What a year for baseball, folks. After a dreadful, but necessary, 60-game season in 2020, we got our long-awaited full 162-game season and nothing brings more join to an analytics person than a nice sample size.
We can now dig deeper into what we saw or did not see last year. We can go through the data, or splits of it in this case, and check out what happened. Who was good? When were they good? Against whom? That is what we are going to try to figure out here and, hopefully, give you some ideas to build your fantasy roster, stream some guys or just have fun reading it. So let’s dive in!
Splitting last year’s data for hitters against left-handed pitchers (LHP) and right-handed pitchers (RHP), let’s see if we can find out who were the best hitters against each kind of pitcher based on On-base Plus Slugging (OPS) and Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+).
Against LHP (OPS > 1 and wRC+ > 150)
I know. Those are insane numbers, but some guys were there and a few went above and beyond to be elite against LHP – and I mean ELITE. Only 17 guys were able to perform like that. Can you guess some of the top 5 names?
Mike Zunino (OPS: 1.287 wRC+: 242.47 Pa: 129)
No. That is not a typo. Zunino had a 242.47 wRC+ against LHP. That means he produced 142% more runs than an average MLB player when facing lefties. To put things in perspective, Vladdy, who was going for a triple crown last year, had a 155.8 wRC+ in 173 Pa. That is 55.8% more runs than league average, which is good, but it is not even close to Zunino’s numbers. He was a beast against lefties slashing .342/.418/.868 with 16 HR. If he is going late in your league, I would totally stash him, or even start him. He can be a huge asset when the Rays face left-handed pitching, especially for leagues with daily lineups. Oh, and let’s not forget he led the league last season with a 24.3 barrel%.
Luis Robert (OPS: 1.235 wRC+: 230.63 Pa: 68)
I know, I don’t like the 68 plate appearances either, but if it is good enough for Fangraphs to include in this data split, it is good enough for me.
Robert slashed .396/.441/.793 with 6 HR against lefties last year. The small sample robs a bit of confidence on those numbers for sure, but we also have to remember that this is only his second season in the majors, and it would have been the first full season if not for the injuries he faced. If Robert can maintain his health over a full season, we can expect regression, but still awesome numbers from him against LHP this year.
Ketel Marte (OPS: 1.171 wRC+: 202.34 Pa: 115)
It’s not 2019 numbers, but a small sample looks good on Marte, right? Playing only 90 games due to injury, Marte was incredible against LHP. The switch hitter slashed .387/.435/.736, which is not even close to what he did against RHP. Next to the two guys above he may not seem that impressive, but believe me, being able to produce 102% more runs than an average MLB player is something. A guy with these numbers at one side of the plate and second-base eligibility can really help some folks out there.
Teoscar Hernández (OPS: 1.151 wRC+: 202.66 Pa: 140)
Almost 77% of Hernández’s plate appearances were against RHP (455), but when he faces lefties it is hard to stop this man. He slashed .372/.407/.744 with 12 HR against left-handed pitching and the best of all: he is getting better. He had an incredible 2020 season smashing 16 HR in 50 games, and in 2021 he was able to keep these elite power numbers while also improving his K%, jumping from the 12th to 26th percentile across the league – which is not great, but it is something.
Safe to say Hernández has an elite bat and if he can get more PA against left-handed pitchers, his value can go even higher.
Trea Turner (OPS: 1.149 wRC+: 201.18 Pa: 167)
This is a guy who needs no introduction. He slashed .392/.437/.712 against southpaws last year with 11 HR. Turner is an incredible asset for fantasy with his combination of power/speed that is hard to match, but here is a fun fact. He only runs with righties on the mound. Out of his 32 stolen bases last year, he only had 6 attempts against lefties – being caught twice. This obviously doesn’t affect his value as a hitter, but there is not much else to say about Turner, except that he is a great hitter and even a better one against opposite-hand pitchers.
Against RHP (OPS > 0.950 and wRC+ > 150)
Now throwing from the other side, things get a little more interesting. There are more plate appearances, and I lowered OPS by fifty points because only seven hitters reached the threshold using the earlier parameters. There are some expected names here, but we still have the same amount of fun. Check it out!
Bryce Harper (OPS: 1.155 wRC+: 193.03 Pa: 409)
An MVP is an MVP for a reason, and Harper showed us why when he was hitting against RHP. Separating himself by 12 points of wRC+ from the second guy on this list, Harper had a .333/.444/.711 slash line with 31 out of his 35 HR coming against RHP.
More plate appearances mean we can trust results more, and we can really enjoy what Harper is able to do, especially if you are in an OBP league, where he becomes an even bigger asset. Only 29 years old with two MVP awards, Harper is one of my favorite outfield targets in drafts, even though I rarely get to roster him. He will provide power against right-handed pitchers and at the same time get on base at an elite level from both sides.
Juan Soto (OPS: 1.073 wRC+: 180.84 Pa: 416)
Do good hitters have great plate discipline or who has great plate discipline is a great hitter? There may be an article out there, but for now, we can just marvel at what Soto was able to provide against RHP.
Soto slashed .333/.500/.573 last season. I had to pause here for a second because a .500 OBP in 416 plate appearances is absolutely insane!
Entering his fifth season in the big leagues, the 23-year-old will give you plenty of production. What he misses in power compared to Harper’s performance last season, he can overcome with volume, elite plate discipline, a little bit of pop, and secure production in runs and RBIs.
Soto may lack the slugging that we have seen so far in this article, but in the same line of thought, it is also incredible that he is here without it!
Jesse Winker (OPS: 1.069 wRC+: 177.59 Pa: 367)
Winker is the kind of guy I thought would show up more on this split, but it hasn’t happened so far. Until now.
Batting almost 75% of his plate appearances against RHP, the 28-year-old will help your team as he did last year slashing .346/.428/.642 with 21 HR and a 70+ each of runs and RBIs. However, do not trust him against pitchers throwing from the other side.
Against LHP, Winker slashed .176/.288/.284 in 118 plate appearances and I guess we can stop this brutal comparison here.
Last year Winker showed us he will provide a nice production against righties, but that is it. He will not get you the volume of a full season worth of batted balls, but you can still enjoy a nice ride when there is a righty on the mound.
Joey Votto (OPS: 1.048 wRC+: 165.37 Pa: 367)
Entering his 16th season in the majors, Votto can still make some noise, but apparently only against RHP. The 38-year-old slashed .289/.403/.645 with 31 of his 36 HR coming against RHP. With a lower average but higher power, Votto performed similarly to his teammate Jesse Winker against RHP – also struggling heavily against LHP.
It is hard to say if the power is going to be there this season since his stats seem to be a bit of an outlier (especially the barrels%) but he can and will get on base, so even with a power regression, he can once again bring some value to you this year.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (OPS: 1.020 wRC+: 168.98 Pa: 525)
Closing our top hitters’ list, we have the only guy hitting from the same side as the pitcher’s throwing arm. Vladdy had a season worthy of an MVP award, if not for our boy Shohei Ohtani.
Slashing .316/.400/.620 with a league-leading 37 HR against RHP, Vladdy had pretty similar numbers against lefties with less volume, and I imagine these elite numbers against both sides are here to stay. He lowered his GB% and raised his FB%, which led to get more barrels, where he led the league.
The numbers aren’t as stunning as the guys we started within this article, but it was done across 525 plate appearances, which makes it its own kind of accomplishment for us to appreciate.
In case you were wondering, this is how all the top hitters against RHP and LHP stack on the same chart! (Sorry about the overlapping names)