Too Many Lefties

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Last Wednesday, a biblical storm hit the city of Chicago, keeping people from their jobs, creating holes in the earth that swallowed cars into its belly, and to no one’s surprise, postponing a baseball game that was scheduled to be played in Wrigley Field that day. This postponement did have its upside, however, as the Rangers lineup that was announced for that Wednesday’s game was the following:
2B Kinsler (RH)
SS Andrus (RH)
3B Beltre (RH)
RF Cruz (RH)
C Pierzynski (LH)
LF Murphy (LH)
1B Moreland (LH)
CF Martin (LH)
P Holland (SH – yeah, really)

Four righties, then four lefties, then the pitcher. Because this was to be a game played in a National League park, gone from the lineup was the-killer-Bee-with-the-bad-knee-Berkman, and facing a right-handed starter, that meant Ron Washington’s bench was populated by right-handed hitting Gentry, Baker, Soto, and switch-hitter Garcia.

Of course, the next day was Thursday, the rain came again, the game wasn’t cancelled, and the Rangers put the same lineup on the field, losing 6-2 in a lackluster effort.

In the 17 games the Rangers have played this season, they have fielded lineups with three left-handed hitters in a row seven times, and that one time had four lefties in a row. These consecutive left-handers have always hit in the 7-8-9 or 5-6-7-8 positions in the batting order.

Why does that matter? In those eight games, at least two of those lefties at the bottom of the order have faced a left-handed reliever. In total, those lefties have had 23 plate appearances against left-handed relievers in games where three or four lefties were put in a row in the batting order. One of those plate appearances came in the 6th inning, eleven came in the 7th inning, seven came in the 8th inning, and four came in the 9th inning.

In those 23 plate appearances, the Rangers cluster of left-handed hitters is collectively batting .182/.217/.182. That is four singles, one walk, and four strikeouts in those 23 plate appearances.

With the exception of Erik Bedard, the left-handed relievers that were brought into face the Rangers left-handed hitters were only there to face those left-handed hitters. They either faced one or no right-handed batters before being pulled after making short work of their assignment.

As a team, in 2013 the Rangers left-handed hitters are batting .203/.246/.250 against left-handed pitching.

It is more of an issue for left-handed hitters to be clumped together than right-handed hitters. For example, in 2012, right-handed hitters had a .704 OPS against right-handed pitchers. Left-handers only mustered a .648 OPS against left-handed pitchers. This same disparity is true historically, as well. And now we live in the era of the LOOGY, which makes things especially difficult on lefties at bat.

So how can this issue be fixed?

The obvious answer is to just re-order the batting lineup. But unless you’re comfortable with AJ Pierzynski hitting fifth, with Cruz dropping to seventh in the order, it’s going to be difficult to fix this problem.

Many would say that Craig Gentry should be the starting center fielder, for reasons besides this one but including this one. Gentry may be earning additional playing time, but the Rangers still need to see if Leonys Martin can make the adjustments to big league pitching. He mashed in Triple-A, so after a little more time and patience, he could be a threat in the majors too, or he’ll just be a Quadruple-A player. But he needs the time.

A trade may be the answer, but the only position in the grouping of lefties the Rangers may make a trade for this season is 1B, if Moreland continues to struggle as he has to this point. And if the Rangers do trade for a first baseman, it’s likely they wouldn’t even land a right-handed player.

A Jurickson Profar call-up could be the cure. If Profar is in the lineup, assuming that Kinsler and Andrus are healthy and playing as well, he would likely hit in the 8th spot in the order, and his switch-hitting bat would at least add a wrinkle to the equation for the opposing manager who brings in his lefty specialist late in the game. This still may not be a likely scenario, as it would force Kinsler to get some starts at 1B in 2013, and if that didn’t happen out of Spring Training, it may not ever.

Finally, Ron Washington may just need to become more comfortable with pinch-hitting with some right-handers off the bench late in games to neutralize the opposing team’s LOOGY.

While hope is not a strategy, it seems to be all the Rangers are left with in regards to their lefty-stacking lineup issues. Hope that Moreland breaks out of his slump, and does so by hitting lefties. Hope that Murphy hits left-handed pitching like he did in 2012. Hope that Martin makes the adjustments necessary.

It’s a problem without a readily available answer, which is frustrating, and may only get more frustrating as the season goes on and those late-inning left-on-left matchups continue to go against Texas and hinder the necessary rallies and insurance runs.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM

Peter Ellwood

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