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Diamondback Platoon Advantage: Another Look

Dbacks’ data showed better OPS and homers with platoon advantage. Yet % of PAs with platoon advantage was not the whole story.

United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.
United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.
Photo by Matthew Hazlett/Getty Images

In January, this AZ Snake Pit article looked at the Diamondback’s platoon advantage in 2019 and 2020. That referenced article provided a brief review of platoon advantage. This article will address 2021 data and broaden the focus beyond the Diamondbacks.

Platoon advantage for Diamondbacks appears significant.

Due to many variables impacting OPS, the yearly averages for don’t show a positive correlation between percentage plate appearances (PAs) with platoon advantage and OPS.

  • Percentage of PAs with platoon advantage increased from 61.3% in 2019, to 65.3% in 2020, to 67.7% in 2021.
  • Yearly OPS fell from .757 in 2019, to .704 in 2020, to .692 in 2021.

Next, let’s separate PAs with platoon advantage and PAs without platoon advantage. The following table shows OPS and wRC+ for the two types of PAs in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Diamondbacks at-bats (excluded at-bats as non-Diamondbacks). Data from FanGraphs.

Before we look at the two types of PAs, please note a difference between the three seasons:

  • In 2019, most PAs were by right handed batters.
  • In 2020, right handed and left handed PAs were about equal.
  • In 2021, most PAs were by left handed batters.

The platoon advantage resulted in higher OPS and wRC+ for all three seasons and for both left handed batters and right handed batters with one exception which was talked about in the previously referenced article. The exception was right handed batters in 2020. It was likely caused by unfamiliarity with specific left-handed pitchers, and by a small sample size of less than a thousand PAs.

Looking at 2021, when Diamondback batters had platoon advantage, their average OPS and homers per PA were better. The impact was larger for right handed batters:

  • RHB. Average OPS was 38% better (.778 vs 563) and HR/PA was 97% better (.032 vs .016).
  • LHB. Average OPS was 5% better (.716 vs .684) and HR/PA was 45% better (.025 vs .017).

But was it coincidence or was the impact real? For all teams, let’s compare % PA with platoon advantage and their batting results.

Platoon advantage for the Majors does not appear significant.

First a bit of good news. The Diamondbacks 67.7% of PAs with platoon advantage was the highest in the Majors. They were significantly above the 53.2% average.

Next a bit of reality. Teams with a great OPS rarely had a high percentage of PAs with platoon advantage.

Looking at teams with OPS ranked in the top ten: 3 had above average percentage PAs with platoon advantage and 7 had below average percentage PAs with platoon advantage. That surprised me. Most shocking were the Blue Jays because they ranked number one in OPS and last in platoon advantage. Did the Blue Jays find a hitting strategy more powerful than platoon advantage? I intend to examine that closely in a future article.

Looking at teams with HR/PA in the top ten: 4 had above average percentage PAs with platoon advantage and 6 had below average percentage PAs with platoon advantage. Again the Blue Jays stood out by ranking first in HR/PA and last in platoon advantage.

Let’s compare the Diamondbacks to the Rays.

Three reasons to compare them to the Rays:

  • The Diamondbacks aspire to be a top-10 team. The Rays ranked 9th in HR/PA and 10th in OPS.
  • The Rays’ 62.1% PAs with Platoon advantage ranked third, which was in the same ballpark as the Diamondbacks’ 67.7%.
  • Like the Diamondbacks, the Rays have mastered the platoon advantage per this SB Nation article.
Data from FanGraphs.

Let’s group batters in tiers:

  • Top tier batters have OPSs of at least .900.
  • Second tier batters have OPSs between .750 and .900.
  • Third tier batters have OPSs between .600 and .750.
  • Fourth tier batters have OPSs less than .600.

For the Diamondbacks and Rays, when their batters had platoon advantage their average OPS was second tier except for Diamondback left-handed batters who averaged one tier lower.

For the Diamondbacks and Rays, when their batters did not have platoon advantage the results were mixed. For left-handed batters the Diamondbacks’ batters were second tier and Rays batters were third tier. For right handed batters it was reversed.

With the caveat that in 2021, right handed PAs were only 39.5% of total PAs, it looks like an area with potential for improvement. Every right-handed Diamondback batter without platoon advantage had an OPS less than the .674 Rays’ team average for that type of PA with the exception of Christian Walker’s .771 OPS (excluded pitchers).

The comparison of the Diamondbacks with the Rays, who were a top ten team in OPS and Homers per PA, was far from one-sided. For the next couple seasons, aspiring to bat at their levels is a challenge that is not too far out-of-reach.

How can the Diamondbacks improve?

Acquire a RHB whose OPS and HR/PA are above average, especially when they bat without platoon advantage.

Acquire a switch hitter to replace a right-handed batter thereby reducing at-bats without platoon advantage.

Study the Blue Jays to discover whether they have a hitting strategy more powerful than platoon advantage. Implement any discoveries that are worthwhile to the Diamondbacks.

Summary.

Diamondbacks’ OPS and HR/PA were better when they batted with platoon advantage, with a very large impact for right handed batters.

Diamondbacks led the league in percentage of PAs with platoon advantage, but ranked low in OPS and homers per PA. Most of the top ten teams in OPS and homers per PA ranked in the bottom half of the league in percentage of PAs with platoon advantage. Most pointedly, the Blue Jays ranked first in OPS and homers per PA while ranking last in percentage of PAs with platoon advantage.

As the Diamondbacks aspire to be a top ten team, it was encouraging that a comparison of the Diamondbacks’ batting and the Rays’ batting was far from one-sided.