Left-Handed Hitters and the Achilles' Heel for Some of Them

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
Left-Handed Hitters and the Achilles' Heel for Some of Them
Leon Halip/Getty Images

So many of today's best baseball hitters are left-handed, and one can categorize them into three classifications:

1. Those who excel versus left-handed pitching.

2. Those who are adequate versus left-handed pitching yet hit it far less successfully than they do righties.

3. Those who struggle mightily against left-handers.

I am employing OPS, on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, as my critical measure.

The first classification, the "excellers," are highlighted by three players with a career OPS higher vs.  lefties:

Ichiro Suzuki, .800 vs. lefties and .788 vs. righties;

Kelly Johnson, .808 vs. lefties and .774 vs righties;

Denard Span,.781 vs. lefties and .732 vs righties.

Other noteworthy guys over or about .800 OPS vs. lefties include:

Joey Votto, .899 vs. lefties and .981 vs. righties;

Chase Utley, .870 vs. lefties  and .887 vs. righties;

Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Todd Helton, .849 vs. lefties and 1.022 vs. righties;

Robinson Cano, .818 vs. lefties and .854 vs. righties;

David Ortiz, .813 vs. lefties and .969 vs. righties;

Travis Hafner, .808 vs. lefties and .933 vs. righties;

Prince Fielder, .799 vs. lefties and .988 vs. righties;

Josh Hamilton, .797 vs. lefties and .958 vs. righties;

Logan Morrison, .797 vs. lefties and .817 vs. righties;

Carlos Gonzalez, .792 vs. lefties and .908 vs. righties;

Adam Dunn, .788 vs. lefties and .915 vs. righties;

Luke Scott, .787 vs. lefties and .859 vs. righties;

Adrian Gonzalez, .783 vs. lefties and .939 vs.righties;

Jacoby Ellsbury, .782 vs. lefties and .816 vs. righties;

Brian McCann,  .770 vs. lefties and .875 vs. righties.

Notice that of these latter 15 guys, nine did have a difference exceeding 100 OPS points. And if I lower the threshold to a 70-point difference, it is 11 of the 15 who experience that magnitude of split.

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

This observation leads to the second group, the "adequates," defined as guys who have career OPS vs. lefties in the 710-760 range.

Nick Markakis: .757 vs. lefties and .846 vs. righties;

Alex Avila: .753 vs. lefties and .832 vs. righties;

Justin Morneau: .752 vs. lefties and .904 vs. righties;

Aubrey Huff: .751 vs. lefties and .832 vs. righties;

Ryan Howard: .749 vs. lefties and 1.020 vs. righties

Joe Mauer: ,749 vs. lefties and .942 vs. righties;

Jay Bruce: .745 vs. lefties and .832 vs. righties;

Raul Ibanez: .744 vs. lefties and .839 vs. righties;

Jason Kipnis: .744 vs. lefties and .878 vs. righties

Carlos Pena: .735 vs. lefties and .883 vs. righties;

Adam LaRoche: .735 vs. lefties and .839 vs. righties;

Shin-Soo Choo: .728 vs. lefties and .911 vs. righties;

Ike Davis: .723 vs. lefties and .849 vs. righties;

Freddie Freeman: .722 vs. lefties and .812 vs. righties;

Stephen Drew: .715 vs. lefties and .793 vs. righties;

Alex Gordon: .713 vs. lefties and .803 vs. righties.

Note here again that eight of these 16 players have suffered more than a 100-point OPS difference and all 16 have exceeded a 70-point variation.

Now onto the third classification, the "strugglers," guys who have career OPS vs. lefties below .700. Some of these guys have become platoon players because of their problems with lefties. But others remain full-time starters who introduce severe vulnerability to their teams because of their woes vs. lefties.

Mitch Moreland: .581 vs. lefties and .806 vs. righties;

Eric Hosmer: .585 vs. lefties and .886 vs. righties;

Matt Joyce: .601 vs. lefties and .867 vs. righties;

Garrett Jones: .601 vs. lefties and .838 vs. righties;

Michael Bourn: .609 vs. lefties and .723 vs. righties;

Adam Lind: .615 vs. lefties and .842 vs. righties;

Alex Presley: .626 vs. lefties and .846 vs. righties;

Rick Ankiel: .652 vs. lefties and .759 vs. righties;

Colby Rasmus: .658 vs. lefties and .785 vs. righties;

Andre Ethier: .661 vs. lefties and .909 vs. righties;

Brett Gardner: .667 vs. lefties and .738 vs. righties;

Casey Kotchman: .668 vs. lefties and .754 vs. righties;

AJ Pierzynski: .669 vs. lefties and .768 vs. righties;

Miguel Montero: .671 vs. lefties and .818 vs. righties;

James Loney: .677 vs. lefties and .814 vs. righties;

Jason Kubel: .678 vs. lefties and .833 vs. righties;

Carl Crawford: .684 vs. lefties and .812 vs. righties;

Curtis Granderson: .685 vs. lefties and .892 vs. righties;

Jason Heyward: .690 vs. lefties and .831 vs. righties;

Sixteen of these 19 guys have lefty/righty differences exceeding 100 OPS points. Eight have differences exceeding 200. If I employ the 70-point difference as a threshold, all 19 players suffer that magnitude variability.

These numbers lead me to the Achilles' heel reference and the importance of clubs having left-handed relievers they can bring into tight seventh- and eighth-inning situations to face and hopefully retire one of these left-handed hitters.

John Sickels, a former ESPN.com journalist, is credited with creating the term "LOOGY" in reference to "Lefty One-Out GuYs". Wikipedia provides us with a definition and historical perspective for these relievers.

In 1991 there were 28 left-handed relievers who were not closers but did pitch in 45 or more games. Only four of them, or 14 percent, averaged less than one inning per appearance. In the period 2001-2004, that percentage rose to over 75 percent.

I am surprised at how many of the LOOGYs are 30 or older and have suffered severe injuries.

Here's the list: Arthur Rhodes, Darren Oliver, Trever Miller, Tim Byrdak, Damaso Marte, J.C. Romero, Randy Choate, Brian Fuentes, Pedro Feliciano, Joe Beimel, George Sherrill, Javier Lopez, Mike Gonzalez, Brian Tallet, John Grabow, Rich Hill, Hong-Chi Kuo, Craig Breslow and Joe Thatcher.

Admittedly Jesse Orosco filled this role until age 46, so perhaps some of these veterans have years of service remaining.    

Still I expect teams to emulate the Yankees with Boone Logan and the Indians with Rafael  Perez, and develop or trade for a promising younger LOOGY. The Braves' Jonny Venters comes to mind, although admittedly his 171 career innings in 164 appearances exceeds the one-inning per appearance definition.

His numbers are just so startling that they must be cited. For his career, Venters has surrendered only a .495 OPS to left-handed hitters in 207 plate appearances. In 175 at-bats, left-handed hitters have struck out 84 times against him, an unprecedented 48 percent of the time.

Candidates that I believe will be available at the trade deadline include the Royals' Jose Mijares and the Nationals' Sean Burnett.

I am going to concentrate on the Mijares possibility for it is a compelling story. Also, I owe B/R readers an apology for in an earlier posting I mistakenly identified Mijares as a Twin, his former team.

Mijares excites me because he is young  yet has ample experience in the LOOGY role. He's pitched 154 innings in 186 career appearances and limited left-handed hitters to a .607 OPS in 287 plate appearances. In 260 at-bats, he has struck out 65 lefties, a 25 percent rate.

Mijares' record includes facing Cano, Gardner, Ortiz, Ellsbury, Scott, Pena, Markakis, Lind, Hamilton, Choo, Gordon, Hosmer, McCann, Carlos Gonzalez and Helton a total of 59 at-bats and allowing only three hits while striking out 17.

A team like Boston that has not had a quality left-handed reliever since Hidecki Okajima should be one club that spurs demand for these guys at the trade deadline.

Load More Stories

Follow B/R on Facebook

MLB

Subscribe Now

We will never share your email address

Thanks for signing up.