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Lefty/Righty Dynamics

   by Al McMordie - 07/04/2004

There will always be discussions about when managers should start a lefty, or bring in a lefty or righty reliever late in the game. Good managers and general managers have this in mind when they put teams together in spring training. They don’t want to have a lineup that’s “too right-handedâ€쳌 as that leaves them in a jam if they have to face teams with superior righty starting pitching.

Be assured that baseball’s lefty and righty dynamics are prevalent in all aspects of the game. Even the fear of lefties can force general managers into moves they don’t want to make. In 1998, lefty reliever Randy Myers was cut loose because of his contract, and any team could claim him if they were willing to swallow his salary. The San Diego Padres didn’t need Myers, but picked him up simply because they were afraid the Atlanta Braves would and that might come back to haunt the Padres in the playoffs. It didn’t, as the Braves got knocked out of the postseason and the Padres went to the World Series. (By the way, Myers was not even a factor, as he allowed three runs in three postseason innings.)

It’s important to look at lineups of certain teams when they face lefty and righty pitching, because some managers will bench certain lefties if they are much better against right-handed pitching. Boston has key offensive players Trot Nixon and Johnny Damon in the outfield, and both are left-handed batters. In their careers, both have also been much better against righty pitchers than lefties, which is why sometimes against good lefty pitchers, managers will sit them down and go with righty bats. This partly explains why Boston was 26-27 last season against lefties, despite being on a team that went to the playoffs.

The Red Sox were 69-40 against righties in 2003, and 42-17 at home! This season, Nixon hasn’t been with the team much, so they’ve had mostly right-handed right fielders. Boston has still been far better at home against lefties (8-4) than on the road (6-5).

Another team that stands out is the Giants. In 2003, the Giants were 26-11 against lefty starting pitchers and 19-3 at home. This season they are 13-8 against lefties and 10-1 at home! If you examine their lineup, it’s heavy with right handed hitting with the exception of Barry Bonds. Notice also that Marquis Grissom is hitting .353 with a .400 on base percentage against lefties. This is nothing new, as over the last three years Grissom is hitting .305 against lefties, but just .253 against righties.

The Cincinnati Reds were 16-29 last season against lefties and, despite a surprising start in 2004, they’re 10-12 against lefties. Three of their big guns, Ken Griffey Jr, Sean Casey and Adam Dunn, are lefty sluggers who hit better against righties. And although Sean Casey is hitting .337 against lefties, he's absolutely ripping righties at a .375 clip! And Dunn is hitting .279 against righties, but a poor .226 against lefties.

Some others that stand out: the Rockies were 14-9 against lefties at home last season, but 6-17 on the road. This year, they're 7-2 at home against southpaws, but 2-2 on the road. The Orioles were a pitiful 7-18 on the road in 2003 against lefties and are 1-10 this season! This is why it’s essential to dig deep into statistics. You can often assemble the pieces to find important edges against soft numbers, which translates into wins! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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