Phillies Owning Left-Handed Pitching Early

Bring me all of your left-handers, says Ryan Howard. - Harry How

One of the early-season bright spots in 2014 has been the Phils' performance against left-handed pitching.

Last night, the Phillies bombed Dodgers starter Paul Maholm for five runs, four of them earned, in just five innings of work. Ryan Howard hit his fifth home run of the year off the left-handed starter, and the Phillies pounded out eight hits and three walks against him on their way to a 7-0 whitewashing of Los Angeles.

But this is not a new story so far in 2014. The Phillies, who have struggled mightily against left-handed pitchers in recent years, are suddenly among the best teams in baseball against southpaws through the first 19 games of the season.

In 210 plate appearances against lefties, the Phillies are hitting .319, second-best in baseball behind only the Colorado Rockies. Their .872 OPS is also second-best in baseball, and their .372 on-base percentage against southpaws is tops in the game. They have hit 8 home runs against left-handers this year, trailing only the Los Angeles Angels, and their 30 RBIs are third-best.

Compare that to last year, when the team hit .239 against left-handers (26th in baseball), with an OPS of .679 (22nd) and an on-base percentage of .304 (24th). Those numbers mirrored 2012 (.235/.300/.392, .692 OPS) and 2011 (.246/.319/.382, .701 OPS).

The drop-off in production against lefties from the glory years of 2007-2010 was largely attributed to the departure of Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino and the injuries suffered by Chase Utley, who had always been good against left-handers.

But so far this year almost the entire lineup, including Ryan Howard, has performed much better against lefties (numbers below are OPS) than they have the last three years.

Most notable are the performances of the Phils' left-handed hitters, Utley, Howard, Revere and Brown, who are bucking the traditional lefty-lefty splits. Revere has always had a decent average against lefties, and before his injuries, Utley was just as good against lefties as righties. But Howard's turnaround, as well as Brown's approach, have been a pleasant surprise.

The addition of Marlon Byrd has been a boost as well, while Ruiz and Rollins, who bats from the right side against lefties, have done what they're supposed to do against left-handers.

Ryne Sandberg has also shown an affinity for lefty-righty balance in his lineups, even batting John Mayberry ahead of Brown last night against Maholm. That's certainly understandable given Mayberry's 1.189 OPS in 13 plate appearances against lefties this year and his career .856 OPS against them. He's also split up Utley and Howard against lefties this year, and used Ruiz in the clean-up spot last night while giving Byrd a much-needed night off.

So far, it has worked.

Of course, the sample size is small and is in no way predictive of what's going to happen for the rest of the season. These numbers are probably unsustainable to the degree they are right now, but hopefully show an improvement that is somewhat sustainable as the season progresses.

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