Baseball announcers don’t have the easiest job, but that doesn’t mean we should always let them off the hook. So when claims were made about the hitting prowess of lefties, it got some of us thinking. Here, Rick Rowand sets out to find out if left handed hitters really crush the low and inside pitch.
Advertisers and politicians proved long ago that if you say something long enough and loud enough, people will accept it as truth. There are three truths that have been talked about around baseball for so long that they are treated as gospel.
The first of these truths is that left-handed pitchers have more natural movement on their offerings than righties. The second is that left-handers are quirkier than right-handers, especially left-handed pitchers. The third, and the main one we’ll be addressing here, is that left-handed hitters are better at hitting the low and inside pitch than right handers.
We were talking on an off-day and decided to see if there were ways that we could prove or disprove any of these adages; here are the results.
Do lefties have more natural movement?
We tackled the question of lefty pitchers first. After watching hours of video and poring over the various sites that use PITCHf/x to show us the movement on pitches we decided that, nope, it can’t be done. While there are many lefties who have had great movement on their pitches (Randy Johnson, Andrew Miller, Fernando Valenzuela to name a few), there are just as many righties who also have great movement on their pitches. For example, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and this guy.
Are lefties quirkier?
For the second truth we had to rely on anecdotal evidence and various news stories to see if lefties really are flakier than righties. Perhaps the most famous example would be pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, but that would be too easy, so we dug a little deeper into our memory banks. We came up with the very true story of two Yankee pitchers from the 70’s who had their 15 minutes of fame because of what they did off the diamond. They “outflaked” everyone and became famous for perhaps the strangest thing that baseball players have ever done. It all happened during spring training in 1973 when Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich (both lefties) announced that they had traded wives, kids, and houses a few months earlier. There was no word whether pets were also involved in the swap.
Do lefties hit the low-inside pitch better?
In order to answer the hitting question, we decided that science and data were needed. Ian York to the rescue!
Ian broke down every pitch of the 2015 season by league, pitch type, and the handedness of the hitters and pitchers. We used total bases per pitch to determine the success of each at-bat. Just to give you an idea for the size of the sample, there were 165,488 ABs in 2015, which works out to an average of 5,516 per team. Please remember that the charts below are from the catcher’s point of view and they all have the de facto strike zone drawn in. Red areas denote batter success, blue areas batter failure.
We’ve broken down pitch type by fastballs, breaking balls, and off-speed pitches. We’ll start with fastballs at American League parks followed by National League parks:
American League Fastballs
National League Fastballs
As you can see from the above charts there isn’t much of a difference between left-handed and right-handed hitters on low and inside fastballs at least in 2015. Let’s check out the charts for breaking balls and off-speed pitches in AL parks and NL parks:
American League Breaking Balls
National League Breaking Balls
American League Off-Speed
National League Off-Speed
Looking at these charts, we can’t see anything in the numbers that would make us declare that left-handed hitters are better at inside and low pitches than their right-handed counterparts. This looks like a case that combines selective memory and repeated claims without evidence. Until we looked at these charts, we thought it was true as well. Now, the next time Bob Costas, or any other announcer, avows that lefty hitters are better at mashing low-and-inside pitches, we can just smile and shake our heads knowingly.