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Southpaw Handicapping

   by Scott Spreitzer - 05/24/2008

There's been a lot of talk in the media of late about how American League teams were "stacking" their lefthanded starting pitchers against the New York Yankees. Alex Rodriguez was out of the lineup with an injury. Most of the Yankees big threats were lefty hitters. It made sense that everyone facing the Yankees would throw southpaws at them.



They did. And, it worked until "A-Rod" came back.



Many bettors made money off that Yankees weakness, both by taking opponents and playing Under. What you may not realize is that there are a lot of teams who are currently showing extreme offensive performances in one direction or another against lefthanded starters. That matters right now because there are a lot of lefthanded starters in rotations!



The Yankees aren't the only team with documented struggles against lefties. And, quite a few have been pounding lefthanded starters because they have righty-heavy offenses. As handicappers, it's our job to know the strengths and weaknesses of all 30 offenses.



To help you with this particular area, I compiled team OPS numbers (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) for all 30 major league teams against lefthanded pitchers heading into this past weekend. You'll see some stark contrasts. Hopefully you can exploit those in your daily selection process starting immediately.



Let's go league by league because it's easier to absorb the information that way.



AL LEFTY BASHERS (OPS listed)

Boston: .860

Detroit .846

Seattle: .787

Texas: .744

Baltimore: .737

Chicago White Sox: .727

Cleveland: .711

Kansas City: .710



Boston and Detroit just crush lefthanded starters. There are a lot of good lefties in the American League, so those are amazing OPS numbers. You'll have better context in a moment when you see how many offenses are struggling. Those teams didn't just break .800, they're up around .850. Seattle's a surprise here because they've been so bad overall. They can't hit righties very well, but light up the scoreboard vs. lefthanded pitching. Cleveland and Kansas are more "average" than great. There just aren't that many "average" teams in the AL in this stat right now, so I used a cut off of .700 to separate two groups.



AL LEFTY HATERS

LA Angels: .694

Tampa Bay: .669

Minnesota: .663

NY Yankees: .661

Oakland: .621

Toronto: .616



Almost half the league is under .700 in OPS which is poor indeed considering how many guys bat righty in baseball. You can see why so many teams were stacking the deck against the Yankees. It would make the sense to do the same against any team on this second list. Tampa Bay and Oakland could be in the playoff picture much of the season. This is a weakness they'll have to deal with at some point. I look for the Yankees number to increase now that Rodriguez is back in the lineup. They scored a bunch off southpaw Erik Bedard on Friday night.



NL LEFTY BASHERS

Chicago Cubs: .871

LA Dodgers: .838

Arizona: .828

Philadelphia: .818

St. Louis .812

Cincinnati: .806

Houston: .802

Milwaukee: .796



Wow…there's a HUGE difference increase in the National League, as fully seven teams crack the .800 barrier even though pitchers bat in this league and don't in the American! Milwaukee just misses making it half the league. What happened? Clearly, the AL has a lot more quality lefthanded starters. NL teams face a lower caliber of lefty, and quite a few teams can light them up. Be sure you're looking to take teams like the Cubs, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks when they face southpaws.



NEUTRAL BY NL STANDARDS

San Francisco: .780

NY Mets: .764

Pittsburgh: .757



These teams obviously weren't good enough to put in the "bashing" category, but were also obviously much better than the NL teams that were struggling. I can't call a team a "lefty hater" with numbers this high. You'll see in a moment there are some NL teams who really struggle against lefties, even against the lower caliber of lefty in the Senior Circuit. Consider the Giants, Mets, and Pirates as neutral.



NL LEFTY HATERS

Colorado: .724

Atlanta: .720

Florida: .654

Washington: .635

San Diego: .616



These five teams should definitely be on your go against list when facing lefties, and that's especially true in Interleague play when facing AL lefties. If you can't hit NL lefties, then you're going to be in big trouble when the live arms from the superior league are on the mound.



I'm confident today's data will help you pick more winners in the coming weeks. I've had great success this year paying attention to these numbers. There are clear differences between how offenses hit one type of pitcher or the other. If you're not making selections with that in mind, you're flying blind to a degree. Keep your eyes open so you can see the winners!

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