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Lefties leave O's out to pasture

Perusing the news reports of the Orioles' third straight loss to the Dodgers, I noticed this paragraph buried deep in Dave Sheinin's story in the Washington Post:

Los Angeles's Kaz Ishii was the second in a string of five straight left-handed starters the Orioles will face during this road trip, including three straight this weekend at Colorado -- a fact which bodes poorly for their chances, given the team's collective .236 average against lefties (last in the league) entering Thursday.

I hadn't really noticed that the Orioles were struggling so much against left-handers this year, and I would not have guessed that such would be the case before the season started. After all, only three regulars, Rafael Palmeiro, Jay Gibbons, and Larry Bigbie, are left-handed hitters, and all three had held their own against lefties prior to this year.

But the Orioles' hitting splits against lefties this year are revulsive. Their .672 OPS against lefties places them squarely at the bottom of the AL. Four regulars have OPS's against lefties under .600: Gibbons (.577), Palmeiro (.527), Bigbie (the .501 blues), and, surprisingly, right-handed Luis Matos (a puke-worthy .438). Of the other regulars, only Miguel Tejada (1.015) and Jerry Hairston (.999) have put much of a hurt on left-handers, and Hairston has only been around for the last month. Melvin Mora (.860) has held his own against lefties, but he's been far more destructive of righties (1.051).

Needless to say, when 44% of your lineup is hitting below replacement level against lefties, you don't have a great chance of sustaining a rally against them. Not surprisingly, the Orioles are 6-13 in games in which the opponent's starter was left-handed, compared to 21-22 against righty starters. And it's not as if the Orioles have been facing left-handed aces every time. Sure, Jamie Moyer has had a stranglehold on the Birds for years, and Randy Johnson and Jarrod Washburn are no pushovers, but there have also been losses to less heralded names like Casey Fossum and Scott Schoeneweis. Baltimore hasn't even faced Oakland's Mulder/Zito combo yet.

Is there a chance of a turnaround from this lefty-flailing? The regression-to-the-mean principle would say yes, although left-handed hitters have been known to get into season-long funks against lefty pitching. Using the weight of career stats, I'd say that Palmeiro has an excellent chance of pulling out of his slide against lefties because he has had virtually no righty-lefty bias in his career: a .938 OPS against lefties (.895 in 2001-2003) and an almost identical .946 against righties (.936 in '01-'03). Bigbie and Gibbons should also pick up a little bit; both have hit lefties in the past, although with less power than against righties.

Matos is a weird case. Although he bats from the right side, he has been atrocious against lefties in his brief career (.571 vs. LHP, .760 vs. RHP). Although his 300-some plate appearances against lefties may not accurately represent his true ability, they strongly suggest that Matos needs to change something in his hitting approach against left-handed pitching.

Of course, three games against Shawn Estes, Jeff Fassero, and Joe Kennedy at hopped-up Coors Field have the potential to boost those lefty splits considerably. The team OPS against lefties may rise quite a few points before the weekend is over.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 18, 2004 12:39 PM.

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