Platoons and You: The Rockies v LHP

One of the bigger hubbubs made this season about the Rockies' bats is that they're seemingly unable to hit LHP. Just intuitively, this makes sense, as half of our starting squad is left handed (Helton, Stewart, Gonzalez, Hawpe), 2 of our primary bench bats (Smith, Giambi), and I'm pretty sure Tracy batted left handed or something (actually, he did!).

But here's the thing. We've actually heard some inklings that we're not as bad as we might seem v LHP. In 2008, Ian Stewart posted a 193 wRC+ v LHP in his 60 PA. Brad Hawpe in 2009 was a 99 wRC+ hitter, 114 in 2008. Seth Smith hammered lefties for a 124 wRC+. Gonzalez, 106.

In fact,  according to Baseball-Reference, the NL hit lefties good for a .256/.330/.407/.737 line. The Rockies, .253/.335/.430/.765. After a LOLCORZ adjustment, that's good for an OPS+ of 103.

(Quick Side Note: for those of you noticing when I switch between slash lines, wOBA, OPS, OPS+, and wRC+, the reasoning for it isn't that I feel one metric is really adding that much more than another, it has more to do with the availability of the well-put together numbers that I'm trying to write about. I hope you still love me.)

But before we simply dismiss the notion in entirety, though, we need to point out some of the sore points.

While Ian Stewart hit southpaws well in 2008, 2009 was pretty abysmal. .178/.278/.386 abysmal. That's a .664 OPS/.294 wOBA. Ryan Spilborghs, our Righty off the BenchTM! was actually pretty sad v LHP in 2009, struggling to post his .230/.317/.439 line


It keeps on going from here. Click past the jump for the parts with the tables.

Todd Helton has nearly a .250 OPS swing from RHP to LHP. His OBP drops about .070, and his SLG about .175. His BB% halves, his K% jumps about 6%, and his K/BB...well, look at this: vRHP, 1.76; v LHP, 0.53.

Now before we all jump off of buildings or whatever, Helton is still batting over .300 v LHP: .311/.369/.372. Frankly, that AVG/OBP split plays every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Problem is that's a Yadi Molina/Ryan Theriot SLG. That means he can't muster more than a single - which isn't AWFUL I guess, considering his AVG, but's a pretty stark difference from LHP to RHP. Versus LHP, Todd Helton looks ...actually, that Yadier Molina comparison wasn't bad at all. When facing righties, though, he looks like Joe Mauer with lower AVG and more walks. Go Todd!

Now, if Helton had Dex wheels, I bat that line leadoff all day long. However, Helton clearly has the Stone of Triumph attached, and speed ain't his strong suit. His RHP line is downright elite, but that's not what we're talking about here.

But it's really not all bad news. While Helton's LHP splits suck compared to RHP, it's still a 94 wRC+ (155 wRC+ v RHP!), and it's not as if he's only one we can count on or anything. You all saw the 103 OPS+ as a team. Our lefties hit lefties at a 109 OPS+, which is pretty impressive in itself

So now here's the question: what do we do with Helton v LHP?

The obvious answer is just to keep him in. Like I said, that AVG/OBP split plays in most lineups, and considering his ability to make better fielders out of his infield by his scooping ability more or less adds back in that value that's missing from his SLG. But say that we want to explore our other options at 1B v LHP.

The three backups that come to mind are as follows (and should be obvious): Jason Giambi, Brad Hawpe, and Melvin Mora. Take a look at their career splits v LHP:

Name

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

wRC+

Todd Helton Career

.313

.406

.458

.864

.379

123

Jason Giambi Career

.240

.371

.473

.844

.370

130

Brad Hawpe Career

.243

.322

.429

.751

.327

89

Melvin Mora Career

.266

.352

.462

.814

.355

120

Outside of SLG, Todd Helton appears to have a career of being the most effective hitter v LHP. But remember that much of Helton's career has been benefitted from LOLCORZ. When you make the necessary adjustments for park, for league, for era, for whatever, Giambi comes out on top, if you notice that 130 wRC+ as compared to 123 wRC+. Don't get me wrong, a 123 wRC+ is still impressive, and those numbers play every day of the week and maybe even a Sunday doubleheader. Hawpe clearly played himself out against LHP, as far as career numbers go, but Mora should be starting SOMEWHERE, if those career numbers tell us anything.

But that's clearly not the whole story. With 3 of those 4 players being in their twilight years (you know, they sparkle in the sunlight), you need to be playing the "what have you done for me lately" card a bit more forcefully. Here are their 2009 splits v LHP:

Name

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

wRC+

Todd Helton 2009

.311

.369

.372

.741

.332

94

Jason Giambi 2009

.213

.333

.517

.850

.366

127

Brad Hawpe 2009

.243

.337

.438

.775

.338

99

Melvin Mora 2009

.242

.326

.364

.690

.309

86

Suddenly changes the spectrum, doesn't it? Helton still sits on top as far as that AVG/OBP split goes, but Giambi is taking the cake in SLG, OPS, wOBA, and wRC+.

So these numbers have a lot of implications, as far as starting at 1B goes. There are two specifics that pop out at me pretty strongly.

The first is that Giambi should be the primary sub at 1B v LHP - maybe. A lot of this will strongly fall in Jim Tracy's lap - not so much the decision of "oh do I respect my veteran team leader or sub in his thong-clad buddy?" but more along the lines of "where do I play these guys v LHP?" Well, that'll take some creativity. If Helton plays, he needs to be batting 2nd or 3rd, just based on that very low SLG and the good AVG/OBP line. If Giambi plays, if he's hitting anywhere higher than 5th, it's pretty much a "Oh well he's a respected veteran bat blah blah blah" - that .333 OBP doesn't play higher than 5, and that SLG is far better served when Cargo/Tulo/Dex/Whoever is on base. With a guy like Giambi, I don't think anyone is FORCED to bat him 3rd, despite his veteranitude. It brings up new questions as to who would bat 3rd in Helton's place, but those can be brought up later.

The second implication is that of what to do with Brad Hawpe. We'd love to groom Hawpe for 1B, but now the issue of "when do we play him" comes up. Helton's RHP splits basically say "never ever ever bench him", and Hawpe's LHP splits aren't really overwhelming enough to give him innings over Helton or Giambi. Maybe it's just me, but I feel this is another drop into the "trade Hawpe" bucket.

Hey will you look at that. We're up almost at 1200 words again already and I can see that Thousand-Yard Stare in your eyes, so I supposed I'd better wrap this up.

What we've learned is that while we think we need to bat better v LHP, I'd make the case that we're not nearly as bad as one would think, based on what the weaker side of the plate would suggest. We have a lot of guys who can hit lefties. I clearly haven't addressed all of the LHP issues that may arise, and I hope to touch on a few that still exist (Stewart being a big one). We'll probably see a couple of "odds and ends" articles that consist of overflow from past articles.

But until next time, remember: If you're on a ball field and someone shouts "Heads up!" don't actually raise your head up. Cover it with your arms and duck.

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