March 18, 2005
Lefty Roundup: The Sinister Starters
Consider that which divides us as a species. Look beyond matters of team loyalties to the larger picture. Nationality, race, religion, economic philosophy - these are the stuff of wars and conflict.
But what is it that really separates humanity from itself? What fundamental difference keeps us from ever being a truly cohesive body? Why, it is handedness, of course. Long after all the other world's divisions have been resolved we will still be confronted with the unsolvable divide: the hand with which one performs routine tasks. For now, we coexist peaceably enough. The overwhelming right-handed majority has found uses for the left-handed minority, especially in the sport of baseball. Here, perhaps more than in any other place aside from tennis, are left-handers welcomed and even celebrated. Can the world at large take its cue from the national game of the United States and embrace the insidious southpaw minority, seeing it as something more than a threat to right-handed dominance?
Curiously, some believe the percentage of the population that is left-handed is actually growing. Various sources give it as anywhere from 12 to 17 percent. This appears to be an increase over previous concepts of left-handed incursion, which was usually thought to be about 10 percent. Will left-handers use the ever-increasing softening of attitudes against them to further their gains? Will there come a time when they make up a quarter of the world's population? Half? What, exactly, is their expansionist goal?
In any case, let us consider the left-handed starting pitchers of 2005. Using current projections, they stand to make up almost a third of major-league rotations--numbers far beyond their representation in the population at large.
In 2003, it seemed as though the left-handed conspiracy was at an ebb. Consider that lefties were nearly a no-show in the Top 10 pitchers of '03. Their lone representative there was Jamie Moyer, who had the eighth-best VORP at 62.6. Only three other left-handed starters cracked the top 20 two years ago:
Missing, of course, was Randy Johnson, the man who can be most counted on to represent his left-handed brethren. Last year's showing was more impressive, with Johnson returning and lefties grabbing the two top spots:
In addition, another three lefties made the top 25.
This year, only one team, the Devil Rays, is projecting as many as three lefty starters. Last year, three teams had that many and the Kansas City Royals planned to go with four. (They ended up using lefty starters in two-thirds of their games.) A year ago today, fully six teams were not projecting a lefty starter. Did that conviction last?
Heading into 2005, only one team appears to have no plans for a lefty in their rotation. The Washington Nationals are, once more, following in the steps of their Expo forefathers of last year and projecting no left-handed starters at this point. At the other end of the spectrum, the three Devil Rays' left-handers are Mark Hendrickson, Scott Kazmir and Casey Fossum.
In the meantime, who are the young crusaders for the lefty cause? At press time, four left-handed rookies were still listed on ESPN.com's depth charts as having a shot at making their team's rotations. They are:
So, with four of the 2004 lefty holdout clubs going out this past offseason and getting an established starter for their rotations, the left-handed talent is more evenly distributed this year. Boston (David Wells) and New York (Johnson) added a lefty to their rotations and Cincinnati (Eric Milton) and St. Louis (Mark Mulder) did as well. Which team has the best lefty tandem in its starting rotation? Among the 16 teams so supplied, here are what seem to be the best: