The Split Stat Hall of Famers

Bobby Abreu’s Hall of Fame credentials are stronger than one may think. (via Evan Wohrman)

Often when we look at a player’s season numbers, it is hard to see an underlying story. Without taking a closer look, it’s difficult to tell if a .300 hitter with an .800 OPS over 120 games was playing through an injury-plagued season, or if he was a platoon player.

Despite the trend to pitchers occupying an increasing number of 25-man roster spots, the platoon player is still very much alive in modern baseball. Frank Catalanotto, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Raburn, Seth Smith, and Luis Valbuena are a few contemporary examples of hitters who have made a career out of hitting right-handed or left-handed pitching. But these are secondary players. They aren’t the franchise building blocks who will be the focus of this article.

Just as with the role players above, it can be difficult to see what makes a full-time player truly special. For some, like Ted Simmons, it made almost no difference whether a righty or a lefty was on the mound. However, as we are about to see, for some players, it could drastically alter the kind of hitter they were.

I examined a few borderline Hall of Fame candidates who would be viewed very differently if they hit righties and lefties equally as well. I considered how players hit from one side of the plate. What they did from their weak side of the plate (i.e. the extremity of their split) was not considered.

An additional note: the projected career stats that follow represent what a player would have done if every plate appearance they ever had came against a lefty/righty. It does not take into account use rate, nor does it make adjustments based on potential or lost PA’s.

And so, the split stat Hall of Famers:

Catcher: Bill Freehan

Bill Freehan Career Splits
vs RHP 4,494 438 985 135 16 125 473 380 0.248 0.324 0.384 0.708
vs LHP 2,406 268 606 106 19 75 279 246 0.289 0.369 0.464 0.834
Career Totals 6,900 706 1,591 231 35 200 758 526 0.262 0.340 0.412 0.752
Projected Career (vs LHP) 6,900 769 1,738 304 54 215 800 705 0.289 0.369 0.464 0.834

Although not possessed of the kind of extreme splits we will see later on, the right-handed hitting Freehan was more of a gap power hitter threat with a lefty on the mound.

Although his numbers against lefties may not seem like much viewed through a modern lens, they are comparable to those of another five-time Gold Glove award winner from that era, Hall of Famer Ron Santo, who posted a career slash line of .277/.362/.464/ with a 126 wRC+ and a .367 wOBA.

The most notable split season for Freehan came in 1967, where he hit .324 against lefties to go with a .983 OPS, which was just slightly behind the pace set by that year’s triple crown winner, Carl Yastrzemski.

The Tigers finished that year just one game behind Boston. If Freehan had been able to replicate the same success against righties, it’s likely that Tigers would have been in the ’67 World Series, and the MVP race that year, which Yastrzemski nearly won unanimously, might have become more contentious.

First Baseman: Fred McGriff

Fred McGriff Career Splits
vs RHP 6,989 1,006 1,746 333 10 367 1,063 970 0.294 0.392 0.538 0.930
vs LHP 3,185 343 744 108 14 126 487 335 0.265 0.344 0.448 0.791
Career Totals 10,174 1,349 2,490 441 24 493 1,550 1,305 0.284 0.377 0.509 0.886
Projected Career (vs RHP) 10,174 1,464 2,542 485 15 534 1,547 1,412 0.294 0.392 0.538 0.930

As someone slotted into the cleanup spot throughout his career, you might not think of Fred McGriff as a player who was significantly affected by lefty pitchers. But that is precisely what McGriff was, especially early in his career.

In 1989, just five of McGriff’s league-leading 36 home runs came off lefties. His OPS against them that year was a pedestrian .736 compared to a whopping 1.021 against righties.

His .538 slugging percentage against righties is the same as Ken Griffey Jr.’s, while his .294 batting average and .392 career on-base percentage were close to that of another slugging first baseman from that era, John Olerud.

Had McGriff’s numbers against lefties mirrored those against righties, he would have joined the 500-home run club with ease and likely would have been a first-ballot inductee in Cooperstown.

One point of note is that his RBI rate against both lefties and righties was nearly identical despite an almost 140 point difference in OPS, which demonstrates the significant impact batting order can have on a mostly outdated stat.

Second Baseman: Lou Whitaker

Lou Whitaker Career Splits
vs RHP 7,285 1,062 1,816 337 51 208 823 910 0.290 0.378 0.460 0.838
vs LHP 2,682 324 553 83 14 36 261 287 0.239 0.323 0.334 0.657
Career Totals 9,967 1,386 2,369 420 65 244 1,084 1,197 0.276 0.363 0.426 0.789
Projected Career (vs RHP) 9,967 1,453 2,485 461 70 285 1,126 1,245 0.290 0.378 0.460 0.838

Most fans view Lou Whitaker as a solid hitting second baseman with some pop, but nearly all of that pop came against right-handed pitching. Between 1983 and 1985, during which time Whitaker won three consecutive Silver Slugger awards, he managed just eight home runs off left-handed pitching in 597 plate appearances.

As Whitaker improved offensively, his split difference would become even more pronounced; in 1989 Whitaker posted a .892 OPS against righties compared to .654 against lefties. His 1991 season would prove similar, with an OPS of .929 against righties versus .694 against lefties.

His .460 career slugging percentage against right-handed pitching is similar to that of Lee May, while his .378 career on-base percentage mimics that of Chuck Knoblauch. His .838 OPS is 19 points higher than Joe Morgan’s .819 career OPS. Had this version of Whitaker been there against lefties, he would likely present a robust challenge to Eddie Collins for the title of greatest second baseman in American League history.

Third Baseman: David Wright

David Wright Career Splits
vs RHP 5,119 665 1,279 274 18 172 726 517 0.283 0.358 0.466 0.823
vs LHP 1,753 284 498 116 8 80 244 245 0.337 0.430 0.568 0.998
Career Totals 6,872 949 1,777 390 26 242 970 762 0.296 0.376 0.491 0.867
Projected Career (vs LHP) 6,872 1,113 1,952 455 31 314 957 960 0.337 0.430 0.568 0.998

Although injuries have likely ended any meaningful discussion about Wright as a Hall of Famer, his staggering performance is still worth noting. Wright was anything but a liability against righties, but he was as dangerous as it got for left-handed pitchers.

His career .998 OPS against lefties would be good enough for eighth on the all-time OPS career leader list had he put up similar stats against righties. A closer look at some of Wright’s best seasons further highlights this fact.

In 2007, when the Mets came within one game of reaching the World Series, Wright hit .361 against left-handed pitching, with 11 home runs in 198 plate appearances. He would somehow manage to improve on it in 2008, hitting an insane .382 against lefties to go with a .497 on-base percentage and a .682 slugging percentage.

In both seasons Wright won the Gold Glove, and if he had put up these numbers for his season total would have easily won the MVP title in both years. Having this on his resume would have made it much easier for Hall of Fame voters to overlook his short career.

Shortstop: Julio Franco

Julio Franco Career Splits
vs RHP 6,877 872 1,794 263 35 105 830 603 0.291 0.354 0.396 0.750
vs LHP 2,854 413 792 144 19 68 364 314 0.316 0.389 0.470 0.859
Career Totals 9,731 1,285 2,586 407 54 173 1,194 917 0.298 0.365 0.417 0.782
Projected Career (vs LHP) 9,731 1,408 2,700 491 65 232 1,241 1,071 0.316 0.389 0.470 0.859

Unlike others on the list who were plagued by struggles from one side of the plate throughout their career, Franco, a right-handed hitter, was mostly able to overcome his deficiencies against righties.

When Franco came up in the mid-’80s, he was as deadly a hitter as there was against left-handed pitching. But from ’93 on, Franco had several seasons in which he had better offensive numbers against righties than lefties.

Hidden in Franco’s mediocre-looking ’84 season was that he was a .330 hitter against lefties, to go with a .447 slugging percentage and a .828 OPS. Franco would post even better numbers against lefties in 1986, batting .341 with a .907 OPS. Six of Franco’s 10 home runs would come against lefties, despite seeing them in only 173 plate appearances.

The peak of Franco’s prowess against lefties would come in ’94, when he batted a whopping .364 facing them to go along with a 1.173 OPS and seven home runs in just 127 plate appearances.

Left Fielder: Frank Howard

Frank Howard Career Splits
vs RHP 4,724 522 1,049 135 20 228 704 459 0.250 0.325 0.454 0.779
vs LHP 2,628 343 725 110 15 154 415 322 0.317 0.401 0.581 0.982
Career Totals 7,352 865 1,774 245 35 382 1,119 781 0.273 0.352 0.499 0.851
Projected Career (vs LHP) 7,352 960 2,028 308 42 431 1,161 901 0.317 0.401 0.581 0.982

Any .300 hitter from the 1960s rates as a first ballot Hall of Famer. A .300 hitter with the kind of power Frank Howard had would have made for an era-defining player on par with players like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and Frank Robinson.

That was the type of hitter Frank Howard was against lefties. His .581 career slugging percentage against lefties would be good enough for ninth all-time if he had hit this from the right side as well and second only to Ted Williams among Howard’s contemporaries.

His .401 on-base percentage against lefties is equal to the career average of Rickey Henderson, showing  how difficult an out he was for left-handed pitchers. While it would take Howard several years to become comfortable against righties, he never had a problem bashing lefties, batting .283 to go with a .949 OPS against lefties in 1964, compared to just a .191 batting average with a .598 OPS against righties.

In the year of the pitcher, Howard would obliterate left-handed pitching, batting .393 off them with 16 home runs in 200 plate appearances. This success against righties would have put Howard at a Ruthian level of dominance and would have made him the most dangerous hitter in baseball.

Center Fielder: Fred Lynn

Fred Lynn Career Splits
vs RHP 5,745 814 1,491 295 33 246 823 658 0.298 0.378 0.518 0.896
vs LHP 2,178 249 469 93 10 60 288 199 0.243 0.315 0.395 0.710
Career Totals 7,923 1,063 1,960 388 43 306 1,111 857 0.283 0.360 0.484 0.845
Projected Career (vs RHP) 7,923 1,123 2,056 407 46 339 1,135 907 0.298 0.378 0.518 0.896

Lynn’s performance against right-handed pitching was enough itself to make him arguably the best center fielder in the American League during the second half of the 1970s. In his MVP year of 1975, Lynn hit .350 against righties to go with a .611 slugging percentage and a .967 OPS.

Lynn’s best offensive season of 1979 where he led the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. However, this was a result almost entirely of his ability to hit righties. Lynn hit just .241 against lefties that year to go with five home runs in 155 plate appearances, compared to a .364 average against righties with a .709 slugging percentage an a 1.158 OPS. If he could have sustained the same level of success from both sides of the plate, Lynn would likely not have sat nearly as much against lefties as he did later in his career with Baltimore.

Right Fielder: Bobby Abreu

Bobby Abreu Career Splits
vs RHP 7,337 1,163 1,825 429 48 251 1,035 1,149 0.299 0.408 0.508 0.916
vs LHP 2,744 290 645 145 11 37 328 327 0.272 0.360 0.389 0.748
Career Totals 10,081 1,453 2,470 574 59 288 1,363 1,476 0.291 0.395 0.475 0.870
Projected Career (vs RHP) 10,081 1,598 2,508 589 66 345 1,422 1,579 0.299 0.408 0.508 0.916

Throughout Bobby Abreu’s career, the phrase “professional hitter” came up when people described his sweet swing and approach to the plate. While that characterization may be accurate, the writers who gave Abreu this moniker likely never saw much of him against left-handers.

Of all the players featured in this article, Abreu was the one whose power was most affected by same-side pitching. He broke in during the 1996 season; his first career home run off a lefty would not occur until 2000. When he hit a career-high 31 homers in 2001, just one of those bombs was served up by a lefty.

Abreu would eventually close the gap when it came to his contact ability, but the power didn’t follow suit. His .389 career slugging percentage against lefties is the same career total set by Tony Phillips. Against righties, however, Abreu was a borderline .300 hitter with about as much power as Richie Sexson. Combined with his defensive abilities, had Abreu been this type of hitter against lefties, he may have been viewed as a modern day Paul Waner and would garner a lot more Hall of Fame consideration than he has.

Although only eight players are in this article, plenty of others could meet the criteria of a Splits Stats Hall of Famer. Norm Cash, Dale Murphy, and Graig Nettles are a few who just missed the cut. Feel free to bring up other names in the comments below. I hope we can expand the conversation surrounding these players to more than just having a general debate on whether they are good enough for enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Paul Moehringer is a data analyst, a SABR member and inventor of the Pyramid Rating System; originally from Mount Olive, NJ, now living in Westwood, MA. Follow him on Twitter @PMoehringer.
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Fireball Fred
5 years ago

Yaz’s ’67 MVP was not unanimous. Some idiot sportswriter in Minnesota ….

5 years ago

I would nominate Kenny Lofton for consideration. Against righties – 304/375/440. good for a .815 OPS and 113 of his 130 homers. Against lefties he hit a more pedestrian 284/361/373 losing over 80 points of OPS.

Also, had Omar Vizquel hit lefties (646 OPS) as well as righties (704 OPS) he may have reached 3,000 hits (he fell 123 shy) and be viewed as far more Hall-worthy.

5 years ago

Fun stuff!

Kal Daniels for life! #1 for me. That guy.. Berkman too – monster against RHP, couldn’t hit LHP, I used to yell at the TV for him to give up switch hitting!

Delgado. Stargell. Edmonds. Jack Clark. Tony Oliva. Todd Helton. Roger Maris. Blomberg. Horn. Prince Fielder and Papi.

Guys like Thome and Bagwell made it, Yaz and McCovey too. Really bad splits though. Today, Yaz is a platoon player. Thome and McCovey might be too (Bagwell’s splits are pronounced but really aren’t that much worse than Goldschmidt’s)..

Barney Coolio
5 years ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

Interesting about Carl Yastrzemski. I think to say that he would be a platoon player today is a bit extreme. His platoon stats are pronounced. I checked out some random years of his, and his platoon splits got really bad in the late 1970s. And by the 1980’s, he was essentially used as a platoon player, rarely hitting against lefties.

5 years ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

He was platooned some at the end. But he had a career RC+ of 65 vs LHP. He was great, and sorry if I’m offending any Sox fans.. But he was the epitome of a platoon player, and he would definitely be a platoon guy in today’s environment.

On an aside, not sure why Yaz makes me think of this clown, but JD Drew is another guy for the list..

Barney Coolio
5 years ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

I am not a Yaz/Red Sox fan by any means at all. I never truly grasped his greatness, and always chalked it up to a difference in era. I suppose it is possible that Yaz would have been platooned more nowadays. But if you check out his 1960’s and 1970’s stats, his numbers against lefties are not that far off from the team’s collective OPS against all pitchers, except for Yaz’s dreadful 1966 season against LHP.

But at the time, Yaz was an All Star, winning Gold Gloves, a batting title, the MVP, and the triple crown. Does he really get platooned, even now?

Yaz played his final game at age 44. I read that if he had known what Roger Clemens would become, he would have hung around for 1984. It is amazing how long he lasted, and I wonder if the Red Sox would have given him the opportunity to play in 1984.

Damon G.
5 years ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

“Does he really get platooned, even now?”

Of course not — at least not until his skills start to fade. Yaz, as mentioned, was an excellent defensive player, who had seasons in which he hit lefties *better* than league average. Only a few players can be platooned in a lineup, and a platoon partner for Yaz during his prime would have been an inefficient use of a roster spot, to say the least.

Also, where does his 65 RC+ against lefties come from? I don’t see a “Splits” tab for him at FanGraphs.

5 years ago
Reply to  Damon G.

5 years ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

I’m pretty sure Baseball Reference doesn’t report wRC+

Looks like that 65 against lefties is his tOPS+. Which is his OPS for that split relative to his overall OPS.

Damon G.
5 years ago

My favorite split-stat guy (though nowhere near a Hall of Famer) was the Blue Jays platoon third baseman of the ’80s Rance Mulliniks.

Mainly, I just like his name.

Barney Coolio
5 years ago

who are some players who made the HOF despite pronounced platoon stats? I see Carl Yastrzemski is an example of this. Interestingly, even his SB totals took a nosedive against lefties. Look up Lou Brock. His OPS against lefties is 114 points lower than against righties. And amazingly, he had 2193 PAs against RHP, and 1319 against LHP. That is 38% LHP, were there just more lefty pitchers back then?

Actually, Ron Santo faced LHP 35% of the time, and Barry Bonds was at 42%. Managers clearly sent LHP relievers at Bonds. Tony Gwynn was also at 42%. Ken Griffey Jr. was at 41%. I had no idea players saw lefties that much. In the latter three cases, it didn’t really matter that much. Well, Bonds had a 98 point OPS advantage against righties, but his stats were astronomical. I guess left handed great hitters (Bonds, Griffey, Gwynn) will face the highest percentage of lefty pitchers. I wonder who has the career record for highest PA percentage against LHP? Is it Bonds?

A-Rod had practically identical platoon splits, and saw only 26% of his PAs against lefties, which is probably just about normal.

Ted Williams, a lefty hitter, had an OPS of .931 against LHP, and 1.156 against righties. He saw LHP in 22% of his PAs. Had he faced more lefty pitchers, he would surely be in the HOF, but would not be as revered as he is today. Opposing managers probably should have sent more LHP at Wade Boggs. I understand that in previous decades, teams had fewer pitchers, and also less information at their disposal.

5 years ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

Duke Snider.

.949 OPS against righties, .743 against lefties.

Starting in his 30s he was platooned and only had 14% of his career PAs vs lefties.

BTW. no idea where you got your numbers from but they seem off. Griffey had 31% of his PAs vs lefties, Brock 32%, etc. Ah, now I see what you did wrong. You looked at the number of games someone had vs type of pitcher, rather than PAs.

Barney Coolio
5 years ago
Reply to  emh1969

OMG. I can’t believe I made that mistake. I am chagrined. Thanks for pointing that out.

Jim Thome OPS:
vs. RHP: 1.066
vs. LHP: .766

That career line is still good enough to start. But it might be a bit underproductive for a 1b/DH.

5 years ago

I’d like to also nominate Tony Oliva, who was an 8x All Star, 3x batting champion, 5x led the league in hits, was a ROY, won a gold glove and twice finished as runner up in the MVP voting (’65 and ’70). Batting exclusively from the left side, against righties he had an 890 OPS. His triple slash was 319/372/518 and remember what you said about .300 hitters in the 1960s. However, against lefties, his OPS was exactly 200 points lower. Pro-rate that and as close as he is to the HoF on traditional stats, guarantee he slides in as a first ballot HoFer with pro-rata stats.

5 years ago

Brian Giles.

Remember one of the reasons the Indians traded him for a relief pitcher is they saw him as “just a platoon player”. Which in some ways he was.

Righties: .958 OPS
Lefties: .763 OPS

Brian Schwartz
5 years ago

Ryan Howard comes to mind, though he probably didn’t have a long enough peak for the HOF anyway.

5 years ago

I take it that this will be followed by a discussion on players whose career stats have been called into question by home/road splits. In short, the Todd Helton All-Stars.

Yehoshua Friedman
5 years ago

The corollary question is: how teachable is hitting against same-side pitching? It really comes into play only at the higher levels where the quality of breaking balls is significant. This means that regular BP doesn’t help. Request input from coaching guys.