April 18, 2014

Splitting the Difference: Part 1

The Cleveland Indians put up a .248/.322/.378 line in 2010.  Their .700 OPS ranked next to last in the American League, besting only the historically awful Seattle Mariners (.637).

That’s not breaking news, I don’t think.  The Indians offense was hurt by injuries and poor performance across the board.  We scored only 646 runs last season, third worst in the AL, for an average of fewer than four runs per game.  Not historically bad, but pretty bad nonetheless.

But did you know that against left-handed pitching, our numbers were even worse?  The team’s OPS against lefties was only .674 last year!

And, come to think of it, this shouldn’t really surprise us either.  Most of our best hitters were (and continue to be) left-handed, meaning that they’re more likely to put up better numbers against right handed pitching.  On top of that, Santana had a poor 2010 against LHP and Matt LaPorta continued to post an odd reverse platoon split—he’s been consistently worse against LHP than RHP.  All these factors combined to hurt us considerably when a southpaw toed the rubber.

Today, I thought we’d look at some of the splits from 2010 not just to demonstrate the point that we were bad last season, but to think about whether there’s some hope for us to be better in the future.

The following table presents each player’s OPS against LHP and RHP in 2010.  I’ve sorted the data on total OPS, with our best hitters at the top and the worst at the bottom:

Shin-Soo Choo 0.885 0.670 0.998 0.328
Carlos Santana 0.868 0.582 1.002 0.420
Travis Hafner 0.824 0.706 0.863 0.157
Russell Branyan 0.819 0.654 0.867 0.213
Austin Kearns 0.772 0.720 0.798 0.078
Shelley Duncan 0.736 0.857 0.662 -0.195
Jayson Nix 0.705 0.877 0.657 -0.220
Jason Donald 0.690 0.833 0.643 -0.190
Asdrubal Cabrera 0.673 0.647 0.685 0.038
Matt LaPorta 0.668 0.635 0.679 0.044
Trevor Crowe 0.634 0.490 0.679 0.189
Michael Brantley 0.623 0.467 0.665 0.198
Grady Sizemore 0.560 0.326 0.706 0.380
Lou Marson 0.560 0.759 0.488 -0.271
Luis Valbuena 0.531 0.855 0.467 -0.388

So what do we notice about the top five guys on this list?  Each one of them performed better against right handed pitching in 2010.  Certainly some of that is sample-size related (we’ll have more on Carlos Santana in Part 2), but still, when your five most productive hitters all struggle against lefties, there’s some cause for concern.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, look at that last column, “RHP-LHP”.  I’ve simply subtracted a player’s OPS against lefties from his OPS against righties.  When that value is positive, a player performs better against RHP.  When it’s negative, the player is better against LHP.

We certainly have some guys who are better against lefties than righties.  Look at Shelley Duncan, Jayson Nix, and Jason Donald for example: they all have about .200 additional points of OPS against left-handed pitching.  The problem, of course, is that their “advantage” is really more of a mirage: yes, they are better against LHP, but that’s because they are truly awful against righties—making them below average players overall.  And, as of this writing, neither Jayson Nix nor Jason Donald appears headed for a platoon, with both players competing for starting spots on the club.

So does this mean we’re destined for more terrible offense against lefties?  Perhaps, but before we conclude that, I’d like to take a look at some of the minor leaguers’ splits.  We’ll do that in Part 2 later this week.

Photo:  AP/David Richard

  • The Conductor

    Our best pitcher (arguably) is Masterson. He has a 4.3 ERA.

    That means on our best day, we need 5 runs to win.

    So in sum, it doesn’t matter if we bat righty or lefty.

  • The Conductor

    Also, good work on this article. Stellar stuff as always Jon.

  • Reggie Ruckus

    Nice work Jon but reading that left me depressed. On the bright side, the Indians will have more wins than the Cavs by the end of May so there’s always that.

  • oribiasi

    @ Reggie Ruckus — don’t count your eggs until they’ve hatched, haha.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Is this where we mention that Victor Martinez’ OPS vs. LHP last season was 1.173?

  • Gbwoy

    @Scott – Probably Fenway park and the Green Monster would be my guess.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    “Probably Fenway park and the Green Monster would be my guess.”

    It may have helped, but his career OPS v LHP is well north of .800. In 2008, with CLE, it was .923.

  • Gbwoy

    Yeah, very true. Not like the Indians couldnt use his bat at 1B right now.

  • NJ

    @6 – I was curious…

    His home OPS was .951. Away, .741. Batting right and hitting to left, Victor posted a ridiculous 1.657. Sadly, there was no home/away distinction just for that.

  • Reggie Ruckus

    Why did you guys have to go and bring up Victor Martinez? That remains my least favorite of all the Indians post-2007 ALCS collapse roster moves. I think Masterson can be an effective pitcher (just not sure it’s as a starter) but Victor should have finished his career as an Indian. Now we can look forward to seeing him 19 times this year in a Tigers uniform. Puke.

  • mgbode

    baseball is almost back. such a fun time of year before the start of the season shatters our hopes :)

  • Karsten

    You are all lame. Why does nobody talk this much trash about the Cavs or Browns who are worse than the Indians? Try some optimism, at least UNTIL they are in 3rd or 4th in the division.