Portsiders in the Pen

October 20, 2018
All About "Lefties"
 
I’m intrigued by lefties. I’m sure part of it is related to their relative scarceness. Only about 10% of the U.S. population is left-handed.   
 
U.S. presidents have slightly exceeded that rate, as 6 of the 44 men (14%) who have held the highest office have been left-handed (I’m only counting Grover Cleveland once). We’ve had a run on them in recent years, as 5 of the last 8 (Obama, Clinton, Bush (the elder), Reagan, and Ford) were all left-handed (Truman was the other).   It’s interesting that half the lefties have actually been "righties" on the political spectrum. 
 
In baseball, lefties appear more frequently than they do in the general population. In 2018, about 25% of pitchers threw left handed. About 12% of non-pitchers threw left-handed, which, when you think about it, is actually a pretty decent percentage when you consider that 4 of the fielding positions (second base, shortstop, third base, and catcher), for all intents and purposes, don’t produce any left-handers.
 
Quick sidebar….who are the most recent left-handers to appear at those 4 positions in the Major Leagues? Here’s what I found:
 
·         Catcher – Benny Distefano – 1989
·         Second Base – Anthony Rizzo – 2018 (he also did it in 2017 and 2016)
·         Third Base – Anthony Rizzo – 2017
·         Shortstop – Nino Escalera – 1954
 
Now, of course, most of this is either pure quirkiness or represents token appearances for a variety of reasons. Rizzo has had several games where he gets counted as "playing" second base because of how he’s positioned on certain bunt plays. There’s a rule that states that, when he’s further away from first base than another player (in this case, the second baseman), he’s not allowed to wear his first baseman’s mitt, and he gets designated as the second baseman.
 
Other notable left-handers with ten or more games at these positions (not an exhaustive list, but just some of the more recognizable names)?
 
  • Catcher – Fred Tenney, Jiggs Donahue, Jack Clements
  • Second Base – Anthony Rizzo (again, due to the quirkiness of the rule), Hal Chase, Willie Keeler, Roger Connor
  • Third Base – Mike Squires, Willie Keeler, Roger Connor
  • Shortstop – Jimmy Ryan, George Van Haltren
 
As you might have guessed, it was a much more common occurrence in the early years of baseball than it has been in more recent decades.
 
Lefty as a Nickname
 
"Lefty" appears to be the most common nickname in baseball history. There’s a page on baseball-reference.com that lists players and nicknames, and I did a quick tally of the results. Here are the most common nicknames according to that source:
 
Nickname
Total
 Lefty
126
 Red
48
 Dutch
32
 Doc
27
 Buck
19
 Moose
17
 Whitey
15
 Big Bill
15
 Big Ed
12
 Sheriff
11
 Pete
11
 Jumbo
11
 Jack
11
 Chief
11
 Bull
11
 Wild Bill
10
 
However…..there’s a bit of a caveat to this. In looking at the results, I noticed that some of the more well-known "Lefty"s, such as Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez, Lefty O’Doul, etc., are not included in those results because the site considers "Lefty" to be part of their baseball common names rather than designated as a "nickname". So, the actual count of "Lefty"s is much higher than 126. Of course, the same is true of the other names (for example, Red Ruffing, Red Rolfe, Red Faber, and Red Ames are not included in the "Red"s). So, those results need to be taken with a grain of salt. 
 
I did a separate query on the site by specifically plugging in "Lefty" into the player name search, which pulls in both cases….those with "Lefty" in the player’s "baseball name", and also if it appears in the "nickname". The result? It’s actually a whopping 181 Major League players!
 
I was curious about how those names were distributed over time. Here they are, grouped by the decade of the last year that the player appeared in the Majors:
 
Decade
Total
1870s
1
1890s
6
1900s
8
1910s
26
1920s
47
1930s
37
1940s
36
1950s
16
1960s
2
1970s
1
1980s
1
Total
181
 
So, the nickname really started to catch on in the 1910’s, and was very common for about 40-50 years, and then basically started to fade away pretty quickly after that. The player from the 1980’s, by the way, was Steve Carlton.   "Lefty" appears to have ended with him, and we haven’t had any "Lefty"s in the last 30 years.
 
In addition, the site lists an additional 82 minor league "Leftys", plus another 12 from the Negro Leagues. Also, one manager (Lefty Phillips).
 
I did not attempt to tally by position, but just in eyeballing them, the overwhelming majority, as you might have guessed, were pitchers.
 
For those of you keeping track…..there have been zero players nicknamed "Righty". 
 
Southpaw Starters
 
Sandy Koufax. Lefty Grove. Randy Johnson. Warren Spahn. Steve Carlton. "King Carl" Hubbell. Many of the top left-handed pitchers represent true baseball royalty.
 
In total, 15 left-handed hurlers are in the Hall of Fame (not counting players like Babe Ruth, George Sisler, and Jesse Burkett who were primarily elected as position players). Here are the 15, listed in descending order by rWAR:
 
Rk
Player
WAR
W
L
ERA
1
Lefty Grove
112.5
300
141
3.06
2
Randy Johnson
103.6
303
166
3.29
3
Warren Spahn
92.6
363
245
3.09
4
Eddie Plank
88.2
326
194
2.35
5
Steve Carlton
84.4
329
244
3.22
6
Tom Glavine
74.1
305
203
3.54
7
Carl Hubbell
68.7
253
154
2.98
8
Rube Waddell
60.8
193
143
2.16
9
Hal Newhouser
60.7
207
150
3.06
10
Eppa Rixey
56.8
266
251
3.15
11
Whitey Ford
53.5
236
106
2.75
12
Sandy Koufax
53.2
165
87
2.76
13
Herb Pennock
43.9
241
162
3.6
14
Lefty Gomez
43.1
189
102
3.34
15
Rube Marquard
34.4
201
177
3.08
 
One thing I find interesting is that the Hall of Fame lefties have been concentrated onto a few teams. The A’s have 3 of the 15 (Grove, Plank, Waddell), the Yankees have 3 (Ford, Pennock, Gomez), the Giants have 2 (Hubbell and Marquard), and the Braves have 2 (Spahn and Glavine). The remaining lefties are sprinkled among the Diamondbacks (Johnson, who I would consider more as a Diamondback than a Mariner even though he played more seasons with Seattle), Phillies (Carlton), Tigers (Newhouser), Reds (Rixey), and Dodgers (Koufax). 
 
Among the leading candidates who might eventually go into the Hall, you see many of the same teams repeated: there is Clayton Kershaw (another Dodger), C.C. Sabathia (Yankees, although he’s pretty evenly split between New York and Cleveland), Andy Pettitte (Yankees) and Tommy John (who would probably go in as either a Yankee or a Dodger).   Maybe Jim Kaat (mostly Twins) will go in at some point. I think Kershaw’s the best bet of this group to make the Hall, but I certainly wouldn’t be too surprised by any of the others.
 
What is one thing that all of the lefty Hall of Fame pitchers have in common? They were all starting pitchers. Well, to be more specific, they were all primarily starting pitchers. Grove and Hubbell, for example, each had over 100 games in relief, and each lead the league (retroactively) in saves once, as that was not an uncommon usage of star pitchers in that general era. In fact, both Grove and Hubbell had seasons in which they led the league in both ERA and saves, and Hubbell also led in complete games that same season.   How many pitchers have been able to lead in all 3 of those in the same season? I’m not sure of the answer. I know Ed Walsh accomplished it once. I suspect there may be a few others.
 
Some of the other Hall of Fame lefties accumulated a significant number of relief appearances as well. However, any reasonable person would consider all 15 to be "starting pitchers". You just don’t see that many dominant, career lefty relievers.
 
Which brings us to the main segment of the article…..
 
Portsiders in the Pen
 
The only Hall of Fame pitchers classified primarily as relievers are Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, and Trevor Hoffman, although Mariano Rivera is a lock to join their ranks next year. There are no left-handed relievers in the Hall. 
 
The best lefty reliever candidate to date has been Billy Wagner, who has been on the ballot 3 times and has received 10-11% of the vote each time. He has a good case, but it’s difficult to see him gaining enough support to be elected by the writers.
 
Is Wagner the greatest lefty reliever of all time? Probably. Let’s examine the field.
 
I did a pull of left-handed pitchers from baseball-reference.com in which I only pulled in their stats while appearing as a reliever. I pulled in the top 300 based on relief games. So, for example, while Bruce Chen (who was #300 in the list) appeared in 400 games as a Major Leaguer, he only had 173 as a reliever, with the other 227 coming as a starting pitcher. Only his stats as a reliever in those 173 games are included in the analysis to follow. 
 
Here are a few lefty leaders in different categories among those 300 pitchers (* indicates active):
 
Lefty Relief Games:
Player
G
Jesse Orosco
1,248
Mike Stanton
1,177
John Franco
1,119
Dan Plesac
1,050
Sparky Lyle
899
Paul Assenmacher
883
Eddie Guardado
883
Mike Myers
883
Alan Embree
878
Billy Wagner
853
 
Lefty Relief Innings Pitched:
Player
IP
Sparky Lyle
1,390
Tug McGraw
1,301
Jesse Orosco
1,277
Tom Burgmeier
1,248
John Franco
1,245
Ron Perranoski
1,170
Mike Stanton
1,110
Gary Lavelle
1,077
Darold Knowles
1,052
Paul Lindblad
1,045
 
 
Lefty Saves:
Player
Saves
John Franco
424
Billy Wagner
422
Randy Myers
347
Dave Righetti
252
Sparky Lyle
238
Aroldis Chapman*
236
Brian Fuentes
204
Mitch Williams
192
Eddie Guardado
187
Tug McGraw
180
 
Note – Franco, Wagner, and Myers are in the top 12 on the all-time Saves list, but then you don’t see another lefty until Righetti at #36.   In all, only 17 of the top 100 on the Saves list are left-handed.
 
ERA among lefty relievers
Player
ERA
IP as Reliever
Zach Britton*
1.79
291
Aroldis Chapman*
2.24
478
Jonny Venters*
2.25
263
Billy Wagner
2.31
903
Andrew Miller*
2.56
400
Tony Watson*
2.67
519
Scott Downs
2.68
504
Wilbur Wood
2.71
565
Billy O'Dell
2.71
498
Joe Gibbon
2.73
412
 
There are several surprising names among the ERA leader group, for 2 basic reasons:
 
  1. Several pitchers are still active, and their ERAs are likely to fall by the time their careers end.

  2. Several of these pitchers’ career records include significant time as a starting pitcher, and they were much more effective in relief, and therefore their overall career records often mask how effective they were in relief.
 
Britton and Venters are examples of the first type, as they are active and have fewer than 300 innings pitched to date, so it may not be fair to include them.
 
Downs is a good example of the second type. As a reliever, his ERA was 2.68. As a starting pitcher, it was 5.35.
 
Miller is much the same way. Although he was a highly regarded prospect, he floundered for years as a starting pitcher with a 5.70 ERA and a 1.4 K/BB ratio. As a reliever, although he’s generally not filled a closer role, he found his groove, with a 2.56 ERA and a 3.9 K/BB ratio.
 
Gibbon and O’Dell didn’t have nearly as dramatic a split as Downs or Miller, but they were kind of similar to each other– they both were decent starting pitchers, generally mid-to-high 3.00 ERA’s, but posted much lower ERAs out of the pen.
 
If we were to continue down the ERA list, the next 4 names (all retired) would be:
 
Player
ERA
Don Mossi
2.77
Ron Perranoski
2.78
John Hiller
2.78
Jim Brewer
2.80
 
Yes! We have a Don Mossi sighting…..
 
Who has been particularly difficult to hit? Here are the hits/9 IP leaders among the 300 pitchers in the data set:
 
Player
H/9
IP
Aroldis Chapman*
4.93
478
Andrew Miller*
5.76
400
Ryan Buchter*
5.89
168
Billy Wagner
5.99
903
Tom Hall
6.18
473
Sean Doolittle*
6.34
328
Hung-Chih Kuo
6.43
224
Zach Britton*
6.43
291
Brad Hand*
6.62
307
Charlie Furbush
6.62
201
 
Again, that list is dominated by both active pitchers and pitchers with relatively few innings pitched. If we set a minimum of 400 relief innings pitched, we’d get this list:
 
Player
H/9
IP
Aroldis Chapman*
4.93
478
Andrew Miller*
5.76
400
Billy Wagner
5.99
903
Tom Hall
6.18
473
Mitch Williams
6.90
681
Pete Richert
7.00
405
B.J. Ryan
7.12
536
Tony Sipp*
7.20
482
Damaso Marte
7.24
503
Arthur Rhodes
7.25
865
 
Now, I know that these are relievers, and relief rate stats are typically more impressive than those of starters. However, it is worth noting that the stingiest pitcher (more than 1,000 innings) is Nolan Ryan, who allowed 6.56 hits per 9 innings. If you lower the threshold down to 400 innings, 2 active pitchers have allowed fewer than 5.0:
 
Craig Kimbrel – 4.82 in 532 innings
Aroldis Chapman – 4.93 in 478 innings
 
LOOGYs
 
As you probably know, LOOGY is an acronym for Left-handed One-Out GuY, indicating lefty pitchers that are primarily brought in to face one or two batters, often in the hopes of obtaining a short-term platoon advantage. While reviewing lefty relievers, I thought I’d take a crack at trying to identify who might be the best relievers that fit this description over the course of their careers. 
 
I used a very simple ranking system across 4 categories that might be characteristic of such a pitcher. I decided to look for pitchers who faced relatively few batters per appearance, were typically not involved in either the decision or saving the game, and were seldom used to finish out a game.
 
I settled on the following categories:
  • Batters faced per game (low batters faced per game = high rank)
  • Innings pitched per game (similar to batters faced, but a slightly different metric)
  • Wins, losses, plus saves (low sum total of these = high rank)
  • % of games finished (low % of games finished = high rank)
 
I then added total relief games to give some weight to those that had longer careers.
 
I ranked each of the 300 pitchers across those categories, and then averaged the ranks. Here are the 10 pitchers that scored the "highest" using that system (minimum 300 IP), along with some of their key figures (remembering that we’re looking for pitchers that tended to have low figures in most of these categories).
 
LOOGY Rank
Player
G
IP
Batters Faced (BF)
BF/G
W
L
W+L+Sv
W+L+ Sv % of Games
Games Finished (GF)
GF/G
1
Randy Choate
672
408
1,750
2.60
16
14
37
5.5%
102
15%
2
Javier Lopez
839
533
2,273
2.71
30
17
61
7.3%
163
19%
3
Ray King
593
411
1,747
2.95
20
23
45
7.6%
97
16%
4
Marc Rzepczynski
483
310
1,349
2.79
8
19
29
6.0%
68
14%
5
Mike Myers
883
541
2,385
2.70
25
24
63
7.1%
195
22%
6
Boone Logan
635
442
1,970
3.10
30
23
56
8.8%
104
16%
7
Trever Miller
689
504
2,226
3.23
18
14
43
6.2%
133
19%
8
Tim Byrdak
479
339
1,525
3.18
13
13
30
6.3%
56
12%
9
Luis Avilan
399
308
1,284
3.22
19
10
31
7.8%
48
12%
10
Dennys Reyes
633
521
2,301
3.64
25
18
47
7.4%
120
19%
 
I’m pretty happy with those results. In terms of identifying pitchers that would qualify as a LOOGY, I think it’s a pretty good list. I searched for LOOGY references and articles on the internet, and the names that tended to emerge pretty well match the list above, with the possible exception of Jesse Orosco. He’s a bit of a special case…..he was a closer-type early in his career, but became a prominent LOOGY in his later years. John Candelaria would be another example of someone who transformed from another role (in his case, a solid starting pitcher) into a LOOGY-type late in his career.
 
Cream of the Lefty Crop
 
OK. So who would be the best career lefty relievers? I came up with another ranking system, this time spanning 10 categories. I tried to have a variety of categories covering a spectrum of potential excellence. Some were compiler-type categories (games, innings pitched), while others were rate categories (K/9, HR % allowed, etc.). Some (like K/9) really favor more recent pitchers as strikeouts have been rising. Others (like IP/G) tend to favor older relievers who tended to stay in the game longer. I was hoping for a decent representation across several decades.
 
Here are the categories I used:
  • Saves
  • Innings Pitched
  • Innings Pitched per Game
  • Strikeouts per 9 innings
  • Relief Games
  • ERA
  • WHIP
  • Strikeouts-to-Walk Ratio
  • % of Games Finished
  • HR Allowed % (HR allowed divided by batters faced)
 
I ranked each pitcher in each category, and then averaged the rankings. Here are the top 20 lefty relievers using this system, with the numbers in the column indicating where the pitcher ranked among the 300 pitchers in each category (a lower number indicating a higher rank). A lower "average rank" number implies a better/higher rank.
 
 
Rank in Each Category
Player
Avg. Rank
Saves
IP
IP/G
K/9
Games
ERA
WHIP
K/W
GF%
HR %
Billy Wagner
40.4
2
15
149
3
10
4
2
3
1
215
Aroldis Chapman*
41.5
6
100
177
1
83
2
3
6
7
30
Tug McGraw
45.6
10
2
33
169
14
19
42
116
11
40
Jim Brewer
54.2
18
19
45
128
60
14
19
68
15
156
Randy Myers
55.1
3
25
130
37
24
61
84
62
3
122
Sparky Lyle
57.3
5
1
50
223
5
21
70
140
9
49
John Hiller
59.3
21
14
17
93
79
12
74
125
8
150
John Franco
61.9
1
5
135
149
3
24
118
116
10
58
Terry Forster
62.6
19
16
53
169
49
24
93
156
39
8
Gary Lavelle
64.4
17
8
65
185
18
19
112
161
43
16
Zach Britton*
65.6
16
215
161
53
173
1
5
19
2
11
Al Holland
67.1
38
55
47
119
125
21
22
75
30
139
Joe Sambito
67.7
34
52
99
144
98
36
27
43
24
120
Steve Hamilton
67.8
66
65
82
106
111
30
11
39
76
92
Willie Hernandez
68.0
13
12
86
156
21
68
34
63
34
193
Ron Perranoski
70.8
11
6
41
245
20
12
116
231
19
7
Jesse Orosco
73.3
14
3
159
75
1
52
55
104
99
171
Don Mossi
74.4
60
110
49
191
164
11
13
32
54
60
Steve Howe
74.8
31
51
117
263
80
38
26
61
50
31
Dave LaRoche
76.1
20
13
52
144
34
83
87
152
23
153
 
I think that’s a fair representation of the top lefty relievers of all time. Subjectively, I would probably have included Dave Righetti somewhere in the top 20 (he just missed, at #22), and I would probably have Franco ranked closer to the top, but overall I’m pretty happy. 
 
Others that finished just outside the top 20 include B.J. Ryan, Bill Henry, Andrew Miller, Al Hrabosky, and Dan Plesac. 
 
Some of the lefties that didn’t do real well by this method but who could be considered top 20 material include Brian Fuentes, Mitch Williams, Eddie Guardado, Joe Hoerner, and Darold Knowles. In Fuentes’ case, I don’t think I did enough to compensate for the fact that he pitched most of his career in Colorado. In doing my data pull, I didn’t see a way to bring in ERA+ as part of the "reliever-only" stats, which would have helped him.
 
Top Lefty Relievers of the Non-Closer Type
 
One other group I was interested in identifying was the top lefty relievers who were not primarily used in a closer capacity. They had bigger roles than the LOOGYs, but weren’t typically considered the "closer". I used the same categories as above, but limited to pitchers who had saves in fewer than 20% of their relief appearances, and who had fewer than 100 total career saves. 2 of the above group (Hamilton and Mossi) appeared in this group.
 
Here are the top relievers using this approach:
 
Player
G
IP
H/9
K/9
K/BB
SV
ERA
Steve Hamilton
404
553
7.26
7.6
2.5
42
2.93
Don Mossi
295
458
7.92
6.3
2.6
50
2.77
Andrew Miller
418
400
5.76
13.4
3.9
53
2.56
Wilbur Wood
354
565
8.00
5.1
1.9
57
2.71
Woodie Fryman
303
451
7.36
6.3
1.8
58
2.89
Bobby Shantz
366
705
7.58
6.0
1.7
48
3.20
Billy O'Dell
280
498
7.82
6.3
1.9
50
2.71
Paul Assenmacher
883
854
8.57
8.5
2.6
56
3.50
Gary Lucas
391
559
8.21
5.7
1.8
63
2.89
Paul Lindblad
623
1,045
8.22
5.0
1.8
64
3.10
 
The Cuban Missle
 
Billy Wagner comes out as the #1 lefty reliever by the method I used, and I do think that clearly he’s been the best lefty reliever in history. The question now becomes, then, can Aroldis Chapman surpass him?
 
I think he can.
 
Here’s how they compare through age 30 (Chapman’s current baseball age):
 
Players
IP
ERA
G
SV
H
ER
BB
K
WAR
K/9
K/BB
Aroldis Chapman
478.2
2.24
490
238
262
119
223
798
16.0
15.0
 3.6
Billy Wagner
418.1
2.69
386
181
281
125
168
589
12.6
12.7
 3.5
 
Chapman’s K/9 advantage is, in part, due to the nature of today’s game. Wagner through age 30 struck out 12.7 per 9 in a game where the average over that time span was about 6.6, while Chapman has been striking out 15.0 per 9 where the average over that time has been about 7.8. If you normalize both of their figures vs. the average for the time frame, they’re nearly identical (about 1.9 times the average). They’re both very impressive figures.
 
Chapman is about 50 saves ahead of Wagner at the same age, and he should have a lot of baseball ahead of him. Chapman has a pretty good ERA advantage through age 30, but that’s a little misleading as Wagner actually brought his career figure down significantly after age 30, as he ended up with a 2.31 career mark. In his years after turning 30, Wagner had a sparkling 1.99 ERA.
 
Nevertheless, I think Chapman has a decent shot at surpassing Wagner’s career performance. Chapman has been very consistent. If he continues to average around 35 saves a season, he’s a little over 5 years away from catching both Wagner and Franco in the saves department. Whether he has enough left to get to, say, 500 career saves (which would put him #3 all-time behind Rivera and Hoffman) is questionable.
 
Will he be able to become the first lefty to get elected to the Hall of Fame? My guess is, probably not. Relievers are one of the trickier positions to evaluate when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration. We had a run of them a while back, but after Rivera is elected, it could be a while before we see any others. Craig Kimbrel probably has the best shot of the active closers. Perhaps Kenley Jansen, too. Closers don’t seem to have the cache that they did a while back. The increasing reliance on metrics such as WAR I think tend to work against relievers, as it’s difficult to post impressive career figures when you pitch as few innings as modern closers do.
 
Chapman does have a leg up over Wagner in that he does have a championship ring with the Cubs in 2016, and he has generally pitched well in the postseason. Wagner, on the other hand, has a rather disastrous postseason record, which is one of the knocks frequently brought up against him.
 
Chapman just doesn’t strike me as being on a Hall of Fame track at this point. He’s notorious for the speed of his fastball, of course, and his K/9 rate is amazing, but others like Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen are posting similar marks during this strikeout-happy era, which takes a little bit of the luster away. 
 
He’s been very consistent, always seems to be in the mid-to-high 30’s in saves. He’s been outstanding, but I’d have to say Kimbrel has had more "eye-catching" seasons, and that could end up hurting Chapman. Also, there could be some lingering "character" questions related to the incident that led to his suspension a couple of years ago, and I suspect some voters would have some issues with that.
 
I do think he has an excellent shot at being recognized as the greatest lefty reliever ever. But, ultimately, I’m skeptical about his chances for the Hall. 
 
Thanks for reading,
Dan
 
 
 

COMMENTS (19 Comments, most recent shown first)

shthar
Suppose the game had baserunners going clockwise around the bases, Would that make 3/4 of all infielders left handed?
1:27 PM Oct 23rd
 
evanecurb
An exceptionally skilled pitcher with one hand could never succeed in the major leagues because on balls hit to him, he would not be able to take off his glove and make throws. He would be bunted mercilessly and helpless to defend against it. Wait....Who? Abbott? Oh. Never mind.
11:59 AM Oct 23rd
 
astros34
Re: Billy Wagner, you ask and answer that he's probably the best lefty reliever of all time. Funny thing about that is he is a natural right-hander who learned to throw lefty because he kept fracturing his right arm. That makes his accomplishments even more amazing, to be able to exceed 100 MPH WITH CONTROL!

Why have there been no day-to-day catchers who were lefthanded? That's the one that bugs me.

If a guy had the talent of Andrelton Simmons or Ozzie Smith and were lefthanded, I still think he would still end up in centerfield or first base. My theory is that Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly were almost in that class defensively, didn't have the range for centerfield, and couldn't play regularly at third, so they ended up as phenomenal defensive first-basemen. Same for guys like Mike Jorgensen (who DID play a lot of OF) and Mike Squires (who played a few games at third).
10:19 AM Oct 23rd
 
337
The problem with that argument, however, is that you can't know if the exceptionally-skilled 12-year-old lefty shortstop is THAT exceptionally skilled that he will be able to compete at higher levels. The probability is that he isn't, so you're condemning him, almost for sure, to switching to his eventual position, as opposed to placing him at the position he probably WILL be able to play. If you've got a guy, say, who's exceptionally large and bulky and slow-footed at age 12 but who happens to be your most sure-handed fielder with a good throwing arm, you'd probably put him at 3B, or even at 1B, because that's where you know he'll moved eventually, maybe even in a year or two as the competition increases. Same with lefties: why play at a position he will almost certainly be shifted from at the next level of play? You're depriving him of years of practicing at the position that's best for him.
8:03 AM Oct 23rd
 
Brock Hanke
I'm a lefty who has tried to play everywhere, although I always end up at catcher, because I'm slow as molasses. The hardest, for me, aside from speed issues in the outfield, were: 1) Second Base. The double play pivot is impossible. It's not just the turning to throw; it's the position you have to take to catch the ball thrown to you by the shortstop on the DP and THEN the pivot. 2) Shortstop. The impossible problem here is the ball hit in the hole. It's the longest throw you will have to make, and you have to spin like a top to make it. On the other hand, the DP pivot is EASIER for a lefty to make than it is for a righty. Actually, it's easier if the fielder feeding you the ball is the second baseman; it's harder if the ball comes from third. 3) Third Base. Actually, I would draw a line here. Third Base isn't impossible, because there is no real "ball in the hole" problem; those are foul balls and you don't have to throw anyone out. You also don't have to do DP pivots.

On a side note, I also spent 27 years doing an odd form of stick fighting, where you're outfitted like medieval knights. The organization has a tournament to determine the new "king" every 6 months. I finished second twice, and in the semifinals 6 other times, so I was pretty good. I always felt that it was an advantage to be a lefty in that sport. Well, one of my friends did a little research. Not only do lefties win a higher percentage of these tournaments than their 10% of the populace, they win FORTY PERCENT of those tournaments. It's a HUGE advantage in that sport, which is related to baseball only in that both require you to swing a stick.
4:37 AM Oct 22nd
 
DMBBHF
rwarn,

I think you make a good point, and really what you're saying is that just because there may be some fundamental, natural advantages for righty throwers as a group, it shouldn't prevent an individual with extraordinary skills from excelling at those positions if he can make all the necessary plays. The skill set is ultimately more important than the "handed-ness", assuming that the people who make the decisions are open-minded enough to consider the potential of the individual, rather than just the typical characteristics of the group.

Actually, a pretty good lesson for life..... :)

Dan
11:41 AM Oct 21st
 
rwarn17588
Thanks for the responses to my question, everyone. I thought natural positioning for the throw was the reason there aren't many lefties in the infield, but I wanted to make sure there wasn't some other reason I was missing.

At first blush, it DOES make sense why there are right-handed throwers at third, second and shortstop. But I very strongly suspect a skilled left-handed player would do fine at one of those positions with little to no dropoff in defensive efficiency. Bill James noted years ago he thought a skilled left-handed catcher would do fine behind the plate, but no one's given one a chance in the majors in a long, long time.

Let's put it this way: If you encountered a left-handed player with the defensive skills of Ozzie Smith or Andrelton Simmons, would you try to convert him to the outfield? The answer to that would be not just "no," but "Hell, no!"

I understand why baseball officials tend to do these things, but they tend to become hamstrung by tradition. I distinctly remember the skepticism of moving Cal Ripken to shortstop, saying he was too big and slow for the position. He didn't fit the profile of a speedy, small-ish shortstop. Ripken busted those stereotypes in a major way by being one of the best ever at his position.
11:09 AM Oct 21st
 
jdrb
It’s even more the awkwardness turning double plays— just imagine the contortions a left handed second baseman would go thru trying to turn the pivot.
11:30 PM Oct 20th
 
337
I meant batters running to 3B first,....of course
10:18 PM Oct 20th
 
evanecurb
The reason there are no left handed infielders or catchers in the majors (except for first basemen) is that there are no left handed infielders in college, high school, AAU, little league, etc. I understand why it makes sense at the higher levels. But in amateur baseball, you should have your best fielders at catcher, shortstop, center field, and second base - regardless of which hand they throw with.
5:47 PM Oct 20th
 
Rich Dunstan
One of your best, Dan. Thanks!
4:47 PM Oct 20th
 
337
All you really need do, rwarn17588, is look at all the bangbang plays where the 2bman, ss, and 3bman nab the runner by a half step, and figure that a lefty would make those plays a half-second slower, shifting his bodyweight around. Two or three hits per game is a lot. If the game were reversed (batters running to 1B first, then 2B, then 3B), righty infielders would be the rarity.
3:05 PM Oct 20th
 
DMBBHF
rwarm,

I've always assumed the biggest factor is the awkwardness of throwing to first, which is the most common throw they have to make. When righties playing 2nd, 3rd or short field a ground ball, they're already essentially in position to make a more natural throw to first, with their feet pretty well in place. Lefties have an extra move to make to get their feet in proper position. It's certainly not impossible to play those positions and make those throws well as a lefty. I'm sure some players could execute it......it's just not mechanically as efficient for most players, and so I'm sure most baseball people tend to discourage lefties from trying to develop at those positions.

Dan
2:48 PM Oct 20th
 
rwarn17588
Dumb question: Why aren't any second basemen, shortstops, third basemen left-handers? I know the reason for catchers, but the lack of lefties on third-quarters of the infield never occurred to me until now.
1:07 PM Oct 20th
 
DMBBHF
Bruce,

Just noticed your observation on Fossas. Yes, I think he's another fully qualified LOOGY. He would have probably been included in the top 10 LOOGYs by this method except he had too many games that he finished (he "finished" the game in about 26% of his relief appearances, which was a lot higher rate than the others that made the list). If he had had a much lower rate, or if I had decided to exclude that metric in the method, I'm sure he would have been top 10.

Thanks,
Dan
12:46 PM Oct 20th
 
evanecurb
Al Holland grew up in Roanoke, VA and attended Lucy Addison High School, which was an inner city school in a town where baseball isn't that popular to begin with. Their team was terrible. In his senior year in high school (1971), he pitched multiple no-hitters and had an ERA of under 0.50 but a won lost record of 1-8. He had multiple innings where he struck out four batters with one reaching first on a passed ball. He went from Addison HS to North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, where he led all NCAA pitchers in strikeouts. After college, he signed with Pittsburgh in 1975. After spending almost all of his Pirates' years in the minors, he was dealt to the Giants as part of the Bill Madlock trade, and finally made it the big leagues for good in 1980. He had his best year for the NL champion Phillies in 1983, receiving a few MVP and Cy Young votes. He made one all-star team, in 1984.
12:46 PM Oct 20th
 
DMBBHF
Bruce,

Thanks for the comments. Glad you enjoyed it.

Thanks for calling out Tom Hall. It's an interesting coincidence that you mentioned both Hall and Wayne Granger in the same observation about their skinniness, since they were traded for each other before the '72 season. :)

Thanks,
Dan
12:38 PM Oct 20th
 
evanecurb
I always think of Tony Fossas as the ultimate LOOGY. He debuted in the majors at age 30 and hung around through age 41. He appeared in 567 games, pitching 415 innings. His career mark was 17-14 with 7 saves.
12:36 PM Oct 20th
 
evanecurb
Dan:

I loved this article. Thank you. Given the dominance of bullpens in recent years, I was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar names from the 60s and 70s.

John Hiller was a very interesting player. He pitched his entire career with the Tigers, and that career was interrupted by - of all things - a massive heart attack at age 27 that caused him to miss the entire 1971 and half of the 1972 season. In 1973, he set a new record for saves and posted a 1.44 ERA and a 283 ERA+ for a Tigers' team that wasn't really very good. He continued to pitch well through 1978, which was his age 35 season. He ceased being an effective pitcher in 1979, which was just a year or two before the Tigers became a good team again.

Tom Hall was, along with Wayne Granger and Kent Tekulve, one of the three skinniest good relievers of the 1970s. BB-Ref has him listed at 6 ft, 150. In the aggregate, I'd guess that Hall, Tekulve and Granger were over 18 feet tall and under 500 pounds.

Ron Perranoski had one of those pitching lines in 1963 that you don't see anymore from relievers - 16-3 for LA, with a 1.67 ERA. He was exceptionally durable, with over 100 innnings pitched in 7 of 8 seasons between 1962 and 1970.


12:30 PM Oct 20th
 
 
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