions, like Adam Jones), and some players have an absolutely enormous split.
But wading through this information isn't as easy as just taking right handed hitters against left handed pitchers and calling it a day. Let's get to it.
First of all, not all platoon splits are created equally, and this should dramatically change how we look at each player. Let's look at a couple of examples.
The relatively normal case of David Ortiz
Ortiz had a 1.008 OPS against right handed pitchers last year, and a .703 OPS against lefties. This means that he had a better line against right handed pitching than Mike Trout has had for his career, but was about as good as David Eckstein's career line against lefties. Naturally, this meant Ortiz was unplayable against left handed pitching at basically any price, and very attractive against right handed pitching.
But it also meant a little bit more.
Wide platoon splits are a blessing and a curse
So, yes, in general David Ortiz was a great play when he was up against right handed pitching. But there was more to this than first meets the eye.
First of all, there was Ortiz's price. Ortiz's absolutely pathetic approach to lefties last year actually made him a better value against right handed pitching, because the various daily fantasy baseball sites will take into account a player's full season line when their algorithms come up with a fair price. If Ortiz had even an .800 OPS against left handed pitching his overall price would have been much higher, and he would have been less valuable against right handed pitching on a points per dollar basis.
So, wide platoon splits are great when finding value, right?
Again, not so fast.
One of the biggest mistakes we see, ahem, other projectors in the business make is that they are obviously projecting a player to get all of his at bats for a given game against a pitcher of the same handedness as the starter. Their math would look like this:
Ortiz is X% better against righties, the Yankees are starting Nathan Eovaldi, so we'll a play a 1.X multiplier to his baseline projection to figure out how he'll perform today!
Unfortunately, batters with huge platoon splits wind up getting less at bats against pitchers of favorable platoon splits specifically because they have such huge platoon splits.
Following up on our example - say Ortiz gets 3 plate appearances against Eovaldi, and we're going into the 7th inning. Eovaldi is starting to lose effectiveness, and the Yankees need to make a pitching change. Is there any chance they'll send a righty out to face Ortiz? Maybe, but it's far less likely than them trying to toss a lefty instead.
So, we have to adjust guidance slightly downward under the assumption that Ortiz is a lot less likely to face a lefty reliever than a player who's platoon neutral, or only slightly better against right handers.
So, yes, having a huge platoon split can lead to greater upside for a given batter (there's a chance the game is out of hand, for instance, and the Yankees don't bother to send a lefty out), but we can say fairly confidently that opposing teams will do their best to make sure that Ortiz faces as few righties out of the bullpen as possible.
Being right handed or left handed matters more than you think
This is a follow-up concept to the concept above.
We know that the Yankees will do what they can to ensure that Papi will not face a righty out of the bullpen, but due to the fact that there are simply fewer left handed pitchers, and that most closers are right handed, he will inevitably face SOME righties out of the bullpen.
And then there's David Wright. Wright had an 1.046 OPS against lefties last season, and a poor .746 OPS against righties. This will cause Wright to be a popular play when there's a less than stellar lefty starter on the mound, and while that's reasonable, it's probably wise to temper expectations to some degree. As a right handed batter who has trouble against right handed pitching, there's almost no chance Wright will see a lefty out of the bullpen because righties are so plentiful and interchangeable.
Thus, a general rule of thumb: Be more cautious deploying lefty-crushing specialists than deploying righty-crushing specialists.
One of the things that makes daily fantasy baseball unique is the fact that the actual field of play from stadium to stadium is different. We'll do a whole article on incorporating park factors at some point, but for the sake of our platoon splits article, I'll just focus on that for now.
A good rule of thumb is to consult FanGraphs' Handedness Platoon Splits Chart. You'll see that not all parks are created equally for batters from each side of the plate. Righties in Boston, for instance, hit 4% more home runs than in a league average park. Lefties, however, hit 11% fewer home runs in Boston than elsewhere.
Incorporating stats like these by the eye ball test is basically impossible, by the way. It's why we created our projection system (that has now turned into our lineup optimizer, which will be ready in time for daily fantasy baseball season 2016). You can grab our eBook on creating a model very similar to us, or just use ours, if you'd like. Either way, good luck out there in daily fantasy baseball this year!
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