Hitters tend to perform better against opposite handed pitchers and vice versa. That’s one of baseball’s oldest truisms. To illustrate – from 2000 to 2012, left-handed hitters swatted a .787 OPS against right-handed pitchers but only a .698 OPS against lefties. To fully wrap your head around that, consider that that’s the difference in overall performance between Adam Jones and Freddy Galvis. Right-handed hitters also exhibit a split, although it’s more muted – .781 verse lefties and .723 verse righties.
But despite wide-spread acceptance and corresponding statistical backing, baseball minds – especially fantasy-inclined minds – still don’t give these deviations enough attention. This Lefty-Righty Split (LRS) ignorance crops up in a variety of ways. One common example is when a former part-time player is thrust into a starting role, and armchair GM’s simply project their previous stats forward, without taking into account if their pitcher-handedness deployment differed from league average (~75% of innings are thrown by righties).
Another form of LRS ignorance comes in regards to lack of knowledge regarding these deviations among everyday players. In terms of part-time guys, it’s no secret that the Danny Valencia’s and Franklin Gutierrez’s of the world range from studly against one-handedness to impotent against another. Additionally, these players, outside of daily fantasy, aren’t really fantasy-relevant anyways. But what many overlook is the number of everyday, fantasy-relevant players that trudge through the MLB season with wild differentials in their LRS performance. This post will explore three of them and discuss how you can take advantage of the situation.
Josh Reddick legitimately sucks against left-handed pitching. While I suspect Athletics and Astros fans might be keyed in to this fact, many others probably aren’t. I certainly wasn’t. Reddick is known as a gritty, lunch-pale type producer. He doesn’t strike out much (12.4% rate since 2015) and makes his living off singles and doubles, the type of hitter who should be immune to aggressive LRS splits.
The Astros gave Reddick a big-boy four-year, $52 million contract to be their everyday right fielder in the 2016 offseason. And he filled that role admirably last season, playing in 134 games (would have been closer to 145 if not for injury) and swatting a 314 / 363 / 484 batting line. But behind that impressive trio of figures is a severe case of Jekyll and Hyde.
Reddick actually didn’t do too poorly against lefties last year. He hit .315, largely fueled by an unsustainable .384 BABIP, in 101 plate appearances. But let’s bring our gaze out a bit further. Since 2014 Reddick has managed an above average 790 OPS on aggregate. But against lefties? 583!!! The entire batting line reads: 227 / 285 / 298. Did anyone even realize a slugging percentage below 300 was possible? On the flip, Reddick put up a 855 OPS against righties with a 134 wRC+, which are very studly figures.
Yet Reddick plays almost every day. His lefty to righty deployment was 0.24 / 1.00 over that span, about in line with the MLB average. Here we have a guy who is well below replacement level against lefties but still getting close to everyday at bats against them.
Conclusion: In daily fantasy land the conclusion is very simple: Reddick is undervalued against right-handed pitching and unrosterable against lefties. For season-long fantasy formats I still think Reddick is a good play. Reddick is listed at 158 on ESPN’s draft board. Draft a team with solid lineup flexibility (multiple players with outfield eligibility), take Reddick in the 13th to 15th round and deploy him only against righties. Now you have player drafted in the mid-teens whose production looks similar to a guy in the sixth.
Adrian Beltre, third baseman for the Texas Rangers, has to be on of the most interesting players in baseball, right? Not only does he hate having his head touched, he’s done the thing that no one else has managed to do: defeat father time. By a variety of metrics, Beltre has been a far superior hitter from ages 30 to 38 compared to 22 to 30. How many players can say that?
One other interesting tidbit about Beltre is that he’s developed a severe LRS over the years, as his OPS against lefties is over 170 points higher than his OPS against righties since 2014. Over the last two years? The difference ebbs above 200 points.
Now Beltre is still a solid overall player against same-handed pitching. Since 2014 his overall triple slash is a sexy 305 / 363 / 496. Against righties he owns a respectable 815, but against lefties that figure jumps to an MVP-caliber 985. Few should be surprised that Beltre hits lefties well – I just didn’t expect that well. The fact that this split seems to be getting more pronounced with age is something to keep an eye on – however, most of the split differential is actually coming from improved performance against lefties rather than inferior production against righties.
Conclusion: Since Beltre is still a solid performer against righties there isn’t much from a traditional fantasy perspective to take from this, other than to make sure he is always in your lineup against left-handers (he should be in your starting lineup everyday anyway). But the implications are large on the DFS front. Beltre vaults to the level of Mike Trout / Bryce Harper when a southpaw is on the mound, and is likely a steal at whatever his price is that day. But make sure to be more cognizant of his price when going against righties.
Old faithful. Seattle’s 35-year old manner of the keystone sack has played in at least 150 games every year since 2007. Along the way he’s accumulated a career batting average of .305 and over 300 home runs. Yet despite his consistency suiting up, Cano has posted some increasingly inconsistent fantasy seasons, oscillating between great and above average the last four years. In order to justify his position as the 64th player off the board at ESPN Cano needs to lean closer to great than above average. Fortunately, you can get the great Cano with some shrewd deployment management.
Cano, like Reddick, is a contact and doubles machine who seems like the type of guy who should do okay against lefties. But the stats tell a different story. Since 2014 Cano owns a 265 / 313 / 394 batting line verse southpaws, summing to a pedestrian 707 OPS. He still maintains decent strikeout rates, but the main difference is just a complete lack of batted ball authority with a measly 29% hard-hit rate.
However, against right-handed hurlers Cano looks like a potential silver slugger recipient, with an 887 OPS and 142 wRC+. Those type of figures are more emblematic of a player drafted in second or third round of a fantasy draft compared to the sixth.
Despite Cano’s difficulties against lefties, he is sure to get everyday playing time in Seattle due to his name and his contract. This creates opportunity for the mindful for fantasy player.
Conclusion: Cano is a player, due to his age and so-so 2017 season, that is likely to slip on season-long fantasy draft boards this March. ESPN’s ranking of 64, probably generous given names such as Pham, Pollock and Sano nearby, puts Cano in the sixth round of a 12-team draft. I could easily see him tumbling to seven or eight. If he does, snag him with confidence, and make sure to draft another player with second base eligibility later on. In terms of daily fantasy the implications should be clear – fade Cano against lefties and target him against righties.