Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Can Platooning Work?

So you’re sitting in the fantasy draft room in a few months. Instead of drafting some stud first baseman like Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, Chris Davis or Freddie Freeman, you decide to spend some early draft picks on pitching, or at some of the thinner positions.

Now you’re stuck. Do you go with a guy like Brandon Belt or Eric Hosmer and hope that they can find a 25+ home run stroke? Do you take a more one-dimensional player and hope that you can fill out the roster with guys who compliment him.

Or maybe you can think a little bit outside of the box and find a team like the Oakland Athletics that utilizes more of a platoon. In 2013, they did that and got a season’s worth of pretty good stats from the first base position.

Oakland A's 2013 First Basemen

AB
R
HR
RBI
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
5847427923.267.332.455

Those numbers were achieved mostly by Brandon Moss, with help from Nate Freiman, Daric Barton, and Shane Peterson while playing for the A’s in 2013 and don’t even factor in what they did when playing other positions.

Now, we often go over setting goals at the beginning of the year. In a roto league, an average of a third place finish in each category will generally get you a win, or at least very close to it. In 2013, a roto league that I play in with both Clave and Nash was won with a per category average of 9.75 points, which was just under a third place average.

This is how the A’s first basemen would have fared in that league in 2013.

Split
H
R
HR
RBI
SB
AVG
OBP
Third Place Total1612799201783139.278.353
Third Place Average per Player16180207814.278.353
2013 A's First Basemen1567427923.267.332

Not bad, especially when you consider that if you are using a platoon at first base, you’re probably looking at well above average production from some weaker positions, or pitching.

I’d actually argue that since the A’s have had success platooning, more teams are going to start copying that and using similar platoons if they don’t have a potential offensive star at a position, especially a power position where defense isn’t always important. Remember, sports is all about being a copycat. When one thing works for a team, the rest of the league is doing it in a matter of years.

The A’s were the source of Moneyball, with the theory that players who excelled in some of those other stats would fly under the radar and be underpaid. Now, a little more than a decade later, those stats are known universally as sabermetrics and are so heavily used across the league that those “Moneyball” type of players are now often overpaid, while the ones who were seen as overpaid and overvalued then struggle a little more to get the big contracts. If platooning works, teams across the league are going to be doing it.

Not only will they be doing it, but likely doing it so much that in a few years, it will go from fantasy strategy that’s thinking a little bit outside of the box, to one that will be necessary for at least some fantasy players. Think about it. If you’re a fantasy football player, it wasn’t that long ago that just about every team in a league could have two solid, full-time running backs. Now, outside of a select few, the notion of a “full-time running back” is all but dead.

Still, if platooning is going to be a fantasy baseball strategy, then you need to take a few steps.

 

– 1. You have to be an attentive owner

It’s an absolute must for success. Well, it’s really a must in any league but especially in this spot. You have to check your lineup everyday, know what pitchers are going against your team, and adjust accordingly. Also, realize that if one half of the platoon goes cold or the other half gets hot, the manager may ride the hot hand/avoid the cold one, even if the pitching match-up would suggest a different strategy.

 

– 2. You have to have a deep bench in your league

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of carrying too many hitters on the bench, but you obviously have to have enough room on the bench for both members of a platoon to fit on your roster.

On that note, you’re really talking about a two-person platoon. Even in a pretty deep league, you shouldn’t have three roster spots filling one active position. Fortunately, most platoons will only use two people, a left-handed bat to face right-handed pitchers, and a right-handed bad to face the lefties.

 

– 3. At least one half of the platoon should be versatile

Moss was the perfect example of this in 2013. In addition to playing 1B and DH, he also played some outfield for a struggling and injured Josh Reddick throughout the year.

While not the case with Moss, I’d focus more on weather the right-handed half of the platoon is versatile than the left-handed half. The lefty will take most of the at-bats at the regular position since most pitchers are right-handed, so you’ll want to see if you can find a right-handed hitter who can get a few more at-bats elsewhere. By the same token, an American League platoon is probably a little more valuable than a National League one, as the AL has one more hitting position in the starting lineup to draw from.

 

This was something I went over in the first base profile in October, using the A’s as the example and my mind certainly has not changed. I don’t think the top of the positions will be impacted too much, because stars are going to play every day regardless of match-ups.

But as you start looking down the depth charts of the power positions, you’ll see that there aren’t as many players putting up big numbers as their used to be. For example, twice as many first basemen hit 30 home runs in 2000 as in 2013. It’s not a coincidence.

At some point, you’re going to have to rely on a few players to fill one position, especially in deeper leagues. When that happens, you’ll be short changing yourself if you don’t at least think long and hard about the platoon.

 

Tags: Fantasy Baseball Drafting Fantasy Baseball Strategy First Base

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