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Platooning and Left-Handed Hitters

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06:  Major League Baseball player Barry Bonds arrives at the 2009 MusiCares Person of the Year Tribute to Neil Diamond at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 6, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Harold FriendChief Writer IApril 7, 2009

John McGraw, the great New York Giants manager, and George Stallings, who managed the 1914 World Champion miracle Boston Braves, were two of the first managers to employ the "platoon" system.

The premise was that it was easier for a left-handed batter to hit a right-handed pitcher's breaking pitches, and for a right-handed batter to hit a left-hander's breaking pitches. The platoon system was utilized most successfully by Casey Stengel, who learned it from John McGraw when he played for the Giants in 1922 and 1923.


Hitters Don't Like to be Platooned

Players don't like the platoon system. Right handed hitter Hank Bauer and left handed hitter Gene Woodling were two of the Yankees who played on the Stengel-managed New York Yankees that won five consecutive World Championships. Their views were typical of most players who ever were platooned.

Woodling was not bashful. ''I liked Stengel, but I did a lot of fussing with him. I said I didn't care for the platoon system. I always felt that I could hit any pitcher.'' Bauer often expressed similar feelings and considered himself a victim of the platoon system.


The Dominance of Left-Handed Hitters

This leads to an astonishing fact—only three of the top 21 career leaders in on base average were right-handed hitters (Mickey Mantle switch hit and Max Bishop is tied with Joe Jackson at No. 17).

The top seven leaders all batted left-handed, but it becomes even more extreme when one realizes that of the top 30 on-base average career leaders, only five batted right-handed (John McGraw, Billy Hamilton, Bill Joyce, Dan Brouthers, Cupid Childs, and Jesse Burkett played primarily before 1900 and Lance Berkman switch hits).


The Platoon System Explanation

This brings one back to the platoon system. Is it possible that McGraw, Stallings, and Stengel were right? You bet it is...right-handed pitchers greatly outnumber lefties, and there are many more right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters. The advantage a left-handed hitter has by being closer to first base cannot be under estimated. Mothers should not let their baseball-playing children grow up to be right-handed hitters.


Single Season On Base Average Leaders

More support is provided when one examines the single season on-base average leaders. The top 13 single seasons for on-base average were produced by five left handed hitters—Barry Bonds (4), Ted Williams (2), Babe Ruth (5), John McGraw, and Billy Hamilton. The 14th best season was produced by switch hitting Mickey Mantle.


Batting Average Leaders

On-base average has become a highly respected statistic, which should not diminish the importance of the old, reliable batting average. 14 of the top 20 career leaders batted from the left side of the plate, and since 1900 (too many "best" seasons were before 1900, when different rules often applied), 11 of the top 20 seasons were produced by left-handed batters.


References

Gene Woodling

Hank Bauer

OBA Career Leaders

OBA Single Season Leaders

Batting Average Career Leaders

Batting Average Leaders: Single Season

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