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Winning formula: left to the body, right to the jaw

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  June 27, 2009 11:09 AM

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An observation from Boston's 4-1 win over the Braves last night, improving the Sox to 17-6 in their last 23 games:

Braves starter Jair Jurrjens entered the game with a reputation of being tough on right-handed hitters, then manhandled the righties in the Sox' lineup through the first seven innings. During that span, righties went 1 for 13, the only hit being Dustin Pedroia’s high chopper that somehow turned into a double. By contrast, lefties went 4 for 11 with a walk against Jurrjens, totals that included David Ortiz’ ice-breaking homer in the fifth.

For the year, lefties now are batting .323 against Jurrjens while righties are batting .190.

For what it’s worth, Josh Beckett followed a similar pattern against the Braves. During Beckett’s seven-inning stint, lefties went 5 for 12 and reached once via a hit batsman, while righties went 1 for 14. Combined, in the first seven innings of the game, right-handed batters were 2 for 27 (again, Pedroia’s hit was one of the two) while lefties were 9 for 23 while reaching base in 11 of 25 plate appearances (an on-base percentage of .440).

What all of this underscores, obviously, is the need for left-handed bats in a game where the majority of pitchers are right-handed. While Beckett’s season splits are far more balanced (.217 vs. RHB; .253 vs. LHB) than those of Jurrjens, it is important to remember that Beckett is a frontline pitcher, the kind of talent that few teams possess. The point is that most righties have at least some difficulty with lefties, which is why a lefty who can also hit left-handed pitching has so much value.

This year, in the American League, the highest batting average of any matchup is with a right-handed batter facing a left-handed pitcher -- a .269 average with a .778 OPS in 16,406 plate appearances. Still, against right-handed pitchers, left-handed batters have a virtually identical .265 average and .773 OPS in 29,946 plate appearances, meaning the output is essentially the same in a matchup that takes place almost twice as frequently.

Let’s put that out there in more readable form:

Righty hitters vs. lefty pitchers this year: .269 average, .778 OPS, 16,406 PA.
Lefty hitters vs. righty pitchers this year: .265 average, .773 OPS, 29,946 PA.

Bottom line: To be good, right-handed pitchers need to get left-handed batters out. At the same time, teams would be wise to have as many productive left-handed batters in their lineup as possible without completely sacrificing their offense against left-handed pitching. For a club like the Red Sox, this further illustrates the importance of David Ortiz, whose impact on the Red Sox lineup can be especially important given that Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, and Kevin Youkilis are otherwise the most productive hitters in Boston’s lineup.

Of course, Pedroia, Youkilis and Bay are all right-handed, helping to explain why the Red Sox’ record of 18-8 against left-handed starters is tied for the best in baseball.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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