The Yankees Search to Add a Left-Handed Hitter Is Not What You Think (Guest Post – Steve Contu
The Yankees, as advertised, are looking for a proven major league hitter who bats from the left side. And there’s a darn good reason for it…
The Yankees are being questioned about their massive right-handed lineup and the absence of a lefty hitter to replace the departed Didi Gregorius and the perennially injured Aaron Hicks, who is expected to miss at least the first half of the 2020 season.
The Yankees are not denying their interest in signing or trading for a left-handed bat, but it’s not so they can present a “balanced lineup.”
Those days are gone, and when you arrive in the major leagues, you are either a hitter – or not.
It doesn’t matter whether you are facing a lefty or a righty; you are expected to succeed against both.
DJ LeMahieu, a right-handed batter hit .310 against righty pitchers.
Mike Ford, a lefty, hit nearly 100 points higher against left-handed pitchers than against righties. And for Gio Urshela, it didn’t factor in at all as he hit .320 against righties and .303 against lefties.
No, what matters, and the reason why the Yankees want another left-handed bat in their lineup is simple – they perform better as hitters than righties.
The real reason the Yankees want a lefty
Statistically, left-handed batters have a batting average that is 7 points higher than right-handed batters – .270 for lefties, .263 for righties – according to John Walsh’s study The Advantage of Lefties in Baseball.
Live Science even argues that baseball is rigged for left-handers.
From the two-step jump, a left-handed batter has running to first base to the eyeball-to-eyeball contact a lefty has with the runner at first base, all hail those who are left-handed.
And let’s not even mention the short porch at the House That Ruth (Lefty? – Yes) Built at Yankee Stadium.
You know, the same place where Brett Gardner‘s stroke fit ideally 28 times into home runs and runs scored. Ditto Gregorius, and Mark Teixeria, Jason Giambi, and Tino Martinez before him.
Everything goes out the window, though, if you have the farcical images of 6’9″ sidearming Randy Johnson facing John Kruk in the 1993 All-Star Game.
But that’s the exception and not the rule. The best lefty pitchers in baseball come over the top or three-quarters, which equates to the same angle as righties facing most righties.
Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Jon Lester – all of whom throw “over the top,” none of them instill fear in a left-handed batter as Johnson once did.
The playing field is now pretty much leveled, and a manager can play with the analytics if he chooses to, but there is no direct need to do so.
So, as the Yankees look at their lineup, and if we assume Brian Cashman is unable to land a lefty bat, the focus is then drawn to the battle at first base between Luke Voit and Mike Ford.
Tradition in baseball, for what it’s worth, says the job belongs to Voit until he proves otherwise.
Returning from a hernia injury that cut his 2019 season short, Voit still holds the promise of the reason why the Yankees scouted him for more than a year before landing him in a trade with the Cardinals.
But baseball is filled with Wally Pipp stories about giving way to Lou Gehrig for the next 2,130 games.
While not quite as dramatic, Ford, as a left-handed bat who hit 12 home runs while driving in 25 runs in 50 games, is a viable contender for Voit’s status on the Yankees.
With Brett Gardner now in tow as THE left-handed bat in the Yankees lineup, logic, and apparently even science, says the Yankees are forced to install Ford over Voit, no matter what Spring Training proves between the two.
Which, if need be reminded, is why Cashman and Aaron Boone get paid the big bucks to decide these things.
But in a world (I choose not to live in) where analytics rule everything, Luke Voit, because of fate at birth, may become the odd man out.
I’m not sure how to figure this, but so far, it sounds like the Yankees have been paying attention to science and analytics…while another and better choice says just let it play out.