It seems like 10 years ago, but it hasn’t been so long since the Yankees’ offense had trouble against left-handed pitching. In fact, it was one of the defining characteristics of the late-00s teams. As the years passed and the pitching staffs got worse, the problem got worse. In 2004, for example, the team allowed almost five runs per game, but the offense was good enough to bludgeon opponents. While they had a .798 OPS against righties, they excelled against lefties, an .843 OPS.
In 2006 that started to change. While the team hit lefties very well, an .800 OPS, they hit righties better. This wasn’t a huge deal, mainly because of the high mark against lefties. Yet it was strange that they had hit righties better. They hadn’t done that in three years. Matters got worse in 2007, when they posted a .789 OPS against lefties against a .844 mark against righties. This was good, in that they killed the pitchers they faced most often. But those times facing lefties, 27 percent of the season’s plate appearances, they just didn’t fare as well.
The issue came to a head in 2008. The offense was down in general, a .769 OPS for the season. Yet against lefties they hit very poor, a .734 team OPS. They also faced lefties more often, in 30 percent of the season’s plate appearances. This was made worse because the two prominent left-handed hitters in the lineup, Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, both hit lefties very well. It was everyone else who flailed and faltered against them. Yet at season’s end neither was asked to come back.
Despite featuring many of the worst culprits of the lefty deficit in 2009, the Yankees as a team hit them much better. Not only that they hit them better than righties. Yankees hitters again faced lefties in 30 percent of their plate appearances, posting a .846 OPS. They had a .837 mark against righties last season. No longer could teams line up their middling lefties to face the Yankees and expect dominance. With a lineup featuring four switch-hitters and two lefty-killing left-handed hitters, the Yankees were up to the task.
This year we’re seeing more of the same. The Yanks are down to three switch-hitters in the starting lineup, and actually started the season with four left-handed hitters. Despite that, they’ve posted an .814 OPS against lefties in 33 percent of their plate appearances. The mark against righties isn’t great, .796, but considering the league-wide offensive drought that’s still a very good mark. The AL as a whole has a .748 OPS against righties and a .723 mark against lefties. Part of the Yankees’ offensive success this year, it seems, is taking advantage when facing a lefty.
By 2009 the stereotype of the Yankees not hitting lefties had gotten old. We’d been hearing it for at least a couple of years, and it was frustrating by that point not only because we’d heard it so often, but because it was true. That all changed last year. The new additions hit lefties very well, and continue to do so. It might not seem of great importance, since it covers around 30 percent of plate appearances, but considering how much better than the league the Yankees hit lefties, I think it is definitely an important part of the offense.