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The Phillies Hit Better Against Lefties Than Righties in 2010 and They Might Do It Again in 2011

There's been a fair amount of consternation out in Phillies fandom about the lineup's prospects of success against lefthanded pitching in 2011. "We already had a lefty-dominated lineup," the thinking goes, "and now we've lost our best righthanded hitter in Jayson Werth! We're going to be dominated by lefties all year!"

Well, that fear is probably unfounded. It's worth remembering that in 2010, the Phillies' hitters were actually a LOT better against lefties than they were against righties. Against lefties, they collectively posted a .336 wOBA and a .767 OPS. Against righties, they were only at .321 wOBA and .736 OPS. There was a BABIP differential there (.309 vs. lefties, .286 BABIP), but with hitters, unlike with pitchers, a fair amount of BABIP is actually attributable to skill.

Of course, those stats were accumulated with Werth in the lineup. What happens if you switch him out and replace him with Brown and Francisco? Brown doesn't have any major league stats, so he's a bit of a cipher here and, in any event, he's hurt. So let's just replace Werth's 2010 splits with Francisco's 2010 splits, and see what happens:

Name wOBA vs. L OPS vs. L wOBA vs. R OPS vs. R
Ruiz .410 .940 .349 .808
Howard .358 .826 .372 .876
Utley .434 1.003 .337 .752
Polanco .294 .668 .332 .749
Rollins .345 .773 .290 .657
Ibañez .318 .728 .352 .822
Victorino .393 .921 .306 .692
Francisco .384 .901 .288 .640
AVG .367 .845 .328 .750

[A few methodological notes about that chart. (1) I only included the starters, because we don't know who the reserves are going to be yet, and they're not going to have that many PAs anyway (and if they do, we'll have bigger problems to worry about than L/R splits). (2) I just took a straight average, even though guys who hit at the top of the lineup will actually come to the plate somewhat more often than guys at the bottom of the lineup. This entire calculation is crude, but these split stats are all volatile and based on relatively small samples and thus have big margins for error anyway, so there's no point in worrying too much about precision. All I'm looking for are ballpark figures. (3) I included Utley because I really don't think he's going to miss that much time, and regardless, since Utley's one of the team's key lefthanded hitters, including him in the calculation just gives even more of the benefit of the doubt to those who are worried about the lineup's ability to score off of lefties.]

So, with all that said: According to this admittedly crude calculation, if Francisco had been the RF last year instead of Werth, the Phils' regular starting lineup would still have been much more effective against lefties than it would have been against righties. In fact, it wouldn't even have been close.

But, one might object, the 2010 split stat might have been flukish (for instance, Ryan Howard's L/R split was much smaller than it had ever been previously). And that would be a fair point. Here's what happens if you plug each guy's career splits into the chart instead of his 2010 splits.

Name wOBA vs. L OPS vs. L wOBA vs. R OPS vs. R
Ruiz .337 .792 .323 .735
Howard .329 .766 .424 1.039
Utley .390 .894 .382 .894
Polanco .348 .803 .333 .755
Rollins .334 .772 .330 .764
Ibañez .329 .758 .367 .868
Victorino .368 .853 .325 .736
Francisco .352 .806 .332 .762
AVG .348 .806 .352 .819

So, okay, if you use their career stats, the vs-righty stats turn out to be better than the vs-lefty stats. But only by a little bit. And who's to say that the career splits are necessarily more accurate as predictors anyway? If there's a discrepancy between one's career stats and one's "most recent season" stats, that can be explained in two ways: the most recent season could be a fluke, but it's also possible that something really did change over time. Usually, the first explanation is the more reliable one, but that doesn't mean you can just dismiss the second one out of hand. I think the career splits chart is closer to the truth than the 2010 splits chart is, but the truth is still probably in between the two somewhere.

The bottom line is that the 2011 Phillies are very unlikely to be significantly worse against lefties than they are against righties, and there's a pretty fair chance that they'll actually be better against lefties. This doesn't mean that everything's necessarily fine and dandy with the lineup. It isn't quite as good as it was last year, and the more time Utley misses, the more ground they'll lose. But the reason to worry about the lineup (if you really must worry on March 23) is not its supposed lack of "balance." However good or bad the lineup is, it'll be roughly that good or bad against lefties and righties alike. They will not be particularly vulnerable against one as opposed to the other.

The error that a lot of fans make here is that they assume that if your best hitters are all worse against lefties, then your offense must be worse against lefties. But that isn't the case at all. You have to look at all the hitters in the lineup. If, say, your top three hitters are all moderately better vs. righties, but your other five hitters are all much better vs. lefties, then your offense is better against lefties.