The arrival of Johnny Damon – and to a lesser extent Manny Ramirez – will cost Matt Joyce the opportunity to be an everyday player for the Rays in 2011. Barring injury, Joyce will start against right-handed pitchers (whom he mashes) and be strategically inserted into the lineup against choice left-handers. Mark Heillig of TheRayArea says Joe Maddon will look to play Joyce in situations involving reverse platoon splits; specifically mentioning Red Sox ace Jon Lester.
The topic of reverse platoon splits recently came up on The Process Report in the Re-Visiting the Danks Theory article from last week. At the conclusion of that discussion, I mentioned that the reverse split strategy was something to watch for this upcoming season. With this new tidbit of information, it looks like the experiment will continue.
Unlike the reverse-split pitchers we’ve studied (John Danks, Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero), Lester shows no platoon split in his raw numbers. His career slash line against lefties (.245/.305/.382) is nearly equal to his line against righties (.248/.324/.361). Right-handers hold a slight advantage in on-base percentage, but looking at the similar averages, it is more of a control difference than hitting ability. Meanwhile, lefties hold a slight advantage in terms of slugging; however, neither side does much damage. In total, the OPS difference is a mere two points.
The platoon neutrality has not stopped opposing managers from stacking their lineups with right-handed batters against Lester. In his career, he has tossed nearly 600 innings against righties and just over 200 against lefties. Although the platoon split may be slightly skewed by sample size, the point is teams generally ignore the traditional lefty/right match-up when facing Lester.
Going back to the Danks Theory, the philosophy behind the process is not entirely focused on how batters of the same hand hit against the pitcher. It is also about limiting the usage of the opposition’s best weapons. Though he does not show a statistical platoon split, Lester does show a pitch usage split.
According to the pitch values located on Fangraphs, Lester’s best pitch is his cutter. He follows that up with his curveball and change-up. Last season, the change-up was his second best weapon behind the cut-fastball.
In terms of usage, the lefty uses the cutter against batters of both hands. That said, the effectiveness is a bit different. While he gets swinging strikes regardless of the batter, right-handers miss the pitch about 7% more on average. When talking about the change-up, Lester uses it almost exclusively against righties, once again posting a double-digit whiff rate.
For a visual on the usage, here are fangraphs’ heat maps for the two pitches…
Throwing a lineup of mostly right-handed batters is basically begging him to throw his best stuff at you all night long.
More often than not, a pitcher of Lester’s ability is still going to shut you down regardless of the lineup. That said, don’t be surprised if Joe Maddon tries his best to take away his favorite toys. In addition to Joyce, there is a good chance fellow lefties Johnny Damon and Dan Johnson could find their way in the lineup against Lester. The strategy may be not always work as planned, but for a team that is constantly looking for the slightest competitive advantage – The Extra 2% – it is certainly worth a try.