I was listening to Buck Showalter on the Michael Kay Show the other day and, much as I love Buck from his tenure as Yankee manager, he said something that didn’t seem right to me. Upon being pressed by Kay for a prediction, he wound up reluctantly picking the Angels in 7 games. This is not suprising, as the Angels are a tremendous team that has had a tone of success in the Bronx over the last several years. The reason Buck gave, however, was that the Angels lefthanders could take away Cano, Matsui, and Damon while turning around the Yankee switch-hitters. He also lauded the move to start Saunders (a lefty) tonight for that reason. He particularly singled out the Angel relievers Fuentes and Oliver as being instrumental in the late innings against the Yankee lefties and switch-hitters. He also reiterates some of those sentiments on ESPN, here.
I was pretty surprised upon hearing these ideas. My first thought, as are most of yours, I’m sure, is Matsui? I thought it was pretty common knowledge that Matsui is generally just as good or even better against lefties. Buck usually gives pretty deep analysis, but in this case, he didn’t give any numbers to back up his theory, so I figured that I’d take a look at the stats and see if there’s anything at all to this idea. There are lots of lefties that hit lefties and plenty of lefty pitchers that aren’t necessarily that much better against lefties than righties. So do the Yankees have a bit of a weakness against lefties? Are the Angels pure death against lefthanded batters?
Let’s first look at Matsui, which seems, at first glance, to be an obviously ridiculous misstatement by Showalter, but maybe he’s struggled more than I remember against lefties. Let’s see here….ummmm… nope. Matsui has an absurd .976 OPS against lefties while hittining .835 against righties. Gee, he’ll sure be quaking in his cleats against those Angel lefties, huh? What about Cano, surely he’ll back up Buck’s thesis, right? Wrong, Robbie is also better against lefties (though closer: .876 to .868). Damon is the only Yankee lefty who is actually worse against lefties (.889 to .776).
What about the Angels pitchers, though? Possibly they are so ridiculously tough against lefties that even guys like Cano and Matsui can’t touch them. The Angels’ starter tonight, Joe Saunders, is definitely tougher against lefties than righties (.692 to .827 OPS), but it’s not like he’s unhittable. CC Sabathia, for example, has a much, much lower OPS against (.560). Fuentes is tough (.589 OPS against), but Oliver is actually worse against lefties than righties (.705 to .600).
When you look at the Angels’ batting average agains lefthanded hitting, you see that Buck’s argument has zero basis in reality. The Angels are actually THE WORST TEAM IN ALL OF BASEBALL against lefty hitters, with a .290 BAA. Opposing lefties hit .290 against the Angels, yet neutralizing the Yankee lefties is the key to this series? Much as I love Buck, it’s pretty clear that he mailed this one in, making only a superficial observation with zero deep analysis to back it up. It’s a common fallacy to just look at left-handedness and make snap judgements about how they perform against other lefties without acknowledging individual differences. Come on, Buck, it’s bad enough we have to listen to that idiot, McCarver. Don’t you start making moronic statements as well. Do your homework.