May 06, 2009

Only about 10 percent of the population is left-handed, and lefties usually show some level of ambidexterity. Left-handers tend to be independent and resilient, probably because the world around them is set up for right-handers (except at Flanders' Leftorium, of course). Our current president is a lefty, as was his Republican opponent. History and tradition tend to favor righties, however, as the word "sinister" comes from the Latin word for left. Left-handers couldn't write with quills because writing left-to-right meant their hand smeared the ink, and objects such as a computer mouse, scissors and car gear shifter are all made for righties.

In baseball, however, starting pitchers are rewarded for having the sinister trait because they are rare. Sure, Cy Young, Christy Matthewson and Nolan Ryan are three of the greatest pitchers of all time (I didn't say three best, save your e-mails), but they will never be on the list of Greatest Lefty Starting Pitchers of All Time. And just so we can get it out of the way, the greatest lefties are (in order; yes, now you can send e-mails): (1) Warren Spahn, (2) Randy Johnson, (3) Steve Carlton, (4) Eddie Plank, (5) Sandy Koufax, (6) Lefty Grove, (7) Mickey Lolich, (8) Tom Glavine, (9) Carl Hubbell, and (10) Jim Kaat, with Tommy John, Whitey Ford, Hal Newhouser, and Vida Blue knocking on the door.

Wait, Koufax down to fifth and Kaat on the list? While I did look at ratios (like K per season) I also looked at career numbers. I can't assume what Koufax would have done if healthy (or after the Tommy John surgery era), and I can't discount anyone who threw in the majors for 28 seasons like Kaat.

So bringing it back to 2009, we'll look at how teams are faring against lefties this season and what that means for every lefty starter in the majors not on the DL.


The legend is that the term "southpaw" originated from baseball as stadiums were built to face east so the batter avoided squinting into the sun in the afternoon/evening. That meant a pitcher on the mound facing the batter has his left arm on the south side. However, some sources claim the term predates baseball, so that's likely an urban legend. But hey, it's better than the bloody hook on the car door story. So, how are teams doing against southpaws?


AL: NYY (.350), TOR (.312), TEX (.311), DET (.309), CLE (.286)NL: NYM (.312), WAS (.291), PHI (.280), COL (.279), SF (.279)


AL: OAK (.209), MIN (.247), BAL (.256), SEA (.264), BOS (.263)NL: ARI (.198), CIN (.216), SD (.224), CHC (.229), FLA (.239)


AL: NYY (.567), TEX (.517), CLE (.498), DET (.481), TOR (.467)NL: NYM (.569), COL (.493), WAS (.492), PHI (.473), HOU (.460)


AL: OAK (.289), MIN (.357), BAL (.376), SEA (.379), LAA (.388)NL: CIN (.310), CHC (.321), STL (.350), SD (.362), PIT (367), ARI (.367)

And now for some fine print. Past results are not conclusive in terms of future performance, as my broker, Gorlock, has told me the past few years. There will always be some regression to the mean, which basically means the Yankees will get stymied by a lefty sometime soon and the Reds will break out against one.

But these numbers are a good indication of whether a team is more likely to fail or succeed against a southpaw. So not only can you use these numbers to decide if your lefty starter will likely do well against a certain team, you can keep in mind how tough or easy the matchup is for your left or right-handed pitcher's team (and hence the run support he'll receive), if you're not sure about starting him.


Your starters fall into one of four categories: (1) start always, (2) start unless the matchup is bad, (3) don't start unless the matchup is good, or (4) don't start. So let's go through the lefties in the league and figure which category best fits them:

Mark Buehrle (CWS) -- With wins over TEX and TOR, Buehrle has shown it doesn't matter whom he plays.

Cliff Lee (CLE) -- Perhaps I'm an optimist, but he had three tough starts to open the season against lefty bashers: TEX, TOR, NYY. I still think he turns it around.

Randy Wolf (LAD) -- His ERA is high for his WHIP, and with this team behind him likely sees more wins than losses on bad matchup nights.

Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- His climb back to ace has been slower than we wanted, but he's getting there. Keep starting him.

Johan Santana (NYM) -- If I have to tell you this, go ahead and get your fantasy football cheat sheets started.

CC Sabathia (NYY) -- He has not pitched like an ace, but he has shown signs of coming around. Keep rolling him out there.

Dallas Braden (OAK) -- He's not an ace, but he has shown an ability to beat teams that hit lefties hard (TEX, TOR). Sit him against the Yankees, though.

Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Hamels has become a lesson in anatomy this young season, and has killed my ratios (along with Josh Beckett -- what a combination this year). Having said that, he's been showing his skills lately and if he can stay healthy for five innings should start to see wins.

Erik Bedard (SEA) -- His effort on the south side of Chicago was forgettable, but he appears to be back to form.

Jarrod Washburn (SEA) -- So far he's only had one bad outing, but he also hasn't been tested by a tough lefty matchup. One bad showing against a tough team and he drops to the next category.

Joe Saunders (ANA) -- Looking at whom he's faced so far, his road has been easy. Stick with the formula.

Doug Davis (ARI) -- I wouldn't have put Davis in this category before the season started, but so far so good. Just keep in mind that a matchup against another team's lefty likely means no run support.

Ted Lilly (CHC) -- Actually he's in his own category: only start at home, even if easy lefty matchup on the road.

Sean Marshall (CHC) -- The jury's still out with only three starts and two of them identical ones against STL, but I like him over Lilly.

John Danks (CWS) -- After getting clobbered by TEX and SEA, Danks is the text book case for this category.

Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Rodriguez may be one of the best "sell high" candidates considering whom he's faced.

Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Kershaw is better than this and is a great "buy low" candidate as he figures out how to pitch in the Bigs. Also, he has been lights out at home so far.

Glen Perkins (MIN) -- He's a close "Start Always" candidate, but he was shellacked by the Royals. Prudence says he won't give you enough strikeouts to make up for bad starts, but if I had him he'd start every game.

Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- He's a borderline pick for this category, but the Yankees figure to get better and will make up for most mistakes. Plus, his numbers are better than Sabathia's right now.

Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Likely the poster boy for this category, but has stuff to move up into top category (maybe not this year, though).

Josh Outman (OAK) -- He may not stay in the rotation, but I like him more than Dana Eveland.

Zach Duke (PIT) -- Classic lefty/righty matchup pitcher.

Paul Maholm (PIT) -- I originally wanted to put him in the top category, but he's starting to look mortal. Keep an eye on whom he plays, especially in the second half of the year when the bullpen tires.

Barry Zito (SF) -- I was hoping the good pitching around him would rub off, and it has. He's worth a pickup in mixed leagues, but keep in mind the key to him is simple: low walks equals good results.

Scott Kazmir (TB) -- Walks are absolutely killing him, and if the good ship Tampa Bay starts to sink, he may go down with it and drop a category or two.

Jon Lester (BOS) -- I want Lester to be a category higher, but this is not the same guy that looked unhittable in spring training. I bet he rights himself, but until then, play it safe with him. His start against NYY was good, but not the final word.

Aaron Laffey (CLE) -- He could easily be in the previous category, but I hate all the free passes he's been handing out.

Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Sure you like the strikeouts, but how do you like his walks and hits as well? Be smart using him as his ERA is low for his WHIP.

Mike Hampton (HOU) -- Not buying it for one second. Plus he got hit relatively hard by CIN and STL, teams that can't hit lefties.

Manny Parra (MLW) -- I'd make sure it was one of the really easy teams. He was almost in the bottom category.

Dana Eveland (OAK) -- In five starts he's gotten into the sixth inning twice. If he gets stronger during the year, I'll revisit my assessment.

Eric Stults (LAD) -- He's doing okay eating innings while Hiroki Kuroda is out, but is only really worth a spot start in fantasy leagues.

Jamie Moyer (PHI) -- Moyer has a WHIP of 1.64 and three wins. Yeah, that's fair. So far he's not fooling batters, and you can't expect him to be bailed out all the time.

Randy Johnson (SF) -- Yes, he's the second best lefty of all time (some would argue best), but it's 2009, not 1999, and his control has been erratic (7 BB in 3.1 IP against ARI). I hate his next matchup against the Rockies.

Matt Harrison (TEX) -- His last start saved him from sinking into the bottom category, but I still wouldn't start him at home (especially as the summer heats up).

Jo-Jo Reyes (ATL) -- Won't block Tommy Hanson for too much longer.

Mark Hendrickson (BAL) -- He's faced tough matchups so far, but even with good matchups this is about all you're going to get from him.

Graham Taylor (FLA) -- He's a candidate to be a category up from here, but I still think his team will be win-challenged because of its defense.

Oliver Perez (NYM) -- Perez got demoted to the bullpen rather than shuffled off to Buffalo, but he's being bad against all teams. He's being replaced by lefty Ken Takahashi, who needs to be stretched out more for starting. I still think Tim Redding is the answer.

Brian Tallet (TOR) -- Should only be owned in deep AL-only.

John Lannan (WAS) -- Even when he pitches well he loses. Not worth the frustration.

Scott Olsen (WAS) -- His pitching has been improving, but like Lannan, he plays for a team that rarely wins.

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