AL Lefty vs. Righty Splits
June 6, 2017
By Joe Nelson
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Comparing team batting splits against right-handed pitching and left-handed pitching can offer some handicapping opportunities.
For example the Blue Jays being just 3-10 vs. left-handed starters this season while White Sox being 11-7 vs. left-handed starters can explain the somewhat unexpected results of those squads to some degree.
Here is a deeper look at some of the team batting splits in the American League through early June in the 2017 season.
Best hitting team vs. right-handers: Houston Astros
With an amazing 42-16 record the Astros are pacing baseball, holding a 14-game lead in the AL West barely two months into the season. Improvement has basically been across the board for Houston and the Astros have the AL’s top OPS vs. right-handed pitching at .824, while sitting second in the AL vs. left-handed pitching at .793. Both numbers are a huge improvement on the 2016 numbers with a .087 boost vs. righties and a .062 boost vs. lefties, two of the biggest jumps in the league.
Best hitting team vs. left-handed pitching: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have been a surprise this season as Chicago was almost universally projected to be the very worst team in the AL. Chicago has slipped a bit in the last few weeks to sit at 24-31 to make any playoff hopes faint but this remains a team that is likely to outperform a projected win total in the upper 60s with only San Diego facing a more dire spring training outlook. Chicago has been the league’s worst hitting team vs. right-handed pitching with a .681 OPS but vs. left-handers Chicago owns a .815 OPS for by far the best mark in the AL. Looking at the lineup it isn’t a major surprise the splits are so lopsided as Chicago routinely uses only right-handers and switch-hitters in its lineup, even against right-handed pitching.
Most improved vs. right-handed pitching: New York Yankees
New York’s offense has flourished this season and while the numbers vs. left-handed pitching are only slightly improved compared with the 2016 season the numbers vs. right-handers have made a dramatic jump. Against right-handers New York has gone from posting a .724 OPS in 2016 to a .814 OPS so far in 2017, the biggest positive leap of any team vs. either side compared with last season. Aaron Judge alone is providing much of the boost with 14 of his 18 home runs vs. right-handers posting an outrageous 1.111 OPS in 170 plate appearances vs. right-handers. Switch hitter Aaron Hicks has also been very productive batting left-handed, while catcher Gary Sanchez is a far better hitter vs. right-handers despite batting right-handed.
Biggest decline vs. right-handed pitching: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are certainly still in striking distance in the AL East and at worst a clear AL Wild Card contender but the team has been a mild disappointment as one of the consensus favorites in the AL before the season started. Boston just got David Price back which will likely boost the pitching staff but the offense simply hasn’t been as successful as last season with David Ortiz out of the lineup. Boston had the league’s best OPS vs. left-handers last season at .795 and in 2017 Boston still remains a quality hitting team vs. left-handers with a .771 OPS for only a modest decline. That is .025 points higher than the .746 OPS the Red Sox have against right-handers for the biggest gap in the league for a team that is stronger vs. southpaws and nowhere near the league-leading .814 OPS the Red Sox posted last season vs. right-handed pitching.
Most balanced hitting team: Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore owns a .734 OPS vs. right-handers and a .728 OPS vs. left-handers this season for the smallest difference between sides among the 15 AL teams. Last season Baltimore had a massive contrast in those figures with a .090 gap being a far better hitting team vs. right-handers but the numbers have declined this season vs. righties while they have climbed vs. lefties. The Orioles have not had the production they expected from Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo so far this season with Machado incredibly batting only .208 vs. right-handed pitching this season (.283 last season) while Trumbo is batting .253 but with only five home runs in 150 at-bats vs. right-handers after hitting 37 in those matchups last season.
Worst hitting team: Kansas City Royals
Kansas City has featured the biggest OPS decline in the AL vs. left-handed pitching and the second biggest decline in the AL in OPS vs. right-handed pitching. Kansa City has the second worst OPS in the league vs. right-handers at .682, just barely ahead of Chicago while sitting as by far the worst hitting team in the AL vs. left-handers with a .634 OPS. The big off-season concern for the Royals was their starting rotation but Jason Vargas is having a career year and Nate Karns and Danny Duffy are offering some promise. Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy have disappointed and the bullpen isn’t as strong as in the past few years but most of the blame of the great struggles for the Royals fall on the offense.
Disappointment Due to Decline vs. left-handed pitching: Cleveland, Texas, Toronto, Seattle
The Indians and Rangers and Blue Jays were playoff teams last season while the Mariners were a wild card contender late into the season. There is still time for these talented teams to make a run but they all have a common thread of a big production decline vs. left-handed pitching this season. Cleveland’s drop has been the most modest of the group falling .043 but last season’s surge vs. left-handers to a .748 clip may have been the difference in the pennant winning season. This year’s lineup is more left-handed heavy with Michael Brantley’s return and Cleveland’s rotation has not yet matched last season’s success as well.
Toronto has been known as a fierce hitting team vs. left-handers in recent years but this season the Blue Jays have a .678 OPS vs. left-handers for a huge drop compared with last season. Losing Edwin Encarnacion certainly has to be considered a major factor. It is worth noting that Josh Donaldson missed much of the first two months of the season as the numbers vs. left-handers should climb with his return as he owns a career .959 OPS vs. southpaws.
Seattle’s OPS vs. left-handers has fallen from a very respectable .749 in 2016 to just .652, or the second worst in the AL. Seattle has managed to go 7-8 vs. left-handed starters but a team many expected to be a serious AL contender has had very unbalanced results at the plate with an OPS .119 points higher vs. right-handers. The Mariners often have at least four left-handed batters in the lineup vs. right-handers and lefties Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager will stay in the middle of the lineup vs. southpaws even though particularly in Cano’s case there is a huge drop in his production in those matchups.
Texas won 95 games last season despite a marginal scoring differential as many expected a decline for the Rangers in 2017. Last season Texas had successful balanced hitting vs. lefties and righties and in 2017 the numbers vs. right-handers have only fallen slightly. Against left-handers Texas has fallen from a .759 OPS clip to a .657 OPS clip, so far posting just six wins vs. southpaw starters. The recent return of Adrian Beltre in the middle of the lineup could help that cause in the coming weeks however.
Success via Improvement vs. right-handed pitching: New York, Houston, Minnesota, Tampa Bay
The improvement for New York and Houston vs. right-handed pitching has been dramatic and a big reason those teams are on top of the AL. The Yankees are 24-16 vs. right-handed starters while Houston is absurdly 33-10 vs. right-handed starters at this point in the season.
Minnesota’s ascension to the AL Central lead isn’t expected to last but going from one of the league’s lesser hitting teams vs. right-handers to a .773 OPS that is in the AL’s upper tier is a big reason for the team’s success this season. Minnesota is actually hitting far worse in 2017 vs. left-handed pitching than the team did in 2016 but they have only faced 12 left-handed starters this season. Minnesota’s improved pitching and defense are big factors as well but the lineup is having more success in the most common matchups, often using a lineup that includes six left-handed hitters with the addition of Jason Castro and the everyday play of switch-hitter Jorge Polanco.
Tampa Bay has been one of the league’s better hitting teams vs. left-handers in recent years including going 30-23 vs. left-handed starters in 2015 but something has changed this season as the Rays are .120 OPS points better vs. right-handers this season, the third best hitting team vs. righties behind Houston and New York. As a result the Rays have gone from being 18 games below .500 vs. right-handers in 2016 to being 22-18 vs. right-handed starters so far this season. The most obvious changes are left-handed hitter Corey Dickerson being the team’s leadoff hitter plus the addition of another lefty power bat in Colby Rasmus as the Rays generally have at least four left-handers in the lineup. Oddly Dickerson is batting .353 vs. left-handers this season as he hasn’t hurt the numbers while Rasmus is usually in a platoon role. Logan Morrison is a clean-up hitter with much worse numbers vs. southpaws and Kevin Keirmaier is batting just .178 vs. lefties this season to help explain the decline.
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