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Baseball's Lefty/Righty Dynamics

   by Bryan Leonard - 06/07/2011


In football it’s interesting and unique to have a left-handed quarterback, like Boomer Esiason or Kenny Stabler. The same thing is true in basketball. It doesn’t make any difference if an ace point guard dribbles the ball primarily with his left hand, or a pivot man shoots left handed. It’s something to talk about or point out, but it doesn’t affect play on the field.
That’s not the case in baseball. Lefty/righty dynamics are a significant aspect of the game. A team must have one or two lefty specialists in the bullpen to be called upon when needed against the other team’s best left handed hitters. If a team starts a southpaw on the mound, many managers will adjust their lineup, sitting down some lefty hitters and bringing in more righty bats. This isn’t just superstition. The laws of statistical analysis are behind it.
Take Juston Masteron of my beloved (and first place) Cleveland Indians. Masterson has always struggled against lefties with that side-arm delivery, but has been great against righties. This season is no exception, holding righties to a .162 batting average, but lefties are hitting .304 off him. Masterson lost to the Rays last week Sunday, giving up seven runs (six earned) in five innings. He walked five and didn't record a strikeout. Masterson has earned his low ERA so far this season, which now sits at 3.07, with a good strikeout rate and even better command, but he may be due to come down a bit as opposing managers are beginning to load up on lefties. The team is 1-4 his last 5 starts.
This has been going on for decades. Before he retired, the Big Unit, Randy Johnson, was always great on lefties with that hard slider of his, so managers would load up on righties. His final season lefties were hitting .143 against Johnson, while righties were hitting .276. Going back even further on a larger sample: Over the previous three seasons covering over 2,000 at bats, lefties had an on-base percentage against Johnson of .266, while righties had .294 OBP. This is why you’ll see managers bring in a lefty to face a left handed batter many times in games, and the opposing manager may counter right away by sending up a righty hitter off his bench.
It’s essential for sports bettors to pay attention to this dynamic. Some teams struggle against lefties, and some individual hitters hit better from one side of the plate than the other. For instance, that same season the LA Dodgers were a sizzling 39-20 against righties at home, while going just 10-12 against southpaws. These kind of trends may change, of course, as managers make moves, but as a bettor it’s important to digest info like this and see if there’s a correlation or if it’s more of a coincidence.
A serious bettor needs to keep close tabs on this by breaking down individual hitters on rosters and see how they hit righty and lefty pitchers. If a right handed hitting lineup like the Yankees is facing a lefty pitcher who struggles against righties, there could be a whuppin’ or a high scoring game on tap. NY crushed ace lefty Brett Anderson of the Oakland A’s last week as an underdog, 10-3, which makes Anderson now 0-5 against New York. Understanding the details and knowing how to use them can help you turn a profit at the wagering window.

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