April 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
A platoon split is the extent to which a player hits better against an opposite handed pitcher. The familiar idea that right handed batters hit left handed pitchers better and left handed batters hit right handed pitchers better. Thus, a reverse platoon split is when a player hits same handed pitchers better than opposite handed pitchers. Dan Uggla is known to very mildly have one of these reverse platoon splits, as he hits right handed pitchers slightly better than he does left handed pitchers.
This has always been something of a mystery from Dan, as reverse platoon splits from right handed batters are typically very rare. From time to time you see them from left handed hitters (eg Kelly Johnson), but that seems mostly to stem from the fact that, on average, right handed pitchers are more skilled than their left handed counterparts (see Tango’s The Book for an explanation on this, basically it boils down to there naturally being fewer left handed pitchers, so, in order to get the number that MLB wants, you have to dig deeper in the quality pool, though its a complicated argument with a lot of subtle points that are beyond the scope of this article). With right handed hitters, it’s much harder to understand the how and why it happens when it does happen.
So let’s look at the numbers, shall we: (all data from 2009-present and courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information)
Hard = Fastball, sinker, cutter, splitter
Soft = Change up, curveball, slider, knuckleball
|% Soft LH||46.1|
|% Soft RH||45.2|
Just looking at the RHP v. LHP numbers doesn’t shed much light, while Dan’s numbers are better against RHP, all the peripheral numbers seem similar. He actually walks more against LHP, he swings, misses and hits homeruns at about the same rate, so what’s going on? We see his BABIP (batting average on balls in play, ie excluding strikeouts and homeruns) is higher against RHP. Usually something like this would often be chalked up too bad luck, as it’s rare for a player to have splits at all for BABIP, and especially not reverse splits. However, these numbers are over way too many plate appearances to be bad luck.
As we can see, Dan’s real problem is that he has major troubles against left handed off-speed pitches. Dan is actually better against left handed fastballs than any other category of pitch, from either handed pitcher. When we combine these two, Dan is so much worse against left handed off speed that it comes out that overall he is slightly worse against left handed pitchers, despite how good he is against LHP hard pitches. Thus in actuality, it’s not particularly accurate to say that Dan is worse against lefties, as much as he’s just really terrible against lefty off speed stuff. He misses a lot, and makes a lot of weak contact, yet he swings at these pitches very slightly more than any other type of pitch.
These findings indicate that Dan should probably do all that he can to get fastballs from lefties, even more so than righties. He should probably swing at more first pitches against lefties, hoping to get a fastball, and if he gets behind in the count he’d most likely just be better off trying to work a walk, rather than even offering at off speed pitches from lefties, which he is highly likely to either swing and miss at or just make very weak contact with. Currently, Dan only swings at 34% of first pitch fastballs from LHP. I’d like to see that number a bit higher, closer to the 50% range.
Here is a heat map describing how often Dan swings at 0-0 ‘hard’ pitches from left handed pitchers:
He should definitely be swinging at more than 50% (green) of hard pitches in that middle region in 0-0 counts. That’s almost inexcusable, given how well he hits hard pitches against LHP. That middle region for hard pitches should be much closer to 90%+ on the first pitch, when he should be expecting a fastball.
The key for Dan against LHP is basically not swinging at off speed pitches, but instead he currently swings at those pitches at the highest rate of all categories from either handed pitcher: 43.6%. Luckily for Dan, LHP don’t throw him soft pitches significantly more than RHP do (46.1% v. 45.2% respectively). If they did, he may be in a lot more trouble.
If Dan has the ability to recognize off speed pitches (not a given), I’d like to see his swing percentage against left handed off speed closer to 30%. I think if that happened, we’d begin to see his reverse platoon split against lefties disappear entirely, as his outstanding performance against left handed fastballs began to take over. If that’s possible for Dan (a big if indeed), we may very well have solved many of our issues against LHP without making a panicked trade.