Going North Against South Paws

It was no secret that the top weakness the Indians were looking to improve upon during the 2012 off-season was their offensive performance against left handed pitchers. It seemed in that season, a left handed starter appearing on the probable pitchers list was an automatic loss. Opponents were so aware of this that they would bring up a left handed starter from AAA to throw against Cleveland instead of a proven right hander, and the strategy almost always worked. They finished that season 18-35 against against south paws, a record that was largely to blame for their fourth place finish in American League Central. If that had even managed to match their record against right handers, they would have finished 74-88, good enough for a third place finish, a lot closer than their eventual 20 games back was.

Chris Antonetti didn't sit by and do nothing, in fact almost every single move he made during the off-season had to due with addressing this problem. First he traded questionable reliever Esmil Rogers to the Blue Jays for a right handed MLB ready back-up catcher and a veteran right handed utility player. A couple bench players not being enough, he acquired Drew Stubbs as a throw in to the Shin-Soo Choo trade, in addition to Trevor Bauer, with the additional cost of a few replacement level players (Lars Anderson and Jason Donald). If that wasn't enough, The Indians added switch hitting Nick Swisher as a free agent, giving them three switch hitters in the starting lineup (along with Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana). The final piece to the puzzle was unexpected, when Ryan Raburn joined the team as Spring Training invitee in March and hasn't stopped out producing expectations since.

Here is a list of the 2012 players compared to their 2013 replacement, just considering career OPS against left handed pitchers:

Pos 2012 Player OPS vs LHP 2013 Replacement OPS vs LHP
C2 Lou Marson .717 Yan Gomes .884
1B Casey Kotchman .650 Nick Swisher .848
UTIL Jose Lopez .712 Mike Aviles .768
RF Shin-Soo Choo .678 Drew Stubbs .802
DH Shelley Duncan .721 Mark Reynolds .846
OF Johnny Damon .749 Ryan Raburn .838

Every single new player added has outperformed their predecessor in their career against lefties and not all were simply replacing a left handed hitter with the opposite. Marson, Lopez and Duncan were all right handers, but were simply replaced by better overall hitters (an added bonus is that every single player change except Kotchman for Swisher, improved the defense drastically as well). While four of the players listed are best described as reserve of utility players, the Indians have made best use of them by starting them against left handed starters.

This season the turn around drastic, and almost all to do with the six players listed. In 2013, the Indians have won almost 60% of their starts against LHP (27-19 as of 9/12) and just 51% against right handers. This stark contrast with 2012 has been the primary reason for the Indians contention in the Wild Card race, instead of finishing towards the bottom of the division.

Right now the Indians are slated to face eight LHP in their last 16 games (although this is obviously subject to change). This fares well for the Tribe that has turned a weakness into an asset, as they will have to win between 9 and 12 of those games to stay in the Wild Card hunt. If they can continue their turn around and actually play better against lefties than righties (.772 team OPS vs LHP, .713 vs RHP) they will have a very good chance at winning five or six of those games, allowing them to go .500 or worse against the remaining right handers and still make the post season.

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona.

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