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2021 Fantasy Baseball and MLB DFS: A recent look at the RvR split

It’s a hitter’s edition of RvR splits. Mike Trout is the man.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I recently took a look at the LvL split, trying to mine for some fantasy baseball values—whether for your half-week lineups at the NFBC or for your DFS contests. Juan Soto, Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker, and Didi Gregorius were a few names who popped up. Also Ryan McMahon, Mike Yastrzemski, and Yordan Alvarez (who didn’t show up in the sort due to his 2020 injury). It was a fun ride, go check it out!

Anyway, today it’s the RvR matchup. I want to attempt to discern which hitters get a boost in this same-handed matchup. We all know the righty versus lefty split is popular, but that split is exploited by literally EVERYONE. Some hitters are stronger in the RvR matchup, and I’d like to find out who those guys are.

The sort is from all of 2020 and includes 2021 up to 5/1/2021. I used a minimum of 170 plate appearances, which gives me 94 hitters to peruse. That’s a pretty solid sample size, and equates to roughly half of a season for most of these hitters.

So let’s see who is bashing righties the most over the last year, shall we?

VOLUME

A pair of Atlanta hitters benefitted from last year’s injuries...

Dansby Swanson (308 PA) leads this list in plate appearances against righties. Being a fan of Atlanta, I felt like he would show up here, as I knew this was his better split. Swanson showed far more power against RHP in 2019, then went ballistic against righties in the sprint season—which was great because he found himself atop the Atlanta lineup frequently due to injuries. He’s a target in MLB DFS against RHP, but generally he’s batting sixth in the lineup with everyone healthy in Atlanta.

Swanson’s teammate, Marcell Ozuna, is second in PA versus RHP over the last two years, at 304 PA. Ozuna bashed all pitchers in 2020, but in 2019 southpaws were definitely his worse split...he struck out far more, despite showing plenty of power. However, in 2018 he thrashed lefties. To start 2021, he’s beating up on RHP again, but suffering against southpaws. This could probably be explained in part by a small sample size versus lefties (only 21 PA) and by a slow start overall at the plate. I think Ozuna’s production will come, but he doesn’t read like a guy who gets a major boost against RHP—he’s pretty much terrorizing all pitchers.

Plenty of familiar names...

Jose Abreu (293 PA) is third on this list, and he’s a very good hitter against RHP—though he’s even better against lefties. He’s not really what I’m searching for. The same is true for Paul Goldschmidt (283 PA) and Whit Merrifield (277 PA), who round out the top five. Merrifield is quality against righties, but gets the typical big boost against lefties—his production is far better in that split.

Rounding out the top 10 are just quality hitters...nothing really to see here with some of these obvious names. In sixth place is Manny Machado (275 PA), in eighth is Nick Castellanos (267 PA), and in 10th is Trea Turner (265 PA).

Fade Trea Turner against lefties?

All three are quality hitters, and mostly not what I’m searching for. Machado is very good all the time, Castellanos is much better against southpaws (still good versus RHP), and Turner is good everywhere. One piece to note on these three, though—and this might be my first significant finding—Trea Turner is more powerful versus right-handed pitching. He loses a tiny bit of batting average, but dropping from .310 (vs LHP) to .292 (vs. RHP) isn’t crazy. However, his power versus lefties (.154 ISO) is well below his numbers against RHP (.197 ISO). I’m not saying I wouldn’t use Turner against southpaws, but maybe going all cuckoo for him when a lefty is on the mound isn’t the right play. Stolen bases are GREAT, but if we are using an MLB DFS slant here, I think we really want to be considering home runs. Here are Turner’s homers over the last few years against each handedness (and sure, he’s seeing far less PA against lefties, but you’ll get the idea):

2018: 3 HR (LHP), 16 HR (RHP)
2019: 2 HR (LHP), 17 HR (RHP)
2020: 4 HR (LHP, 8 HR (RHP)
2021: 3 HR (LHP), 3 HR (LHP)

One of those is not like the other. Turner is bludgeoning southpaws so far in 2021, but historical production suggests we’ll see more power against righties moving forward. Add in that he’ll run far less against lefties—while also probably showing far less power—and he could be a guy I’m looking to play against righties if I’m DFSing. If there’s a tantalizing matchup against a lefty pitcher that everyone is chasing, maybe that’s an opportunity to fade Turner.

Two surprise names: Maikel Franco and Mark Canha

Okay, we have to discuss Maikel Franco’s 269 PA (7th on this list) and Mark Canha (267 PA), who is tied with Castellanos for eighth place. This is what we came here for...right?!?

Franco was one of the better hitters for the Royals in the sprint season, and popped seven of his eight home runs against RHP. He only slashed .268/.308/.458, however. He was far better against southpaws (.318/.375/.455), and that was also true in 2019. For his career he has been fairly neutral, though. His ISOs are nearly identical—.181 vs. LHP and .180 vs. RHP—and he’s got a little more BA versus righties (.255 to .241) but more walks versus lefties (8.6% to 6.3%). So far this year he’s got a shiny .296 BA with zero homers against southpaws, but all three of his homers and a .221 BA against righties. I’m surprised it took him so long to latch on somewhere for this year, and maybe he’s a bit sneaky given the home hitting environment. He’s never someone that should command a ton of ownership. I’m inclined to trust him more against RHP. That’s where we’ve seen a better batting average historically, and where he’s shown all of his recent power (10 of his 11 HR in that split since 2020 began). He’s also typically batting in the heart of Baltimore’s order, in the 3-4-5 spots. He’ll be a guy to stack up stats (probably RBI at least) if that holds for 2021. All of that said, Franco isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the next guy...

Here is Mark Canha’s general production by year:

2015 - better BA and 13 of 16 homers vs RHP
2016 and 2017 - Basically lost seasons due to small sample sizes
2018 - better BA and 13 of 17 homers vs LHP
2019 - better BA and 18 of 26 homers vs RHP
2020 - better BA vs LHP (.333) but zero homers...all five homers vs RHP (but .221 BA)

In short, Canha is an enigma. So far in 2021, he’s faring better against right-handed pitching, but the sample is still small. If we take his career numbers at face value, here’s what we get:

vs LHP: .240/.322/.440, .200 ISO
vs RHP: .252/.352/.443, .191 ISO

I think right now you can just view him as a quality piece, at least on a per-game basis. Playing time has been an issue in the past, but it isn’t anymore. He’s already up to four steals given his new role atop Oakland’s lineup, and is on pace to shatter his career mark of seven steals (set back in his rookie season of 2015). So far he’s sitting on a .147 ISO in 2021 (only three homers), but his career .194 ISO tells us that he will probably give us more pop here in the very near future. If he’s cheap on your respective DFS platforms, it’s likely he’s a quality “cash game” play, if that’s what you’re into. In season-long leagues, he reads like a guy who should finish as an OF2/3 type...I’d say as an OF2. He’s probably not being valued that way in your league, for what it’s worth.

Other Noteworthy Things

Mike Trout is good at baseball

Mike Trout has 20 home runs against right-handers over this 2020-2021 time frame, despite ranking 24th of these 94 hitters in plate appearances. So that’s first in home runs, and 24th in volume. Got it. Is Mike Trout a bad hitter against lefties? Heeeeeell no. His career .288/.415/.525 slash line and .237 ISO make that point pretty safely. Against right-handers, though, it’s a career .312/.421/.606 slash line and .294 ISO. Just amazing. Here’s your analysis today: Mike Trout is stupendously good at baseball. That said, if he’s being autoplayed by everyone against southpaws, that’s another potential opportunity to shift away from him. But this is another Trea Turner situation. Neither hitter is bad against lefties. We just get more of the good stuff when these guys face right-handers. For reference, Trout leads this sort against RHP by a wide margin with his .440 OBP (Turner is second at .416), his .393 ISO (Acuña is next at .361), and his .476 wOBA (Acuña is next at .440).

Jose Iglesias is pretty okay against RHP

Jose Iglesias is a disgusting name that pops up. Over this 2020-2021 sort, he’s got a whopping 18 doubles (second only to JD Martinez’s 19). Most of those (16) came in the sprint season, where he hit for a high average against both handedness. He had one homer against lefties, and a mere two against righties—but the 16 doubles against RHP meant that he had a .200 ISO in that split, compared to a mere .125 ISO against lefties. I guess I’m saying...if you see him atop a lineup this year against an average right-hander, AND he’s dirt cheap...that’s not the worst way to find a sneaky punt play. For reference, in this same sort, Iglesias’s .339 BA ranks third, trailing only Salvador Perez (.361) and Justin Turner (.340). Again, maybe not the worst punt play against a right-handed pitcher, if you need one. Good luck with him batting atop the Angels lineup, though. Typically he’s hitting seventh or eighth.

Floor plays with upside in the RvR split (don’t overlook Gio Urshela)

In the LvL split I looked at guys who were above average in strikeout rate and ISO. For this split there is far more volume, so we’ll need to be more strict. Here’s a look at the guys with the highest ISOs, who also don’t torpedo you with strikeouts:

Mike Trout - 22.6% K-rate, .393 ISO
Ronald Acuna Jr. - 23.5%, .361 ISO
Luke Voit - 23.2%, .321 ISO
Fernando Tatis Jr. - 24.8%, .314 ISO
Mookie Betts - 13.8%, .310 ISO
Eloy Jimenez - 23.9%, .262 ISO
Jose Abreu - 24.6%, .255 ISO
Bo Bichette - 22.2%, .241 ISO
Manny Machado - 15.6%, .230 ISO
Gio Urshela - 17.2%, .230 ISO
Wilson Ramos - 21.7%, .219 ISO
A.J. Pollock - 24.7%, .213 ISO
Trea Turner - 17.0%, .211 ISO
Marcell Ozuna - 22.7%, .211 ISO
Nolan Arenado - 12.7%, .202 ISO
DJ LeMahieu - 12.2%, .202 ISO
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - 16.0%, .199 ISO
Xander Bogaerts - 18.9%, .198 ISO
Justin Turner - 17.3%, .191 ISO

The next name on the list is Maikel Franco, with a 16.7% K-rate and .182 ISO. So again, he’s maybe a little sneaky in a good part and with a quality batting order slot in the lineup. But I think he’s the beginning of the next tier. On the above list, names like Gio Urshela, Wilson Ramos, AJ Pollock, and maybe even Justin Turner (to some) may come as a surprise. Other than that, I don’t see huge surprises on this list.

Big Power and big strikeouts...

Names that were passed over due to K-rates above 25% were:

Salvador Perez, Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, Nick Castellanos, Renato Nunez, Matt Chapman, Teoscar Hernandez, Wil Myers, Tyler O’Neill, Franmil Reyes, JD Martinez, Pete Alonso, Adam Duvall, Eugenio Suarez, Rhys Hoskins, Travis d’Arnaud, Clint Frazier, J.T. Realmuto, Jorge Soler, Trevor Story, Chris Taylor, and Keston Hiura.

This is a great list to sort through. Perez is coming off of a BABIP-fueled 2020 performance. Cruz is long in the tooth but a big power threat, hence his inclusion here. But we know we like him better in the RvL split—that may be the most well-known hitter split in MLB DFS. Sano has great power against RHP, but over this 2020-2021 time frame that has come with a PRODIGIOUS 41.8% strikeout rate. Just yikes.

Is Matt Chapman still getting healthy?

Matt Chapman is one of the more interesting names on the list. I know he’s sort of a .250 hitter at best, but that’s a huge strikeout rate against right-handers. His career numbers are more encouraging, with fairly neutral splits except for more power against RHP (.254 ISO to .224 ISO). His strikeout rates are identical, at 25.4% to each handedness of pitcher. The issue was 2020, when Chapman logged a 38.0% strikeout rate to right-handers. Against lefties, he was pretty normal at 21.7%. So far in 2021, he’s struggling against both sides—41.2% against lefties, and 31.1% against righties. Is he fully recovered from the offseason hip surgery? I don’t watch many West Coast games...what say you, Oakland fans? What’s up with your boy? These numbers are uncharacteristic of him.

Tyler O’Neill sighting!

Is Tyler O’Neill finally breaking out? He has a pair of combo meals this week (a HR and a SB). However, he’s still slashing just .241/.268/.537, and he’s striking out 37.5% of the time with a 1.8% walk rate. That said, he’s up to five homers and two steals, and over the 2020-2021 time frame he was one of the more powerful bats—his .258 ISO ranked 15th in our sort—and his 31.0% strikeout rate and 6.8% walk rate would be tolerable if he improve them juuuuust a bit. So far in 2021, he’s NOT doing that. He has zero walks in the split versus righties, as well as a 38.3% strikeout rate. It’s a really small 47 PA sample, but I’m not breaking the bank on O’Neill just yet.

Keston Hiura is still showing up in ugly places

Keston Hiura is perhaps another notable. The fantasy community seems to have collectively soured on him this year, and for good reason given his ability to whiff. There’s nothing wrong with his .194 ISO against RHP, but the 34.0% strikeout rate is abysmal. Among our 2020-2021 sort of righties against righty pitching (94 hitters), he was the seventh-worst in batting average. “Ahead” of him were:

Miguel Sano, Evan White, Matt Chapman, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, and Willy Adames. No huge surprises there, not if you were familiar with Baez’s struggles a year ago. That, and Chapman, of course. There are some good tools on this list—White, Baez, Hiura—but will these guys hit enough to make them matter?

To Sum Up...

Mike Trout and Trea Turner are guys that we should look to a little more against right-handers—though obviously both are studs against lefties, too. Some sneaky volume and production has been had by Mark Canha and Maikel Franco over the past year.

Jose Iglesias could be a nice punt against a right-handed pitcher, though you still aren’t getting tons of power. More of a “cash game” play, if that’s your jam.

Gio Urshela, Wilson Ramos, and AJ Pollock are perhaps surprise names against RHP over the last year or so. Matt Chapman is a surprise due to his ugly strikeout rate. Maybe there’s something more to this poor start this year. I’ll be catching more Oakland games soon enough to see what my eyes can see.

Who did I miss? Are there any RvR hitters you love? Anyone I missed due to a small sample perhaps?