Basic Hitter Platoon Splits 2002-2012

Baseball fans like to talk about splits. Some splits are more useful than others. Platoon splits are particularly interesting because they can be used both in evaluating players and in thinking about strategy. As has been emphasized elsewhere, observed platoon splits can vary quite widely from a player’s true platoon skill. For that, we need to know the platoon skill of the population from which he comes, at least generally speaking. The first step for doing that is to see what the overall platoon split of hitters is in any given year. Looking at that also leads to other interesting questions.

A couple of years ago, I did a similar post. Since I was updating that information for myself, I thought it would be worth sharing. This post will not contain any grand conclusions, just the data and some observations.

Hopefully the reader will forgive some less-than-artful tables. I went for relatively quick-and-easy, which in this case did not lead to a particularly brilliant tabular aesthetic (for example the percentage columns having two decimal places. Ah, the joys of using Google Docs).

Some brief explanations: I use platoon data since 2002 from our database. Each row is for a separate season. As for columns, “wOBAvL” and “wOBAvR” should be self-explanatory; “wOBA” is he overall wOBA for that year in the cases looked at (more on this in a bit), “%vLHP” is percentage of plate appearances versus left-handed pitchers examined (since plate appearances versus southpaws are what one regresses against when estimating hitter platoon skill), and “Split%” is the percentage of the split compared to the overall wOBA, since that is what is measured when projecting platoon skill.

When I mentioned “cases looked at” I simply meant that I excluded certain things. I naturally excluded pitchers as hitters. I also excluded the cases where batters pitched from the wrong side of the plate, e.g., switch hitters giving up the platoon advantage as they sometimes do against knuckle-ballers. Those occurrences are not too frequent, but it is worth excluding them.

[NB: Those who look carefully will notice some slight discrepancies in some ostensibly shared data between the 2010 post and this one. Without getting in to every little detail, most of that is probably due to changes in way wOBA has been calculated since my 2010 post and also some improvements I have made (e.g, excluding sacrifice hits from the population, as they are not included in wOBA and slightly skewed denominators in the older post).]

This first table is for left-handed hitters:

2002 0.318 0.350 0.343 22.31% 9.33%
2003 0.317 0.348 0.340 24.66% 9.11%
2004 0.325 0.351 0.345 24% 7.54%
2005 0.314 0.343 0.336 23.09% 8.62%
2006 0.317 0.354 0.345 23.51% 10.72%
2007 0.321 0.351 0.344 24.17% 8.73%
2008 0.316 0.347 0.339 24.69% 9.14%
2009 0.316 0.350 0.342 25% 9.96%
2010 0.312 0.341 0.334 24.64% 8.69%
2011 0.297 0.330 0.322 23.86% 10.24%
2012 0.291 0.332 0.321 26.65% 12.77%

Left-handed hitters typically have bigger platoon splits than right-handed hitters. While left-handed hitters almost always hit better as a group than right-handed hitters (having the platoon advantage most of the time is big part of that), in the last couple of years, for whatever reason, their overall advantage has decreased rather dramatically, even though left-handed hitters are not facing that many more southpaw pitchers than in the past. What has changed: in 2011 and 2012 the platoon split of left-handed hitters has increased a great deal over previous seasons, with the 12.8 percent split in 2012 being easily the largest for lefty hitters in the period examined.

2002 0.335 0.323 0.326 26.77% 3.68%
2003 0.349 0.324 0.331 28.80% 7.55%
2004 0.346 0.327 0.333 29.12% 5.71%
2005 0.347 0.322 0.329 29.34% 7.59%
2006 0.349 0.327 0.333 29.23% 6.60%
2007 0.358 0.324 0.334 29.13% 10.18%
2008 0.346 0.323 0.330 30.10% 6.97%
2009 0.345 0.325 0.331 29.03% 6.05%
2010 0.338 0.319 0.325 29.75% 5.85%
2011 0.339 0.313 0.320 28.37% 8.12%
2012 0.337 0.313 0.321 31.96% 7.48%

As expected, right-handed hitters display a much smaller split than left-handed hitters, although it has increased league-wide after the low of 2010. One can see that the shrinking gap between right- and left-handed hitters in recent years is mostly because lefties have gotten worse and righties have stayed the same the last couple of years.

Finally, the switch hitters (a negative percentage means that as a group they hit lefties better than righties in that particular season):

2002 0.312 0.328 0.324 25.78% 4.94%
2003 0.330 0.325 0.326 25.94% -1.53%
2004 0.324 0.329 0.328 27.7% 1.53%
2005 0.320 0.327 0.325 26.09% 2.15%
2006 0.326 0.336 0.333 26.39% 3%
2007 0.331 0.330 0.330 27.24% -0.3%
2008 0.336 0.332 0.333 28.85% -1.2%
2009 0.335 0.327 0.329 27.15% -2.43%
2010 0.313 0.315 0.314 28.55% 0.64%
2011 0.319 0.322 0.321 27.64% 0.93%
2012 0.312 0.317 0.316 29.66% 1.58%

Switch hitters are both less and more interesting than the other two groups. They are less interesting in the sense that switch hitters vary more widely from hitter to hitter, and thus require much less regression than left- and right-handed hitters. While regression should be done, the observed performance becomes relevant in far few plate appearances than for lefties or righties.

Switch hitters are more interesting because of that variance. Although as a group there is not much to say about them, individuals are more amenable to specific analysis. As a group, they have not generally displayed a consistent or large split, which probably means most switch-hitters are being helped by hitting from both sides of the plate. Switch hitters are a group that might be worth more historical investigation.

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Odd that switch hitters would in theory always be enjoying the platoon split, yet their wOBA was lower than LHH and RHH most years. You’d think they’d look much more like LHH than RHH but they are the same or worse than RHH most of the time.

Travis L
9 years ago
Reply to  Mcshane

I think it’s reasonable to assume most switch hitters are better from one side of the plate. So even though they have the platoon advantage from their weaker side, they aren’t as good of a hitter as someone from their natural side.

This fact could negate the platoon advantage, and would suggest most switch hitters shouldn’t be.

9 years ago
Reply to  Mcshane

It stands to reason that a switch hitter is better from one side of the plate than the other, but it doesn’t at all follow that they are better from that side of the plate against all pitchers. A switch hitter may be better right handed than left, but he still may hit righties better as a lefty. So he has a platoon split, but were he not a switch hitter, it might be even larger. Since we never actually see him hit from his better side with the platoon disadvantage, it’s impossible to know which is the case.

Also, to me it makes perfect sense that switch hitters are worse on the whole than righties and lefties. Switch hitting strikes me as something that hitters often learn to do because they aren’t hitting very well at some point. A more talented hitter would probably just stick with his preferred side because he is already enjoying success from that side. Also, a switch hitter may have discovered a crippling platoon split at some level of ball and learned to switch hit to try to combat that. A more talented hitter would also probably be less likely to have a crippling platoon split, or he may be a lefty that hits righties so well he can get away with it (see: Andre Ethier)

9 years ago
Reply to  Mcshane

Also, if teams see switch hitting as something that is valuable in and of itself, that means they may pick a switch hitter who has an overall worse wOBA than a righty or lefty. If we assume instance of switch hitting is independent of hitting skill, then that means that some switch hitters lower down the hitting skill scale will be pushed up the desirability scale due to another skill. So you’d find that switch hitters hit worse overall for the same reason defense (probably) has a slightly negative correlation with hitting.