Entering into a three game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinals have an opportunity to test their mettle against 3 consecutive left handed pitchers. Lefties have given the Birds fits so far this season, and one wonders why, as this has not been a persistent problem in the past (though perception may be different, the numbers tell a different story). The Cardinals are hitting as a team only .221 so far this season against left handed pitching. That is in comparison to .265 in 2011 and .276 in 2012. Last night’s victory over lefty Chris Capuano offered some hope of a turnaround; two more games against lefties (though one is Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in baseball), offers more. But is it really a lack of skill against lefties that is the problem? A look at some sabermetrics may offer a clue.
I am going to offer up two stats for this exercise: BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) and LD% (Line Drive Percentage.). For this exercise I will compare those stats in 2012 and 2013. In 2012 the Cardinals had a BABIP of .324 and a LD% of 21.6% against left handed pitching. So far this season the Cardinals have a BABIP of .250 and a LD% of 23.3% against lefties. What does this tell us? One can project BABIP on line drives by taking the LD% and adding .120. For 2012 the projected BABIP was .336. The actual BABIP of .324 was pretty close. On the other hand, for 2013, the projected BABIP on a LD% of 23.3% is .353. The Cardinals’ actual BABIP on that LD% is .250, more than 100 points lower. Because line drives go more often for hits than ground balls or fly balls, this disparity tells us that the Cardinals’ line drives are disproportionately being caught. Either the Cardinals have been playing against some very good defense or have been hitting into some very bad luck, or both.
The Cardinals are hitting, and hitting the ball hard, as evidenced by the increased LD%, against left handed pitching. It’s just that not enough hits are being produced. This trend can not continue. The left handed pitcher conundrum is more than likely a fluke of the universe, which will turn around eventually. One need not wring one’s hands and moan in disgust every time the Cardinals face a left handed pitcher in the future. It isn’t which hand is throwing the ball, it’s where the balls are hit and who is trying to catch them that matters. Take heart Cardinal Nation, our luck will change. We hope.