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The Greatest Game

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Will losing all their lefthanded starters hurt the Yankees in 2004? 

One of my concerns this off-season, being a Yankee fan, has been the loss of all the Yankees left-handed pitching - Pettitte and Wells - and not replacing them with any left-handed pitching. As it stands right now, the Yankees are going into the season with 5 RH starting pitchers. (I'm going to have to check to see when the last time they Yankees did such a thing, but that will probably be another post.) Now, being interested in sabermetrics like I am, I figured that it didn't really matter which hand throws the ball for a Yankees starting pitcher - what matters is can that hand get the lefties out with a high level of proficiency. The easiest way to do that is, of course, check the lefty-righty splits of last year's starting pitchers vs. this year's starting pitchers. Now, I've heard a number of voices out there that this year's SP for the Yanks are worse than last year's. And I've also heard the contrary from other, more informed, sources. I agree whole-heartedly with the later.

Before I begin, I'd like to say that I know the danger of comparing pitchers stats that are on different teams - park effect, defense, etc. all have an effect on a pitcher's numbers. That being said, I'm going to use them anyway. I think that they sufficiently prove the point that I was trying to make, which is that even though the Yanks don't have any LH starter pitchers, their new pitchers do well enough against lefties that it does not matter. Do they all do great against lefties? No, but they do compare very favorably to last year's staff which included to left-handed starters. Here are the numbers for Wells, Pettitte, and Clemens for 2003:

	         AB     AVG	  OBP	  SLG	  OPS
Wells (2003)
vs. Right 645 .290 .304 .433 .737
vs. Left 201 .274 .305 .473 .778
Total .286 .304 .442 .746

Pettitte (2003)
vs. Right 611 .254 .294 .393 .687
vs. Left 224 .321 .354 .429 .783
Total .272 .310 .402 .713

Clemens (2003)
vs. Right 351 .288 .328 .476 .804
vs. Left 455 .215 .276 .334 .610
Total .247 .298 .396 .694


As you can see, Pettitte pitched like a right-handed pitcher. Because of his cut-fastball, he is much more effective on righties than he is on lefties. Wells is also more effective vs. righties than lefties. And you can see by the number of at-bats against those two, opposing managers didn't have much of a clue - they kept batting their righties against both of them. On the other hand, for Clemens, opposing managers stocked their lineups with lefties, but lo and behold, he was MUCH better vs. lefties even though he is a right-handed pitcher.

Now we can take a look at the three new Yankees pitchers. But before I do that, I just have to say that I used Lieber's 2001 stats - his last full year. Will he pitch that well this year? Probably not, but it gives a good idea of how his lefty/right splits will be. Here they are:

	         AB     AVG	  OBP	  SLG	  OPS
Vazquez
vs. Right 488 .225 .267 .375 .642
vs. Left 377 .233 .288 .387 .675
Total .229 .276 .380 .656

Lieber
vs. Right 485 .219 .242 .330 .572
vs. Left 403 .298 .339 .486 .825
Total .255 .286 .401 .687

Brown
vs. Right 407 .219 .260 .332 .591
vs. Left 374 .254 .314 .302 .616
Total .236 .286 .318 .604


Like I said, I'm not posting these stats and trying to convince anyone that these pitchers are going to repeat these stats with the Yankees - you can check out ZIPS for 2004 projected stats - but what I am saying is that these LH/RH splits are indicative of the types of pitchers these three pitchers are. (And for anyone who is keeping score out there, Brown pitched in a very pitcher friendly park with a great defense, but Lieber and Vazquez did not, they pitched in hitter friendly parks.) Vazquez's splits are about even - he gets lots of batters out no matter which side of the plate they are standing on. Lieber, on the otherhand, should probably not pitch much at Yankee Stadium - he gets crushed by lefthanders but is lights-out vs. righties. But as bad as Lieber was against lefties, he really was only a little worse than Pettitte (.321/.354/.429 for Pettitte vs. .298/.339/.486 for Lieber). And Brown, like Vazquez is equally excellent vs. lefties and righties.

Yes, I know that some of the slant for Pettitte and Wells were because they were pitching in Yankee Stadium half the time and that these three new pitchers will likely see the same effect, but it's nice to know that Brown and Vazquez, at least, are both very effective vs. lefties.

Now, we'll never really know how these pitchers pitch until they don the pinstripes and start throwing the ball. But my mind is eased quite a but knowing that this 100% righthanded starting staff is, at the very least, no worse than last year's 40% lefthanded staff.

Oh yeah, and for anyone who is a little curious, here are Mussina's and Contreras' split stats:
	         AB     AVG	  OBP	  SLG	  OPS
Mussina
vs. Right 388 .247 .272 .394 .666
vs. Left 419 .229 .278 .351 .629
Total .238 .275 .372 .647

Contreras
vs. Right 114 .202 .295 .307 .602
vs. Left 143 .203 .299 .294 .592
Total .202 .297 .300 .597


Well, thanks for tuning in for my very first real post. I know it didn't involve a lot of in-depth number crunching, only comparative stats, but I feel that it was sufficient to get prove my point.

Wow, I guess it ended up a bit Gleeman-length after all, eh? Thanks for listening, and I hope you keep coming back for more.
# posted by shawn : 1/03/2004 03:18:00 PM -
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