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Baseball: A Game For Lefties

   by Ben Burns - 07/09/2008

A look at a list of the greatest hitters in baseball history finds something illuminating. Most are left-handed hitters. This is the opposite of what we find in society, in that the majority of people are righties. For whatever reason, lefties make up roughly 20% of the population. Yet, in baseball, lefties excel.

In the American League from 1956-88 (32 years), a switch or left-handed hitter won the batting title 28 times! I include switch-hitters because they bat lefty most of the time, as most starting pitchers are righties. That list includes talented hitters like Mickey Mantle (S), Ted Williams (L), Carl Yastrzemski (L), Rod Carew (L), Fred Lynn (L), George Brett (L) and Wade Boggs (L). And it's not just that time frame. Ty Cobb won 11 batting titles and was left-handed, along with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Baseball is a game where lefty/righty dynamics are essential to study carefully. For instance, the Red Sox are a terrific hitting team against lefties, winning 10 of 12 games against southpaw starters. There’s an old adage that opposing managers don’t like to start lefties in Fenway park as southpaws can get psychologically shaken up afraid of the Green Monster. The theory goes that southpaws will try to go away, away, away as they don’t want righties pulling the ball to left field for doubles or singles off the wall. They are more predictable and can get away from their normal game of working all sides of the plate. Regardless, Boston’s offense has feasted on lefties thus far.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are just 5-10 against southpaws, the Twins began 6-12, the Nationals started 11-18, while the Padres are 7-13. Of course, the Padres can’t hit anybody! Part of the reason is that managers will often change their lineup, using lefty hitters as often as possible against righty pitchers. But many times lefty batters struggled against southpaws, sometimes significantly so. Former Boston and Cleveland RF Trot Nixon was a good example, a fine all around player and a left-handed hitter. He's always been terrific against righty pitchers, but struggles against lefties. Last season was no exception: .307 against righties, .229 against lefties. From 2004-2006, Nixon hit .297 against righties, .207 against southpaws.

In addition, hitters are used to seeing righties more often that, perhaps, seeing lefties less makes it more difficult to adjust or pick up the ball. There are many theories, but the bottom line is the stats don't lie. This is important for handicappers to grasp and dissect. One must examine which righty pitchers struggle with lefties, which major league lineups have an excess of lefty sluggers, and the tendencies of managers to sit players or maximize lefty/righty differences.

The Twins have a winning record against righties, but a poor mark against lefties. This one can be explained by their batting order, with their three top power hitters all left handed in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel. Morneau has far better power numbers against righties while Kubel is terrible against lefties.

The Angels are another team which has been successful against southpaws. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, either, as the power part of the lineup is able to bat righthanded with righty Vladimir Guerrero, newcomer Torii Hunter and switch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr. I've just scratched the surface here. The important thing to remember is that in the competitive world of sports wagering, it's essential to go deep inside the numbers to grind out consistent profits!

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