Taking the Platoon Advantage

Fernando Rodney has three saves and a win so far this season. Fernando Rodney has gotten eight outs so far this season. As strange as it may first seem for a late-inning reliever to have four decisions with so few batters faced, it’s business as usual in Tampa Bay. Here’s a box score that is fairly typical for the Rays:

It certainly appears that the Rays are micro-managing their bullpen. Perhaps the aim is to gain the platoon advantage in as many situations as possible — teams do that all the time. But which ones are doing it most often?

Let’s take a look at the teams put their pitchers in lefty-lefty and righty-righty situations the most times in 2011. This should help us figure out which teams pushed for the platoon advantage most often.

Team LHPvLHB PA Team RHPvRHB PA Team Combined Rank
TEX 868 SLN 2800 CHN 1
TOR 862 COL 2797 TBA 2
CHA 840 CHN 2768 HOU 3
KCA 741 ATL 2719 SLN 4
OAK 653 FLO 2702 BOS 5
MIN 646 ANA 2645 DET 6
PHI 516 CIN 2620 NYN 7
TBA 512 CLE 2610 ATL 8
BAL 498 HOU 2541 BAL 9
WAS 495 NYA 2435 KCA 10
SEA 493 NYN 2394 NYA 11
DET 489 ARI 2324 CIN 12
BOS 478 BOS 2314 CHA 13
LAN 452 DET 2313 COL 14
NYN 447 TBA 2294 OAK 15
HOU 428 SDN 2282 PHI 16
NYA 419 MIL 2243 TOR 17
SDN 406 BAL 2206 WAS 18
ARI 382 WAS 2147 TEX 19
CHN 380 SEA 2122 ARI 20
CIN 333 LAN 2100 MIN 21
MIL 332 PHI 2029 SEA 22
ATL 312 KCA 1995 ANA 23
SLN 302 OAK 1937 CLE 24
SFN 300 MIN 1834 FLO 25
CLE 299 CHA 1790 SDN 26
COL 269 TOR 1783 LAN 27
ANA 249 PIT 1462 MIL 28
FLO 242 TEX 1442 SFN 29
PIT 174 SFN 962 PIT 30

Tampa Bay shows up in the top third for lefty-lefty situations, and exactly half-way when it comes to righty-righty. That may not seem like a team fighting hard to find these situations, but look at the combined rank. Since the teams mostly show up on the leaderboard for one platoon advantage, but not the other, Tampa ends up near the top of the combined rankings. The other teams atop the combined leaderboard are largely unsurprising.

Tony La Russa’s legendary bullpen micro-management in St. Louis was the subject of more than one good article on the subject. This leaderboard seems to pass the sniff test. Then again, the White Sox have long had an excellent bullpen full of hard-throwing lefties and righties. Until this season, the team also had an unconventional manager who even platooned his closer role on occasion. They only show up half-way up the leaderboard.

This analysis is not yet complete. These matchups are subject to the vagaries of each team’s starting rotation. Starters take up more than half of these plate appearances, and they aren’t as fungible as relievers. If you have two lefties in your rotation — as the Rays do now — you’ll come out ahead on these charts.

Is there another way to focus in on this? What about total batters faced by relief appearance? The lower the number, the fewer batters each reliever sees. This would point to a team looking to push the envelope and find the best matchups for their relievers.

Team Relief TBF TBF/Relief G
TBA 1645 3.76
LAN 1878 4.07
ARI 1888 4.08
SFN 1958 4.08
NYN 2101 4.09
COL 2133 4.13
SDN 2031 4.14
HOU 2094 4.16
PIT 2298 4.19
SLN 1969 4.21
CIN 2120 4.22
ATL 2177 4.27
FLO 2167 4.27
OAK 1964 4.27
CLE 2089 4.33
MIL 1888 4.35
WAS 2193 4.36
CHN 2164 4.37
NYA 2032 4.37
PHI 1751 4.43
MIN 2034 4.45
TOR 2109 4.45
TEX 1881 4.51
DET 1936 4.6
CHA 1889 4.61
ANA 1812 4.69
BOS 2161 4.87
SEA 1743 4.97
BAL 2428 5.08
KCA 2168 5.16

Look at that. The Rays come out ahead once again; they know exactly which batters they want their relievers to face, and they pull their relievers quickly.

But there are still some starting pitching effects. As you can see, the Rays got so many innings from their starters that they faced roughly 200 fewer batters than the teams that used their relievers the second-least. That sort of workhorse production from your starters makes it easier to mix-and-match your relievers. In a way, the Mets and Rockies have worked harder to get their relievers in the perfect matchups, considering that they counted among the league leaders in overall relief appearances.

We’re still not done. Baltimore — at the bottom — encapsulates two problems with this approach. Their starters were not very good, so their relievers were forced into the most innings. Also, as a poorer team, they may not have had the resources to spend on LOOGYs. The Giants have two relief-only lefties making more than $5 million each. The Orioles had Pedro Viola, Clay Rapada and Troy Patton making the minimum after Mike Gonzalez left town.

Then again, the Rays only paid their lefty relievers a bit more than $2 million combined last year and still managed to come out on the top of both lists. Their platooning may also not stop at lefty-righty, as I posited in 2011: they may not only look for the correct matchups based on handedness, but also based on pitcher strengths and batter strengths. In any case, it certainly appears that -— more than any other team in baseball —- the Rays succeed in taking the platoon advantage.

Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman for some of the numbers in this piece.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
10 years ago

Maddon = the true MLB MVP for the last 5yrs or so

10 years ago
Reply to  everdiso