Can you explain pitcher-hitter matchups?
You have a left-handed hitter up, and he has hit two home runs of a righty. A lefty is brought in to face him. Do you pinch-hit for him?
Those questions dove-tail nicely.
In looking up statistics, the numbers vary, but all those I found indicate that statistically hitters have more success against pitchers who throw from the opposite side, as in righty vs. lefty and lefty vs. righty. This is generally true in regard to batting average, on-base percentage and slugging, plus the combo stat OPS.
Here’s one link I found that gave an example from a hitter’s stats and a pitcher’s stats.
What are some reasons for the reasons that righty vs. righty and lefty vs. lefty matchups aren’t in the hitter’s favor?
Here are some thoughts:
- Vision. In both the R-R and L-L matchup, the ball is seemingly released from an angle that starts at or behind the hitter’s front shoulder and then crosses the plate at an angle, with that angle increasing the lower the pitcher’s arm angle is. Where the pitcher starts on the rubber and where he strides to, as well as where the batter takes his stance and then his stride, also can create tougher sight lines for the hitter.
- The breaking ball. In a R-R or L-L situation the breaking ball is going both down and away from the hitter. Now, you add in the depth of the break as well as the side-to-side of the break, and the hitter is challenged even more. Slider, curve ball, slurve or cutter. A variety of breaking balls aimed at making a hitter’s life miserable.
- Fear. Every hitter knows that any pitch can be aimed at his earflap. For the most part, major league hitters deal with that very well. But part of that dealing might result in a more timid approach. It may result in over-aggressiveness, as in “I’m hitting the first thing that comes across the plate.” You think fear doesn’t exist, or that it’s a bad four-letter word?
Ask guys if they liked to dig in against Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson. How about Rob Dibble, a power-reliever who gained a rep in Cincinnati for not being afraid of pitching inside? Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard made guys think twice when heading to the batter’s box.
A number of guys were known to miss a game against Richard, an intimidating 6’8 righty who threw in the mid-to-upper 90s. They called it “J.R. Thritis,” and it afflicted a number of major leaguers. This might give you an idea of what hitters thought about Richard.
Everybody knows what a great pitcher 6’10 lefty Randy Johnson was. In a battle of the mullets, it was Johnson who won this at bat. I think you’ll recognize the hitter. Take the whole two minutes or so and enjoy this video.
Southpaw Reliever vs. Lefty Hitter Who Has Two HRs on the Day vs. a Righty
Pinch-hitting a guy late in the game isn’t always an easy decision when he’s swinging it well. The fact that he has two home runs on the day makes it even more difficult. This is where a manager makes his living. Some things to look for:
- What’s the history of the hitter against left-handers, especially the one on the mound?
- What do you need from you hitter? Can he work a count, or is he basically an out against port-siders? What is his on-base percentage and slugging percentage against lefties?
- Has he been seeing the ball well and putting good swings on it the past few games?
- Who do you have coming off the bench? If you have a quality bat coming off the bench like Manny Mota or Jose Morales, that’s what he’s there for – you’ll use him more often than not. By the way, those two are the only two right-handed hitters in the top 20 all-time pinch-hit leaders for total hits.
For the manager’s sake, you hope the pinch-hitter does the job in this situation. If he doesn’t, the skipper will be raked across the coals on every sports talk radio and TV show for the rest of the week. Or at least long enough for everyone else to think they are smarter than the man that makes out the lineup card!
Nothing’s Perfect, Not Even Matchups…
The old saying goes that “Good hitting will beat good pitching.” A reliever like Mariano Rivera can get both righties and lefties out. A starter like Roy Halladay doesn’t really worry about who’s hitting against him. Neither does C.C. Sabathia. The greats can overcome the general rules, I suppose.
But then again, prior to this past Thursday, Aroldis Chapman had gone 24 appearances without giving up a run. Then he lost to Pittsburgh, giving up two runs, one of which was earned. Sunday evening, Chapman was brought in to face Detroit’s Brennan Boesch, a left-handed hitter, with two on.
With Chapman seemingly holding all the cards (as four days ago, lefties were three-for-33 against him with 22 Ks) against lefties, Boesch singled to load the bases. Then, Chapman hit lefty-hitting Matt Young with a pitch. A double by right-handed Austin Jackson plated two runs for the Tigers, and a wild pitch scored the final run for Detroit. Aroldis Chapman, a guy who was invincible several days earlier, had lost his second game in a row.
A pitcher who had given up no runs for the season had given up four in two short outings. All of a sudden, a talented southpaw who could get everyone out couldn’t get anyone out, no matter the matchup.
For all the science in the game, there is nothing exact. And that’s why we all love baseball so much. It is, after all, a most wonderful game.
Our coach is Wayne Tyson, who was a high school and community college baseball coach for 26 years including six years at Florida Air Academy. His FAA team won the Florida Class 3A State Championship in 1998 and was runner-up in 1999, when the team included freshman Prince Fielder. Wayne currently writes for Cowbell Clankers, the Aerys Sports home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Have a question for Ask The Coach? Leave it in the comments or send it via Twitter to @Aerys_MLB or @WayneTyson11.