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Looking at Ender Inciarte's platoon splits

Turns out Ender Inciarte is a pretty bad hitter with lefties on the mound. It also turns out that there's a big difference in his approach when he's going up against them.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Since acquiring Ender Inciarte from the Diamondbacks this offseason, my fine colleagues here on the site have written several interesting pieces about Altanta's newest 25-year-old, Venezuelan outfielder. Scott laid out the argument for holding onto Inciarte rather than flipping him for more prospects, while Ivan essentially broke down everything we should expect of him in a Braves uniform during 2016.

Both are required reading.

However, for this piece I wanted to take another look at Inciarte's skill set at the plate — specifically the difference in his production against righties and lefties.

In Ivan's aforementioned piece, he pretty much nails it when briefly mentioning Inciarte's platoon splits:

Splits-wise, he's been an above-average hitter (to some extent) against righties (109 wRC+) and almost unplayable offensively against lefties (59 wRC+).

So far in his two-year MLB career, Inciarte has seen drastically different results depending on the handedness of the pitcher. Against righties (719 plate appearances), he is a .309/.345/.421 hitter. Conversely, against lefties (289 plate appearances) he is a .250/.289/.299 hitter.

Essentially, Inciarte has been as effective an offensive player as Martin Prado against righties, while turning into a Mickey O'Neil against lefties. (Yes, Mickey O'Neil was a real baseball player, and interestingly enough he also played for the Braves.)

The good news is that there are a lot more right-handed pitchers than left-handed ones. The bad news is that no one wants to have a Mickey O'Neil type of hitter taking up plate appearances — even if they only come around 28-29 percent of the time.

So, what gives?

Well, according to this Fangraphs article by Eno Sarris published last July, Inciarte consciously shifts his approach at the plate depending on the pitcher he's going to be facing:

Against lefties, I try to let the ball get deeper and try to hit it the other way. Against righties, I feel like I can use the whole field. I don’t hit a lot of extra base hits against lefties, but I just try to do my job, which is to get on base.

The only problem is... that hasn't exactly worked out. Sarris goes on to write that at the time Inciarte told him this, his splits weren't as drastic, and it seemed like it might be be a solid strategy to avoid falling into a platoon situation in the first place. But as we can clearly see from the numbers, that hasn't been the case.

Inciarte said he tries to go the other way against lefties more often, and based on the following chart, he's achieved that goal. Take a look at his his pull/center/oppo percentage differences:

Pull %

Center %

Oppo %

vs. Lefties




vs. Righties




It's pretty easy to observe the difference. Now, let's take a look at the difference in Inciarte's soft/medium/hard hit percentages based on pitcher handedness:

Soft %

Medium %

Hard %

vs. Lefties




vs. Righties




From this table we can see that over the past two years, Inciarte has a much higher percentage of softly-hit balls against lefties, and a much higher percentage of hard-bit balls against righties.

I'm no hitting expert, and I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Inciarte is hitting more softly against lefties because of his attempt to go the other way when they are on the mound. It's certainly possible that without this approach, Inciarte would be an even worse lefty hitter than he already is.

But I would be interested in seeing what would happen if Inciarte ditched this approach altogether.

As Sarris notes in his piece, Inciarte seems to be trying to get on base against lefties by striking out less, and sacrificing power in favor of more balls slapped the other way. While that has come with reverse-platoon strikeout rates (10.7 K% vs. lefties and 11.1 K% vs. righties), the difference is negligible while the difference in power seems to be substantial. Inciarte has produced a .113 ISO against righties, and while they may be below-average for MLB outfielders, it is much better than the .049 ISO he's managed against lefties.

This leads me to Sarris' closing comments about Inciarte's approach:

The problem is that tradeoff. You might strike out less, but you’ll probably also have no power against lefties. And so your platoon split might look just about the same as it would if you hadn’t altered your strategy and showed your regular power with a higher strikeout rate.

Maybe Ender Inciarte should just look to hit the ball hard against lefties after all.

I certainly agree with this notion. It's no secret that Inciarte hasn't had success against lefties so far in his short career, so altering the approach he's used against them thus far seems like a pretty solid idea.

Sure, things could wind up getting worse. It could turn out that without this backside-hitting approach, Inciarte becomes even worse against lefties. But there's also a chance that becoming more aggressive against southpaws — and accepting the higher K rate that might come along with that — could help him become a more complete hitter.

Regardless of what happens, Inciarte's glove and base running ability will allow him to be a valuable player for the Atlanta Braves. But it will still be interesting to watch Inciarte at the plate, and see whether or not he's able to make any strides with these platoon splits.

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