The Yanks sure can hit lefties

Behind the plate, a conundrum
Possible trade target: David DeJesus

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.

Behind the plate, a conundrum
Possible trade target: David DeJesus
  • AndrewYF

    I’d rather them have a higher OPS against righties…because there are more RHP than LHP.

    • ADam

      Better let K.Long in on that secret..

    • Ross

      Not sure I agree, when the three best non-Yankee starters in the division are left-handed (Lester, Price, Romero)

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Sure, but the point AndrewYF is making is that those three starters you named are still only 3/15ths of their collective rotations.

        If we struggled against lefties, we’d be struggling against 20% of opposing AL East starters (and against ones who are so good, most people would struggle against them). If we struggle against righties, we’re struggling against 80% of opposing AL East starters (including some lesser, more hittable pitchers).

        • Ross

          Yeah, I completely understand where you and AndrewYF is coming from. I guess I just don’t mind seeing us fare better against the tougher pitchers, being that we’re likely going to beat those run-of-the-mill righties anyway (recent streak of suckitude against bad pitchers notwithstanding)

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    A thought, tying this post to the previous one about our catching situation going forward:

    Francisco Cervelli is not a good hitter in general (as is evidenced by his regression to his mean that’s happening right now). However, he does hit lefties significantly better than he hits righties:

    vs RHP as RHB – 189 PA, .253/.297/.331 (.628) .287 BABIP
    vs LHP as RHB – 96, .349/.426/.422 (.847), .403 BABIP

    Obviously, his lefty split is still inflated by some BABIP noise and it’s still a small sample, but his larger minor league sample with non-anomaly BABIPs bears out a slight platoon split (.266/.365/.376 v RHP, .298/.379/.399 v LHP). Like most average to below average hitters, he can somewhat hold his own against opposite-handed pitchers, but just gets eaten up by same-side arm action.

    I wonder if we could get by in 2011 with signing a lefty FA catcher to platoon with Cervelli, and thus move Posada to DH fulltime. Thus, I’m thinking of a catcher who’d be a free agent this winter, who hits righties passably well but scuffles against lefties, and who is older and might bite on a short one or two year deal to win a ring, platoon with Cervelli, and keep the spot warm/mentor Montero/Romine as they make their debuts.

    Oh, and he’s a douchebag. You know how I love arrogant, annoying, douchebag players that get under the skin of other teams’ fans.

    Anyone guess yet? No?

    A.J. Pierzynski (splits).

    Boom, that just happened.

    • Steve H

      A.J. Pierzynski?

      Sign me up. Being hated is pretty awesome to start, adding A.J. would be great. And surely A.J.’s game calling would solve A.J.’s pitching, right?

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        And surely A.J.’s game calling would solve A.J.’s pitching, right?

        :: head explodes ::

        • Steve H

          If A.J. Hinch gets canned in Arizona, there’s your new pitching coach. Win, win, win.