No, I'm not talking about the 1986 Academy Award-winning movie Platoon. I'm talking about knowing when certain baseball players only belong in your fantasy lineup when they have a favorable match-up: the platoon players.
So, let's start with a question. Can you name this player?
Here's a hint: Last year he hit 33 homers, had 99 RBI, scored 121 runs, batted .320 with an OBP of .397 and a SLG of .580... and he was quite possibly on the waiver wire for much of the season in your fantasy league....
Okay, so I've exaggerated a tad. The player above is Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop Jack Wilson; and last year he had 100 AB's against lefties in which he posted the following stat line: 6 HR, 18 RBI, 22 runs, .320 BA, .397 OBP, .580 SLG.
Now if Wilson could have had a full season of batting against lefties (approximately 550 AB's), then that's where I got the original (and attention-grabbing) stats of 33 HR, 99 RBI, and 121 runs.
When we take a closer look at the math, one might argue that Jack Wilson's six home runs against lefties doesn't justify a roster spot, especially when looking at the margin over the alternative. In other words, Wilson got 6 homers against lefties, but if you had somebody else instead in your lineup during that time then they might have gotten 3, 4, or even 5 homers which is only a net difference of 1 to 3 homers over the course of a season...
To that last point, yes I agree that the margin gained in homers (and RBI and runs) is likely not going to be great, but keep in mind, those are only three of the stats mentioned. Equally important is the advantage in SLG and OBP (or BA if that's what your league uses). When Wilson is in your lineup batting against a lefty, he's statistically not going to be a drag on your team in HR/RBI/R/BA/OBP/SLG... instead he'll be a help.
Granted, you can't platoon at every position (unless your fantasy baseball league allows 45 roster spots), but I'm guessing that most competitive fantasy teams have at least one platoon going during the season. For instance, last season I had Kaz Matsui in my lineup every time he played at Coors Field because I had noticed the previous season his OBP and SLG were significantly higher at Coors than any other field. If I hadn't platooned Kaz in my lineup, I doubt I would have tied for first place. (Side note: I've noticed that the dreaded O.N. Thugs already have a platoon going this season.)
We could go on and on looking at players' split stats, such as how they do on the road vs. home, day vs. night, lefty vs. righty, pre All-Star break vs. post All-Star break, etc. However, I'll just toss out a few here, and I'd be glad to hear some player observations of your own:
Right now Yahoo has Ryan Zimmerman rated #9 among 3B, right behind Chipper Jones (#8) and ahead of guys like Mike Lowell and Edwin Encarnacion. But what's the whole story?
If we jump right to the split stats, we get a better picture. (I'm going to use OBP/SLG for simplicity in numbers.)
For Zimmerman, here's his righty/lefty split for 2006:
Vs. Left - .364/.447
Vs. Right - .346/.478
Those are comparable numbers and not really enough to see a trend. However, in 2007 we saw Zimmerman become a masher of lefties, but he really regressed against righties:
Vs. Left -.443/.660
Vs. Right - .296/.399
That is not a typo (unless Yahoo has it wrong too). In 2007, Zimmerman was just .296 OBP and .399 SLG vs. righties.
There are many third basemen who have been better against righties than Zimmerman for at least the past two seasons (including both Lowell and Encarnacion). I would never play Zimmerman against righties, although he does seem like a good option to platoon against lefties.
For pitchers, everybody by now seems to know about Ervin Santana and Wandy Rodriguez (start them only at home). Although, I don't hear people talk about Greg Maddux with regard to the same issue--only start him at home. Here are his road numbers from the past two seasons:
2006 - 5.20 ERA / 1.36 WHIP
2007 - 4.65 ERA / 1.28 WHIP
However, his home stats have been good:
2006 - 3.19 / 1.07
2007 - 3.59 / 1.21
Interestingly enough, despite his age, Maddux has posted better numbers after the All-Star break in each of the past five seasons.
Okay, I better stop now. I've already used too many words and numbers for a post that began as one simple word: platoon.