How do left-handed specialists make the most of their platoon advantage, and at what cost does their approach come?
Growing up left-handed is a tough gig. We left-handers can't write a sentence in ink without needing to wash our hands, classroom scissors malfunction in our claw-like grips, and driving a stick-shift requires a certain degree of ambidexterity. In little league, defensive assignments were restricted to roaming the outfield pasture unless one happened to have a hyperactive pituitary gland, thus earning a trip to play first base with the right-handed infielders. I was able to fool one coach into putting me at catcher for a season, but that experiment was predictably short-lived.
The mound is a southpaw's chance at redemption, where the bar for lefties to gain acceptance is lowered. Left-handers sit right in the cross-hairs of the supply-demand curve in the majors due to the limited player-pool as well as a league-wide desire to exploit platoon splits (see table for 2012 figures). Just 10 percent of the world is left-handed, yet southpaws have been on the mound for 31 percent of all plate appearances this season. Lefty batters make up 44 percent of plate appearances, a function of the advantages that are inherent in a two-step head-start down the line, combined with the reality that it is much easier to switch sides of the plate than it is to alternate throwing arms.
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While Jose Bautista has understandably been the talk of the American League, a rival in the AL East is carving out a huge season of his own.
On Tuesday night in Oakland, Curtis Granderson did something he hadn't done since August 15, 2008: collect three hits in a game off a single left-handed pitcher. Not just any lefty, either; his three hits came against the A's Brett Anderson, one of the league's top southpaws. Perhaps it wasn't Anderson's night, as the Bronx Bombers rocked him for 10 runs in 5 1/3 innings, but the lefty-swinging center fielder was at the center of the action. He started the fireworks show in the first inning, following Derek Jeter's leadoff single with a 393-foot blast to right field for his 17th home run of the season and a 2-0 lead. After striking out in the third, he laced a two-out, two-run single in the fourth to expand the Yankees' lead to 5-1, and singled in his final turn against Anderson in the sixth, coming around to score the Yankees' ninth run when Alex Rodriguez greeted reliever Brad Ziegler with a bases-loaded single. Granderson ended the night hitting .323/.373/.823 with nine homers in 69 plate appearances against lefties, a remarkable turnaround for a player who less than a year ago looked like platoon material. Small sample sizes be damned, his home runs and slugging percentage against lefties are the best for any American Leaguer from either side of the plate this year.
The Yankees look to get back to yet another World Series while the Rangers are in uncharted territory.
From 1996 through 1999, the Joe Torre-led Yankees and the Johnny Oates-piloted Rangers faced off in three American League Division Series, the first three times the latter franchise had ever reached the postseason. The Yankees won nine of those 10 games, holding the Rangers to a lone run apiece in their 1998 and 1999 sweeps. Times have changed, however, and while the Yankee machine has simply kept rolling, racking up four pennants and two world championships while missing the playoffs just once since their last meeting, the Rangers endured a dark decade before reemerging as AL West champions thanks to the shrewd deal making of general manager Jon Daniels and the fruits of their well-stocked farm system.
While neither southpaw was sharp, CC Sabathia got the better of the Twins' left-handed hitters in the Yankees' Game One ALDS victory.
Francisco Liriano was cruising. On a day when Cliff Lee had delivered the goods against Tampa Bay and Roy Halladay had gone down in history with his second no-hitter of the year and just the second in more than a century's worth of posts-season baseball, he was holding his own. Through 5 1/3 Liriano had shut out the Yankees, allowing just two hits and two walks as the Twins rolled to a 3-0 lead in their American League Division Series opener. Working out of jams in the second and third innings, he'd found a groove, retiring 10 straight Yankees, beginning with an emphatic three-pitch strikeout of Alex Rodriguez to end the third. To that point Liriano had whiffed six hitters, four of them going down swinging against sliders. But just as the going-on-27-year-old lefty's pitch count passed 80, all hell broke loose against the heart of the Yankees order.
The Twins and Yankees meet yet again in the first round of the postseason but Minnesota has home field advantage this time.
As they did last year as well as 2003 and 2004, the Twins run squarely into the Yankee juggernaut in the first round. Unlike those other three meetings, they have home field advantage this time around, as they won the AL Central going away thanks to a league-best 48-26 second-half record. The defending world champion Yankees, who held the majors' best record for most of the season, were forced to settle for the wild card due to a sluggish 13-17 showing against a very tough schedule in September and October. Despite the relative temperatures of the two clubs, it's important to remember that late-season records aren't predictive of October success—or failure.
The Red Sox didn't make up ground in the AL East, but they were able to hold steady during a wraparound series with the Yankees.
Are the Red Sox dead? As the finale of their wraparound four-game series dawned on Monday, they stood seven games out of first place (eight in the loss column) in the American League East and 4 1/2 out of the wild card, behind not only the Rays but also the Twins, whose 17-7 second-half record provided yet another obstacle for Boston's path. The Red Sox'x Playoff Odds stood at 5.4 for the division, 17.9 percent for the wild card, and 23.3 percent overall—roughly a one-in-four chance of playing into October. With center fielder Mike Cameron and first baseman Kevin Youkilis (their best hitter) both felled by season-ending injuries last week, Boston's odds would appear to be even longer. But as anyone who's followed the AL East's battles for the past decade knows, you count the Red Sox out at your peril.
Three players to think about when playing the platoon advantage in Scoresheet.
One of the things I love about Scoresheet is the ability to play platoon splits to set your optimal lineup. I find myself visiting my team on a daily basis, revisiting my lineups to get the most value out of my team.
What follows is a look at three players whose roles should be adjusted in Scoresheet leagues based on their extreme platoon splits in the first quarter of the season. In an effort to uncover some potential hidden gems, I searched for players with greater than normal splits.
Despite their slow start, the Red Sox can hardly be written off as contenders.
On Monday, while the rest of the country was somewhere between finishing its coffee and making plans for lunch, John Lackey and the Red Sox were pasted 8-2 by the Rays in a game that started just after 11 a.m. The victory completed the Rays' four-game sweep of the Sox at Fenway Park, the first time the upstarts from Tampa Bay had ever swept more than a two-game series there. The loss, Boston's fifth straight, plunged its record to 4-9. Down 6-2 to the Rangers going to the bottom of the fifth on Tuesday night, they appeared headed for their sixth straight defeat before a late rally served to remind that no lead in Fenway is ever safe; they won 7-6 on a walk-off hit by a guy added to the roster earlier in the day. Still, suffice it to say that New England hasn't seen this kind of panic since the Blizzard of 1978.
Will the Phillies establish a mini-dynasty, or will the Yankees add to their crowded trophy case with another title?
A year ago, the Phillies broke a 28-year-old title drought by winning the World Series, defeating the upstart Rays in five games. After winning 93 games in the regular season and tidily dispatching both the Rockies and the Dodgers in the first two rounds, they're back to defend their crown with a cast that's largely the same, save for summer acquisition Cliff Lee. They're the first NL team to repeat as pennant winners since the 1995-1996 Braves, and if they win the World Series, they'll be they first senior circuit club to do so since the 1975-1976 Reds.
The anguish of seeing both your favorites lost post-season games on the same day makes for a glum day in Brooklyn.
The late Bart Giamatti famously observed that baseball is designed to break your heart, but the former Commissioner was notably silent about its ability to strangle you with your own entrails. That's how I felt on Monday, watching two teams near and dear fritter away late-inning leads and ultimately suffer walk-off losses.
Pegging who will win and why in a great matchup between two teams tweaking their rosters to go after one another.
When the Division Series matchups came together, it seemed relatively simple to divine the issues that would determine each series. Looking to the League Championship Series, though, the narratives aren't nearly so clear. These teams are pretty evenly matched, were the first and second seeds in their leagues and went a combined 12-1 in the first round. This is probably the strongest final four we've seen in some time, and the only thing that would be a surprise is if we didn't have long series.