100% of White Sox lefty bats pictured here. (John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)
I heard Brian Cashman state in an interview that the Yankees have prioritized acquiring left-handed hitters over the years. The White Sox front office has also repeatedly said that they are in the market for another left-handed hitter. Given the White Sox’ projected lineup – something like de Aza, Keppinger, Dunn, Konerko, Rios, Viciedo, Flowers, Ramirez, Beckham – has only two lefties, and a number of righties with severe platoon splits, this isn’t really a surprise. How much does this really matter? Our readership seems split on the question, voting No 52% to 48% on whether it was a “big deal” that the White Sox lacked much lefty hitting. Let’s take a closer look.
Last year with A.J. Pierzynski in that lineup, the White Sox hit .256/.318/.417 against right-handed pitchers, and .252/.320/.435 against lefties. On its face, that’s a difference of .020 points of OPS, which isn’t really a big deal. On the other hand, there are a lot more right-handed pitchers than left-handed ones. How many more?
Last year the White Sox had 4,499 PAs against RHP and only 1,612 against LHP. Perhaps this is a self-fulfilling prophecy to an extent – if you’re facing a lineup that’s better against LHP, you’d probably try to line up as many right-handers as possible against them. However, that effect is probably small. Let’s compare to say, the Yankees, whose lineup featured prominent lefties Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson, switch-hitters like Mark Teixeira (who is, I admit, better from the right side) and Nick Swisher, and left-handed platoon players like Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez. The Yankees faced righties 4,037 times compared to 2,194 lefties. The Yankees also had a .020 OPS platoon split, this time favoring hitting against righties – however, they leveraged their platoon advantage over 2,425 more PAs than the White Sox did, even with managers presumably trying to get their best bullpen match-ups on either side.
Anecdotally, extreme lefty specialists exist in more abundance than extreme right-handed ones. Even so, managers are generally limited to tweaking their pitching out of relief, and have much less flexibility to queue up their starters against their opponents in the regular season. This extremely minimal and utterly unscientific approach seems to indicate that stacking your lineup with lefties has much to recommend it.
The White Sox tied their own hands with their present roster construction in many ways long ago, and are simply having to cope with the effects of some old decisions as best they can. It’s a bit late in this offseason – or frankly, in this current roster construction process – to correct this lopsided lineup. This article does not mean that it was necessarily wrong to bring in Keppinger or let Pierzynski go. I still largely agree with those moves. But this is just to look at another way where the White Sox may have handicapped themselves in their run production – and I still wish the White Sox were running out an Eric Chavez/Jeff Keppinger 3B platoon this year.