Mar 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; Chicago White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton (1) swings the bat during the fourth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Talkin’ Handedness: Are the White Sox too reliant on right-handed hitters?

On Saturday I engaged in some handwringing over the White Sox’ present lineup construction, as the batting order skews heavily right-handed. Indeed, with Adam LaRoche‘s quiet departure, unnoticed by media, fans and teammates alike; or, at the very least, given Avisail Garcia‘s inability to develop any major-league skills, moving Melky Cabrera to DH only shifts the problem around rather than solving it.  LaRoche was a poor allocation of funds, sure, but he did represent an almost league-average bat against RHPs in 2015 (.253 TAv), and if you believed in any bounce back whatsoever, he could have represented a credible big half of a platoon.  How significant of a loss is it? Or does it simply give Robin Ventura and Rick Renteria the chance to get creative and try to find advantages by deploying a variety of flawed pieces at DH and in the outfield?

Outside of Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera, the left-handed options aren’t dependable at this point.  Alex Avila and Jimmy Rollins both have question marks, the former for both durability and performance issues, the latter due to age-related collapse potential.  LaRoche wouldn’t have been any safer, but having more of those guys is a way of hedging against their individual risk factors.*  We even heard rumors that Rick Hahn was specifically targeting lefty bats as an excuse for why the team wasn’t more aggressive in its pursuit of Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton, theoretically as a way to counteract a potentially lopsided lineup handedness distribution. Although the reasons to believe the culprit was a really tight budget continue to pile up.

*J.B. Shuck does hit left handed, and although his TAv is slightly better against RHP (.246 v. .239), he does get on base at a higher rate against LHP (.326 v. 304).  I suppose Carlos Sanchez exists too, but he’s worse against RHP so far in his short career. Also, an aside while we’re on the subject of Sanchez, FRAA does not like his defense at all, which to date has been the sole justification for his existence.  A troubling sign, however early it may be.

Moreover, left-handed pitching is not evenly distributed throughout the majors.  Assuming a five-man rotation for each team, of the 75 starting pitching jobs in the American League, only 21 of them are currently projected to go to lefties.  The White Sox represent four of those 21, or just a hair less than 20 percent.  The Rangers are second with three, and nobody else has more than two.  In fact, within the AL Central (against whom the White Sox will play 76 of their games), there are only two lefties who are expected to crack the starting rotation for a non-White Sox team — Tommy Milone of Minnesota and Daniel Norris for Detroit.

In 2015, only three teams had fewer games started against a left-handed pitcher. The Marlins had the least, with only 33 such games, while the White Sox had 36. By contrast, eight teams had 50 or more of those games, with the Rangers facing a lefty a full 66 times.  Despite this — and despite a dreadful offense generally, which doesn’t help your grand total of PAs to begin with — the White Sox did manage to come in 20th in total PAs against LHPs.

The obvious corollary to facing so few lefties is that the White Sox seem likely to face right-handed starters the overwhelming majority of the time.  Fortunately, lefty batters tend to experience more drastic platoon splits than their right-handed counterparts, as a general matter.  And, indeed, it looks like the moderate-but-predictable pattern applies to new additions Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, however the other half of the everyday RHBs each have somewhat unusual features to their righty-lefty matchups:

Jose Abreu: Considering that Abreu can accurately be described as “awesome hitter in his prime,” 2016 may be the year that determines whether he is a World Eating Monster or simply A Normal, Very Good Bat at 1B.  After all, the first half of his rookie season demonstrated insane power, whereas the second half showed a surprise hit tool and on-base profile.  It could be that 2015’s “disappointing” .291 TAv was the result of injury, but for no real reason, Abreu also posted an insane reverse split, with a .318 TAv against RHP and a bizarrely futile .221 against southpaws. Granted, single season platoon splits are to be taken with an immense grain of salt.  Here, we’re only talking about 158 PAs, and there’s no real reason to think that Abreu should do anything other than annihilate lefties.  Rather, the positive takeaway here is that Abreu now has just shy of 1,000 PAs against right-handed pitching and has thus far destroyed them.

Todd Frazier: The big shiny acquisition of the offseason is possessed of a modest, but normal platoon split for his career (.307 TAv against LHP, .285 TAv against RHP), although that gap widened last year (mostly because he hit lefties significantly better and not because of any noticeable decline against righties).  Even if he were to continue to erode ever-so-slightly against right-handed pitching, he should still be an above-average hitter against them for the foreseeable future.  Given what White Sox fans have become accustomed to at 3B for the past decade or so, this would be a good problem to have.

Brett Lawrie: Lawrie has been a just-slightly above average hitter for a while now, with a TAv between .263 and .266 for each of the past three seasons.  In yet another sense he is Frazier Lite, as he too holds his own against same-handed pitching and makes most of his hay against southpaws.  Similarly, he saw the gap widen in production here last year, mashing lefties even harder and slipping a tiny bit against RHPs.  The offensive bar at 2B is lower, and if his glove can play there, Lawrie’s historically dead-average bat against right-handed pitching still represents a massive upgrade on past production.

Austin Jackson: From a distance, Jackson looks like he doesn’t care who he’s hitting against.  Just looking at OPS splits for his entire career, he actually has a reverse split (.733 v. RHP, .729 against LHP).  But, I don’t know if you heard, he hasn’t exactly hit like he used to of late.  Unless there is a sudden volte-face on the arc of his career, Jackson has evolved into a glove-first lefty masher only.  Over the past few seasons, Jackson has seen a .029 gap open between his ability to hit lefties and righties, and in 2015 it had spread even further to .046.  Again, caution is merited when using a single year of data, but this may be a piece of the larger puzzle that is the odd decay of Jackson’s skills in his late 20s.

In sum, while the new arrivals make the lineup look much more potent against lefties than righties, given Abreu’s reverse platoon split thus far, at a glance the net effect looks minimal.  The ability to feature a lefty bat at shortstop may help mitigate the damage even further.  Given the other virtues provided by guys like Jackson, Lawrie, and Frazier (defense, not being Conor Gillaspie, etc.), it’s not worth worrying about, but an injury to say, Avila or Eaton could make the offense even less efficient than it could be if the White Sox got even an average amount of PAs against lefties.  If nothing else, it is amusing that the White Sox have twice as many lefty starters as the rest of the division combined.

Top photo credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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1 comment on “Talkin’ Handedness: Are the White Sox too reliant on right-handed hitters?”


Righties should always be the better hitter then a lefty just based on them hitting to the 3rd base side(or pull side). The throw is longer, because of bunt potential 3rd basemen play up, and any bobble results in too late a throw.

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