St. Louis Cardinals: Why Left-Handed pitchers still matter

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23: Former Major League Baseball pitcher and Hall of Fame inductee Steve Carlton signs autograph on a poster of the Phillies during the annual Capitol Hill Hot Dog Lunch at the courtyard of Rayburn House Office Building July 23, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The annual event, hosted by the American Meat Institute, was to celebration July as National Hot Dog Month. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 23: Former Major League Baseball pitcher and Hall of Fame inductee Steve Carlton signs autograph on a poster of the Phillies during the annual Capitol Hill Hot Dog Lunch at the courtyard of Rayburn House Office Building July 23, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The annual event, hosted by the American Meat Institute, was to celebration July as National Hot Dog Month. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) /
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My esteemed colleague J.T. Buchheit has brought some great statistics to bear. Indeed, it may seem almost irrefutable. But here is my best argument as to why left-handed pitching is still important for the St. Louis Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals fans should be concerned about the Cardinals’ failure to develop, scout, trade for, and ultimately staff, left-handed pitching, and here’s why:

I am not aware of Alexander Cartwright’s counterclockwise base-running rule being repealed.   

It may sound like a joke, but think about it. Football, soccer, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis, or bowling, if you were watching on TV, and there were no uniform numbers, you would not be able to notice whether the TV station had flipped the “reverse image” or not. Not true with baseball.

To disregard the horse-sense of managers like Casey Stengel and Tommy Lasorda, that handedness matters, represents the final triumph of analytics. How do we know that the analysts have it right and that there is not some factor they forgot to add-in?  The short answer is: we do not know, for sure.

The horse-sense theory is not just that left-handed pitchers get left-handed batters out when the money is on the line. It is also the fact that left-handed pitchers are disruptive to the opponent. It is similar to bringing in a relief pitcher with a different pitching motion or pitch repertoire to disrupt the opposing batters. With the St. Louis Cardinals present rotation, the opposing batters will hardly ever have to adjust to the release point coming from the first base side of the mound.

Note that the positive effect of the left-hander to the team might not be while the left-hander is still on the mound but after he is off the mound and the batters need to adjust. That would not show up in stats.

It is also disruptive in the context of a three-game or four-game series. Having all right-handed pitchers on the starting staff means that a team about to play a series against the Cardinals could use their AAA shuttle to bring up an extra pitcher or left-handed hitter, knowing that right-handed bench strength will not be at a premium.

The left-hander in baseball has come a long way since the 19th century when left-handed pitchers were almost non-existent.

Gone are the days of Rube Waddell, who had a reputation to go with his left-handedness of being a screwball who chased firetrucks and brought a bulldog mascot to the park, to Eddie Plank who threw in a “cross-fire motion he called a ‘slant ball,’ landing his right leg on the first base side of the pitcher’s mound and then throwing across his body” just to get the ball to the plate

Gone are the days of Jack Dunn the owner of the minor league Baltimore Orioles taking a risk on a couple of over-hand throwing left-handers named George Ruth and Robert Grove. Left handed pitchers aren’t rare commodities now, they are just part of the game.

This moment in time when left-handers are going extinct on the St. Louis Cardinals since the trading of Jaime Garcia (remember him?) for right hander John Gant, since the trading of young prospect Marco Gonzales for some extra bat timber in Tyler O’Neill and since the flaming out of Tyler Lyons, Kevin Siegrist, and, barring a comeback, Brett Cecil … is a watershed.

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The Cardinals 2006 win, carrying basically only Mark Mulder from the left side, may be partially motivating the same ownership’s lefthander insouciance.  Teams can – and do – win with minimal left-handed assistance (see also the Astros in 2017).  But is it really a smart way to build a ball club?

Since left-handers must face 75% right-handed hitters, and right-handed hitters generally hit left-handers better, and as J.T. notes the game-speeding rule change next year will cause unemployment for LOOGY‘s ,  there will be pressure on left-handers to develop “junk” (change up, curve-ball) that can get right-handers out “or else”.

Will there come a day when player development shies away from a young left-hander, either consciously or subconsciously? Could the days of at least of the fireball-throwing left-hander be on the wane, since the fastball is so much more visible to the right-handed hitter that predominates the game and we can think of no other use for him?

How about former Cy Young-winning southpaw, Dallas Keuchel, still not on a major league ballclub?  In Keuchel’s case, it is certainly not about “not trusting a left-hander”.  But it might be about not trusting a left-hander long-term especially when it involves $50-100 million of a team’s money.  Sinistrophobia?

Next. Lack of lefty pitching is no reason for concern. dark

There will always be room in baseball for a pitcher, of whatever hand, who can get batters out, make no mistake. But while the St. Louis Cardinals have had issues finding the right lefty (no pun intended) in the past, that doesn’t mean the front office should give up entirely on an important dynamic within the game.

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