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How Dylan Carlson is turning his splits upside down

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For the first time in his career, the switch-hitting outfielder is enjoying more success against left-handed pitchers.

St Louis Cardinals v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

We’re in June now, which means the baseball season is still relatively young while also being just old enough for nerds like me to view some stats with two grains of salt instead of our usual one.

Case in point: switch-hitter Dylan Carlson is flipping all of his splits at the plate. Take a look at his lefty/righty OPS numbers for each year of his professional career.

Dylan Carlson: OPS splits

Year OPS vs. LHP OPS vs. RHP Difference (LHP-RHP)
Year OPS vs. LHP OPS vs. RHP Difference (LHP-RHP)
2016 0.590 0.734 -0.144
2017 0.652 0.704 -0.052
2018 0.273 0.935 -0.662
2019 0.808 0.905 -0.097
2020 0.558 0.621 -0.063
2021 0.886 0.745 0.141

First off, I remember when Dylan Carlson was drafted and began playing rookie ball in 2016. I don’t know why, but this table really made me realize that 2016 was somehow five years ago. We’re growing alarmingly old on a random rock in the middle of space.

Beyond existential crises, we also see that Carlson has reversed his splits, running a higher OPS against left-handed pitchers for the first time. I should get out ahead of this by noting that we’re probably just dealing with small sample size smoke and mirrors; Carlson has only recorded 45 plate appearances against lefties in 2021. Still, I wanted to see what was driving his newfound splits.

Dylan Carlson: splits overview

Metric vs. LHP vs. RHP Difference (LHP-RHP)
Metric vs. LHP vs. RHP Difference (LHP-RHP)
PA 45 168 -123
Slashline .324/.400/.486 .255/.345/.400 .069/.055/.086
wRC+ 144 110 34
wOBA 0.379 0.327 0.052
xwOBA 0.353 0.319 0.034
BABIP 0.367 0.320 0.047
ISO 0.162 0.145 0.017
BB% 13.3% 10.1% 3.2%
K% 17.8% 23.8% -6.0%
Avg. Exit Velo 88.3 89.5 -1.2
Avg. Exit Velo 10 16 -6

Carlson is performing better against lefties by virtually every metric. There are a few exceptions, namely, the fact that his average exit velocity is actually lower when facing lefties. Also lower, however, is his average launch angle. When examining the radial charts below (the first one is against RHP; the second against LHP), it becomes clear that not all soft contact is created equal. Against lefties, he’s cutting down on high launch angle fly balls that have next-to-no chance of going for a hit. Carlson’s lower fly ball rate (32.3% vs. LHP; 40.6% vs. RHP) would also explain why his ISO splits are fairly even despite the overall differences in production.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant
Courtesy of Baseball Savant

But arguably the biggest key to Carlson’s success against lefties has been his non-contact (i.e. K and BB/HBP) results. Here are his actual and expected wOBA splits on batted balls in addition to his non-contact wOBA. For context, I also listed the MLB average for each stat this year.

Dylan Carlson: wOBA metric splits

Metric MLB Avg. vs. LHP vs. RHP Difference (LHP-RHP)
Metric MLB Avg. vs. LHP vs. RHP Difference (LHP-RHP)
wOBA (Contact) 0.366 0.417 0.381 0.036
xwOBA (Contact) 0.380 0.378 0.368 0.010
wOBA (Non-contact) 0.199 0.296 0.232 0.064

Especially when considering how xwOBA is “overestimating” hitters leaguewide (maybe this is due to early-season weather and/or changes to the baseball itself?), Carlson’s contact-based numbers are a bit concerning going forward. Where he has truly thrived is with his double-digit walk rate and better-than-average strikeout rate. According to Baseball Savant’s strike zone map, his ability to lay off outside pitches from lefties has been elite.

Dylan Carlson: plate discipline splits

Metric vs. LHP vs. RHP Difference (LHP-RHP)
Metric vs. LHP vs. RHP Difference (LHP-RHP)
Zone% 52.1% 47.3% 4.8%
Z-Swing% 69.6% 67.1% 2.6%
Z-Contact% 79.5% 81.4% -1.9%
O-Swing% 11.7% 22.5% -10.8%
O-Contact% 58.3% 57.3% 1.0%

The O-Swing percentages are undoubtedly a part of Carlson’s 2021 splits. To be clear, a 22.5% mark is solid in its own right (no pun intended), but to only chase 11.7% of the time against lefties gives him a huge leg up. In general, I would consider these to be encouraging signs for a player who is still just 22. Of course, you would almost always prefer a switch hitter to have better splits against righties since they comprise the majority of pitchers, although I’m still inclined to trust the overarching track record over the early splits this season. Either way, add “Dylan Carlson’s lefty vs. righty numbers” to the list of things to keep tabs on.