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Brandon League's Hidden Platoon

somebody looks smug
somebody looks smug

...split. Brandon League's hidden platoon split. Brandon League isn't keeping soldiers in his yard or closet. What use would Brandon League have for soldiers? Think, you have to think.

When you hear the name "Brandon League", I think your immediate association is with as much emotional movement as there is on his fastball. At the best of times, League looks absolutely unhittable, but at the more normal of times, he does not, and at the worst of times, League is a mess. Especially given his rough start to this season, League's is a name that makes stomachs uneasy. You can feel good about Brandon League only after he's finished.

What seems to get relatively little attention is Brandon League's performance breakdown. All the talk is about whether or not he has a feel for his splitter, and how he needs to throw his splitter, and how the coaching staff wants him to improve his slider so he has an offspeed weapon other than his splitter. But Brandon League has a split that either I just noticed, or that I've noticed before and forgotten about.

This year, League has allowed seven righties to reach base in 35 plate appearances. He's allowed 22 lefties to reach base in 49 plate appearances.

But of course, we don't care about handedness splits over a month and a half. Let's take this back to 2010, when League first became a Mariner. Batting lines allowed:

Righties: .206/.255/.269
Lefties: .269/.338/.391

Other stuff:

Righties: 20% strikeouts, 6% walks, 107 PA per home run
Lefties: 15% strikeouts, 7% walks, 40 PA per home run

And that ignores that League has intentionally walked eight lefties. If you're unsatisfied with these still-limited splits, they exist over League's entire career. Since debuting, League has allowed a .592 OPS to righties, and a .780 OPS to lefties. We should expect all pitchers to have a platoon split, but we don't expect them to be nearly this dramatic, and League's faced more than 1,500 batters. Factor in a little regression and still you're looking at a problem.

Remember when the Mariners had Sean Green, and he threw a side-arm sinker, and we didn't trust him to retire any left-handed bats? The gap in Green's career OPS platoon split is smaller than the gap in League's career OPS platoon split.

Brandon League isn't a nightmare against lefties, but he is considerably worse against lefties. You'll note that yesterday's dominant save came against three consecutive righties. Righties have never been the problem.

This shouldn't actually come as a huge shock. Brandon League lives on a hard-tailing fastball, and research has shown that that kind of pitch generates significant platoon splits. That can be offset by throwing a good changeup, but League doesn't throw a good changeup. He does throw a splitter, which functions a lot like a changeup, but he doesn't throw it for strikes very often. That's a strikeout pitch that League likes to bury when he's ahead, and he has to get ahead first. To do that, he leans on his fastball.

Of course, I have to mention that League has hardly been given the benefit of the doubt by umpires. Here are two PITCHfx charts, from Texas Leaguers. They show called balls and strikes against left-handed batters since 2010.



The first one belongs to the right-handed Brandon League. The second one belongs to the right-handed Felix Hernandez. I selected Felix because he's pitched for the same team as League, and because his pitches also have wicked movement. This is a half-hearted attempt to control for umpires being thrown off by pitch movement. Felix has been given a more favorable zone inside, a more favorable zone low, and a more favorable zone outside, just off the plate. I think. That's the way it looks to my eyes.

Felix has got to be a difficult pitcher to catch and to call, and there's nothing he can do about that. That's just a consequence of the pitches that he throws. But Brandon League seems to have it even worse, and that's hurt him against lefties. Which is rough, because Brandon League doesn't have a whole lot of weapons to throw lefties. I don't know what's to be done about this - League could try to throw more safely within the zone, but then he's asking to get hit. He wants to live on the edges, and he's seldom given the edges.

Since becoming a Mariner, Brandon League has retired three-quarters of righties, with a 75 percent contact rate and limited power. He's retired just two-thirds of lefties, with an 82 percent contact rate and much more power. You'd like a closer to be able to pitch effectively against both types of batters, but while League doesn't get abused by lefties, he can be exposed. It isn't news to hear that Brandon League is limited, and until he learns to throw his splitter for strikes or picks up a cutter, I don't know if we can expect this to change. This is the result of the way that League pitches.