Why Left Handed Pitching is so Valuable
By Mike Orchard
Central Arizona College
At some point during last season your team probably lost a game in which you turned to your fellow coaches and said “How did we lose to that guy?” Well, odds are that guy is a left-handed pitcher with seemingly underwhelming stuff. Why are left-handed pitchers more valuable than right-handed pitchers? There is value in something that is in demand, and clearly left-handed pitching will always be placed at a premium with coaches at all levels. The left-handed population in the world is approximately 10 percent, yet currently of the MLB’s 40 man rosters—22% of the pitchers are left-handed.
This leads one to believe there is a greater need for LHPs than there is supply.
Reasons why LHPs have success
• Youth baseball players have little or no experience hitting of LHPs growing up.
• Most teams do not have a left-handed batting practice thrower.
• If they do, some teams do not like to throw batting practice because it is not straight and does not help their hitters get into a rhythm.
• When hitters see LHPs in a game they are not as familiar against them as they are versus RHPs.
• Hitters may develop mental block against hitting off of LHPs.
The above theory is especially true for players early in their career. As hitters get more experience and play at higher levels (college, pros) they get more at-bats against LHPs. Also, these teams have more access to getting left-handed pitching machines or left-handed batting practice throwers. However, no matter how many reps they get, they likely will have seen more RHPs.
Since it is widely agreed that is tougher to hit off same side pitcher (RHHs vs RHPs and LHHs vs LHPs) the difficulty for the LHHs increases dramatically. This truth has created the role of the left-handed specialist. However LHPs can neutralize RHHs in the following ways:
• LHPs have considerable arm-side run (away from RHHs)
• Pitchers work away from hitters (especially against metal bats)
• RHHs are natural pull hitters
Therefore RHHs are constantly trying to pull pitches off LHPs
Once again, as hitters mature and understand the mechanics of hitting this gap narrows.
Holding runners close to their bases is a huge component of pitching. If a pitcher is unable to hold runners effectively, it gives the opposing team a considerable advantage. While RHPs might be at a slight edge at holding runners at second base, LHPs should benefit greatly at holding runners at first base.
The LHP is staring directly at the runner at first so he is able to see any subtle changes in the runner’s lead. Some LHPs have an innate ability to read runners as they attempt to steal second base. If they are able to do this, they can pick over immediately and get an easy out. Other LHPs cannot do this, but if taught properly can develop a pick-off move that is devastating which can get one or two outs per game. Not only do LHPs have an opportunity to get easy outs at first, but by limiting a runner’s lead at first base he gives his fielders an extra step in turning a double play or reduces the chance of the runner taking an extra base after the ball is hit.
Another reason that LHPs are important is that they give your staff balance. The old cliché of pitching is to keep the hitters off-balance. That not only applies to the pitches a hitter sees from a pitcher, but also the various looks you give a hitter during a three game series.
Even though you may start three different types of guys in your weekend set, if they are all RHPs, it gives the hitter some sense of familiarity. However, if you are able to mix in one LHP or even two LHPs as your starters, you are already forcing the hitter to make an adjustment before the game starts.
Bullpen balance is equally important for your overall staff success. Having one or more LHPs in your pen gives you options in the late innings when games are decided. A large number of teams have big time hitters that swing from the left side and if your team does not have LHPs to neutralize those quality bats it could cause trouble late in games. Remember teams offensively try to create balance as well and if they know that your team doesn’t have lefties in your bullpen they are able to stack their lineup with LHHs with no fear of match up problems at the end of the game.
LHPs also hold a distinct advantage against RHPs with making teams, getting drafted and length of career. Consider these differences—
Regarding reputation, why is a LHP with minus velocity considered crafty while a RHP that throws with same speed thought of as a junkballer?
How come a LHP that throws 88-90 is considered a prospect while a RHP that throws 88-90 is considered a JARP (Just Another Right-Handed Pitcher)?
Baseball scouts repeatedly say a LHP has to give you a reason not to like him while a RHP has to give you a reason to like him.
If a LHP shows pitchability in the major leagues, he can find work for a long time i.e. Jesse Orosco, John Franco and Terry Mulholland.
A LHP that possesses the same traits as a RHP will always have more value simply because it is tough to find good left-handed pitching. It is very likely your team will lose a game this year to a LHP that might not make your team. However, instead of losing to that guy—go out and recruit that guy.