NL Lefty vs. Righty Splits
June 14, 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. A team’s win loss record vs. each hand can carry some meaning, but a squad’s OPS offers a little more meaningful insight into performance potential. Here is a look at some of the lefty/righty splits in the National League just over two months into the 2017 MLB season.
Biggest preference for right-handed pitching: Arizona Diamondbacks
In a disappointing 93-loss season in 2016, Arizona still featured a robust .820 OPS vs. left-handers that was the best mark in the NL while featuring a more modest clip with a .730 OPS vs. right-handers. That script has completely turned around for the Diamondbacks in 2017 as they are the National League’s second best hitting team vs. right-handers with an excellent .818 OPS, just behind Washington for the league lead. Arizona has just a .692 OPS vs. left-handers this season with the team’s two most productive hitters, Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb, showing a severe preference for facing right-handed hurlers. Arizona is still 10-8 vs. left-handed starters this season, but they are a serious NL contender because they are 30-18 vs. right-handed starters. The Cardinals and Mets are also teams with a clear dramatic improvement vs. right-handed pitching.
Biggest preference for left-handed pitching: Chicago Cubs
A lot of people are trying to figure out what has happened to the Cubs in 2017 as after a dominant World Series championship season in 2016, Chicago has spent most of this season near the .500 mark. The splits for Chicago vs. left-handers are nearly identical from 2016 to 2017 with a .807 OPS for the season which is where the 2017 mark currently is sitting in mid-June for the best mark in the NL. Chicago has won 60 percent of its games vs. left-handed starters this season, but they have only faced 15 of those games so far after going 28-17 vs. left-handed starters last season. Against right-handed pitching, Chicago has fallen dramatically from a .759 season OPS in 2016 to a .715 mark this season for one of the worst marks in the NL. Losing switch hitter Dexter Fowler, plus the struggles of left-hander Kyle Schwarber are factors, but ultimately the lineup as a whole hasn’t matched last season’s success. Two other NL teams with big gains in production vs. left-handers are Atlanta and Miami.
Biggest improvement vs. left-handed pitching: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers won 91 games last season and ultimately made it to the NLCS, but in the regular season Los Angeles went just 22-24 vs. left-handed starters in 2016 while featuring by far the worst OPS vs. left-handers in the NL at just .623. The Dodgers are winning at an even better percentage this season despite more competition in the NL West and while Los Angeles is only 11-9 vs. left-handed starters this season the team OPS has improved to .747 vs. southpaw pitchers. The Dodgers have actually shown a slight decline vs. right-handed pitching so far this season, but more balance may make Los Angeles an even more serious contender this season. Atlanta also deserves mention with a .103-point improvement vs. left-handers compared with 2016, featuring a .783 OPS that is the fourth best mark in the NL vs. left-handers. Colorado has also shown improvement vs. left-handers while actually suffering a decline in production vs. right-handers compared with the 2016 numbers, despite the Rockies being one of the surprise success stories of the season so far.
Biggest improvement vs. right-handed pitching: Washington Nationals
Technically, Arizona has improved by a greater OPS margin, but Washington’s domination of the NL East so far can be credited to a NL best .821 OPS vs. right-handed pitching so far in 2017. Washington remains an excellent hitting team vs. left-handers as well with a .783 OPS that matches the 2016 season figure. Against right-handers, the Nationals have gone from an average .742 OPS in 2016 to the league-leading .821 mark so far in 2017 while sitting 12 games above .500 vs. right-handed starters. The Brewers can also attribute some of the surprisingly successful first half results to a big jump in production vs. right-handed pitching as well.
Improvement vs. both right-handers and left-handers: Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have fallen off an early season pace that included Cincinnati as a NL sleeper, but the Reds have shown solid improvement at the plate this season. A .781 OPS vs. right-handed pitching is the third best mark in the NL and a 50 point improvement over the 2016 numbers. Cincinnati has made an even bigger leap vs. left-handers going from a .699 OPS in 2016 to a .773 OPS so far in 2017. It is puzzling however that Cincinnati has gone just 3-12 vs. left-handed starters this season despite the above average offensive production in those matchups. Despite a recent slide, the Reds are only a handful of games out of the NL Central race and Cincinnati has 10 losses against the NL West this season as the Reds could have an opportunity to climb back into the playoff picture if they can continue to hit at the very solid current season pace.
Decline vs. both right-handers and left-handers: San Francisco Giants
In making the playoffs last season, the Giants were still a team with just modest offensive production. There have been struggles across the board in 2017 but even for the modest offensive standards of the Giants the lack of production at the plate is the biggest reason San Francisco has one of the worst records in the NL. San Francisco holds a .663 OPS vs. right-handed pitching which is the very worst among 30 MLB teams. The Giants are actually even less productive vs. left-handers with a .643 OPS though San Diego has an even lower mark vs. southpaws. With declines of .074 points vs. right-handers and .065 points vs. left-handers, the Giants are struggling in every matchup as one of baseball’s worst hitting teams. Pittsburgh and San Diego are both teams that have displayed a huge decline vs. left-handed pitching this season to account for struggling in the standings so far in 2017.
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