Are the Giants Too Lefty-Heavy?

In the top of the fifth of what became an extra-inning win last Friday night, the Giants were ahead a run. Barry Zito was 100 pitches in and had been lucky to escape the top of the fifth with one run after he allowed two singles, a walk and a home run. Manager Bruce Bochy therefore sent the team’s best available right-handed hitter to the plate to pinch hit for his starter.

Matt Cain.

In the top of the ninth inning of what became a walk-off loss last Saturday night, the Giants needed any run they could get. Once Terry Collins put the Mets’ best left-hander on the mound, Tim Byrdak, lefty Brandon Crawford didn’t perhaps provide the Giants with their best chance. Bruce Bochy sent one of his two remaining right-handed hitters to the plate — backup catcher Hector Sanchez. The Giants ended up tying the game, and needed a middle infielder with Crawford out. With Manny Burriss already in the game, Bruce Bochy moved Burriss to shortstop and put his best remaining option at second base.

Aubrey Huff.

Both of these iconic moments, coming on consecutive days, made for some mirth on the internet. Much of it was unearned, really — Ryan Theriot was sick with the flu and couldn’t make the trip to New York. As a right-handed middle infielder, he would have solved both situations.

On the other hand, both situations were brought on, at least partially, by the left-handers facing the Giants on the mound. In the search for a right-handed bat to face those lefties, Bochy had to turn to Cain (.147 career wOBA) and Sanchez (.277 career wOBA, .282 rest-of-season projected ZiPs wOBA) in important moments. The Giants have the second-worst wRC+ against left-handers in the National League (56, the Pirates have a 55). The titular question seems fair: are the Giants too lefty-heavy?

Last year, no team had fewer at-bats that featured their right-handed hitter against a left-handed pitcher. The Pirates and the Giants had 545 of those situations. The Padres, at 1357, found the platoon advantage more often than any other National League team. The Giants achieved those matchups 60% less often than the league leader. This year, they once again find themselves behind the mean, even if the short sample so far means that the schedule may not have evened out yet.

But how does this jive with the Giants’ actual roster construction? Are there actually more lefties on the team that are skewing the results, and is the bench full of southpaws? Unclear:

11 RHBvLHP 12 RHBvLHP #LHB #LHB, Bench
SDN 1357 164 5 2
HOU 1230 120 4 1
NYN 1159 86 6 1
FLO 1119 94 3 2
COL 1089 146 4 2
CHN 1073 53 6 2
ARI 1038 117 4 1
LAN 1011 133 5 2
PHI 1007 113 5 3
ATL 981 120 6 2
MIL 965 118 5 3
SLN 958 94 5 2
WAS 948 62 4 2
CIN 895 124 3 1
PIT 545 121 4 1
SFN 545 99 5 2
AVE NL 995 110.25 4.625 1.8125

The Giants are no more lefty-heavy than your average National League team.

And yet, there’s still the fact of those missing righty-vs-lefty matchups. How does that happen? Perhaps it has something to do with exactly how the roster is constructed. One thing that the Pirates and Giants had in common last year was that they featured two lefty first basemen (Lyle Overbay and Garrett Jones). The Giants are currently sporting Brandon Belt and Aubrey Huff and have a somewhat random plan for their use. With righty Brett Pill in the fold, they’re using three men to fill the job of a two-man platoon role.

Another way of saying it: The Giants have some righties on the bench, but they come in the form of players at premium defensive positions: Hector Sanchez, Manny Burriss and Ryan Theriot. There isn’t a league-average bat in the group. Which is how you end up with Brandon Belt pinch-hitting against Antonio Bastardo — if he’s your best bat on the bench, the platoon advantage goes out the window.

The team probably could have used a right-handed bat-first piece on the bench that day — maybe in Gregor Blanco‘s spot — but they didn’t have him, and possibly because there are two lefty first basemen on this team. Which brings us back to the Huff/Belt quandary.

The Giants aren’t too lefty-heavy. That doesn’t mean that their roster is perfectly platoon-ready around the edges.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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pbjsandwich
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pbjsandwich
4 years 5 months ago

Who needs depth when you have Pablo Sandoval

Ben G.
Guest
Ben G.
4 years 5 months ago

I think the only solution is trade Brandon Belt to the White Sox for Alex Rios. Get it done Sabean!

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Ryan Vogelsong was actually the best RH pinch hit option there. Bumgarner is probably a better hitter than Cainer too. Vogey’s career BA is close to .200.

watwat
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watwat
4 years 5 months ago

But Cainer hits dingerzzz!

Graham
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Graham
4 years 5 months ago

Good piece, but it misrepresents two key elements:
1) We actually have no idea what to expect from Hector Sanchez. He rocketed through the system because of his bat, and his at-bats so far give at least some indication (albeit with the usual SSS caveats) that he might be more than your average backup catcher at the plate.
2) Again, SSS applies; but Belt’s splits last year indicate a substantial reverse platoon split (.348/.412/.522 vs LH vs. .184/.272/.376 vs RH).

Those caveats notwithstanding, I do think the Giants would benefit from another solid righty bat off the bench (it’s not like Ryan Theriot is going to light up the league). Both Justin Christian (OF) and Joaquin Arias (IF) are righties off to strong starts in AAA, and both have useful skillsets for bench/role players. Neither is currently on the 40-man roster, but the Giants have yet to move Brian Wilson to the 60-day DL, so there’s an easy solution to that if the Giants don’t call up a starter for Friday’s game (this weekend’s rainout in NY screwing up their rotation).

Ideally, though, the Giants could find some way to make Aubrey Huff go away. I’d be willing to eat the majority of his salary to bring back a right-handed batter with a bit of pop off the bench. As it stands, Huff is redundant at 1st and useless in the OF.

Baltar
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Baltar
4 years 5 months ago

What team do you think would give a decent player for Huff even if the Giants ate all his salary?

Graham
Guest
Graham
4 years 5 months ago

Depends on what you mean by “decent player.” What I meant was a AAAA righty off the bench. I don’t think those are too hard to come by. And Huff has been left for dead so many times in his career that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if someone — particularly an AL team where he could DH — decided to take a low-risk flyer on him.

Bubba
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Bubba
4 years 5 months ago

I don’t think any team would take any kind of a flyer on Huff right now given his play in 2011, his start in 2012, his game on 4/21, and his current MIA status.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 5 months ago

Much ado about nothing. The lefty-righty difference isn’t big enough to use an inferior batter (e.g. Cain) because of the handedness difference.
The only thing wrong with the Giants roster is not having any good mid-infielders.
You can’t build a team just to try to make up for Bochy’s awful “management” decision-making.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Bochy is a manager who consistently wins more 1 run games than he loses and whose teams consistently outperform their Pythagorean and WAR projections. I’d say is decision making is usually quite good.

Bruce (SF)
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Bruce (SF)
4 years 5 months ago

Ryan Theriot was sick with the flu and couldn’t make the trip to New York. As a right-handed middle infielder, he would have solved both situations.

Tom Greybalt
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Tom Greybalt
4 years 5 months ago

I think the article is carefully created to obscure the most pertinent numbers.

The Giants have the most PA by lefthanded batters of any team in baseball, and the fewest by RH batters. They have the fifth highest OPS in MLB against RH pitchers and the second lowest against LH pitchers.

And the majority of those RH plate appearance are by switch hitters who have records of hitting far better against RH pitching.

Brian
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Brian
4 years 5 months ago

You can also look at the other side of things where when most teams would have a righty hitting against right handed pitchers (which I don’t think I need to remind anyone represent the majority of pitchers), they have a switch hitter batting left handed against them. Considering they have 6 switch hitters on their roster, looking at the number of right handed plate appearances doesn’t tell you the whole story in determining how (un)balanced they are.

Eno Scabell
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Eno Scabell
4 years 5 months ago

kind of a boring and pointless article if you don’t mind me saying. (and i’m a giants fan)

hopefully huff stays on an extended vacation and some of their problems may be solved.

BillWallace
Member
BillWallace
4 years 5 months ago

A couple points about the Cain thing, which I think was a very good move.

Firstly, the Giants hit the lefty Niese with 7 of 8 hitters batting righty (5 SHs), which is great, and explains why the bench was all lefties. Your bench SHOULD be all lefties when the opposing starter is a lefty.

Secondly I’m sure Bochy didn’t think that Cain was a better hitter than the bench options, but this was a low leverage situation (2 out none on) against the lefty starter (when there will almost certainly be higher leverage situations later in the game against righties.

Basically this was the worst possible opportunity for the pinch hitters he had, so rather than burn one of his short bench, he decided to let the pitcher hit, he just decided to sub in a better hitting pitcher to do it.

I don’t know about the quibble about whether Cain or Vogey or whoever would have been better. I might use Vogey just because he’s less important if he gets injured, or just let Zito see if he can reprise his epic at bat from last week. But that aside, I think letting the pitcher hit was the right move.

As for the Huff thing, I think it was ok, weird, but ok. If you really get into the math of the downgrade in defense and the upgrade in hitting, I doubt you’ll find it’s terrible. It just so happened that a competent second baseman was needed. If that inning had been a strikeout and 2 flyouts then you get to just laugh about it later.

Joe
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Joe
4 years 5 months ago

Thank you for pointing out the context of the Cain at-bat. It meant next to nothing, and I don’t see why people are complaining about Bochy not using one of his few pinch hitters in that situation. It was bad circumstances that drove him to make a strange, but benign move. relax people.

Also, not fair to call Hector Sanchez and Burris below average bats, as they have both handled the bats pretty well in this short season. True it’s short sample size, but you can expect a LOT from Sanchez, and Burris may have finally turned it around to at least be an above-average back-up, if not a league average hitting 2B

Graham
Guest
Graham
4 years 5 months ago

Eh, I think it’s pretty fair to call Emmanuel Burris a below-average bat. Doesn’t preclude the possibility of him stepping up his game, but we have a fair amount of data that suggest he’s mediocre at best with the stick. As for Hector Sanchez — it’s just far too early to make any sort of evaluation. My own sense is that he’s going to be a pretty good hitter, and that he’ll make his preseason projections look pretty foolish; but then again, the projection algorithms really didn’t have much to go on, so it’s hard to fault the systems. The error is in ascribing too much faith to projections based on so little data.

Nate
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Nate
4 years 5 months ago

I disagree about the Cain pinch hitting. Every out in a game is precious – only 27 of them. Bochy never seems to understand this. To just give an out away lowers WPA, not to mention he didn’t even pinch hit with this his best pitcher (Vogelsong, Bumgarner).

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Bochy consistently wins more 1 run games than he loses and his teams consistently outperform their Pythagorean/WAR projections. He must understand something correctly.

Chump Change
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Chump Change
4 years 5 months ago

Jibe, not jive. (Though I do speak the latter).

joebananas
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joebananas
4 years 5 months ago

sadly, i have a feeling that when freddy sanchez returns the giants will send belt back down (using pill/huff/posey @ 1B) and giving hector sanchez more run to rest posey.

it looks like belt is going to enjoy a nice career with another team.

Larry Yocum
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Larry Yocum
4 years 5 months ago

I’m not sure they would send Belt down. I think Theriot should be looking over his shoulder though. That guy looks old and slow and is probably just a placeholder for Sanchez at this point.

Bochy always shows a lot of loyalty to vets, but the Huff incident on Saturday was also very embarassing and I’d think the patience is growing thin, even for Bochy.

Larry Yocum
Guest
Larry Yocum
4 years 5 months ago

The Giants can run an all righty/switch lineup out there if they like except Crawford (or they could even play Theriot at SS and have all righties). They actually ran this one out there on Friday.

Pagan
Cabrera
Sandoval
Posey
Pill
Sanchez
Burriss
Crawford

The problem is that most of their switch hitters are better vs. righties.

The guy they really miss is Freddy Sanchez when it comes to lefties. He has a career .342 lifetime average vs. lefties and an .872 OPS.

Peter
Guest
Peter
4 years 5 months ago

Huff was supposed to be in LF. The platoon at 1B was Belt/Posey/Pill. With Schierholtz and Blanco as the fourth and fifth outfielders, respectively. On any random day the plan was to have Pill/Theriot/Posey|Sanchez as the RHH bench guys, with Schierholtz/Blanco/Huff|Belt as the LHH bench.

Throw 2011 stats out the window – this is a different team.

Don’t blame a Huff/Belt platoon, because that was never the plan. Schierholtz forced his way into the lineup, Belt “asking” for time to gather himself opened up 1B for Huff, which, apparently, Huff doesn’t really want. Going forward, Bochy has already signaled that Posey will get more playing time at 1B, which I assume moves Huff to the bench.

The problem on this team vs. LH pitching is simply that the Giants don’t have players, right now, that rake from the right-side against them. Buster and Panda in particular do not feast off of LH pitching. Put a healthy Freddy Sanchez in the lineup and the situation improves.

Larry Yocum
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Larry Yocum
4 years 5 months ago

I think Posey is a sample size issue. He only has 157 ABs and has a better contact rate versus lefties, a better BB:K rate, a higher SLG% and a higher OBP. He profiles as a guy that will kill lefties if the BABIP regulates to what he is showing against Righties. There is no reason his average should be lower vs. Lefties based on all the peripheral numbers (.274 vs. .309). Maybe just unlucky a few hits didn’t fall in here or there. His BABIP vs. Righties is .340 and his BABIP vs. Lefties is .279 early in his career. More hits are coming against lefties given that he seems to see them better if the lower K-rate and higher SLG% are to be believed.

Peter
Guest
Peter
4 years 5 months ago

Larry,

I’m glad you drilled down into some foundational stats. You make a good case for Posey having significantly better production against LH pitching as those stats assert themselves in the future. Perhaps Eno might have written a different article if they had already done so.

Nate
Guest
Nate
4 years 5 months ago

Pablo is still a natural righty, and with his shoulder finally healthy this year, I think he’ll be more like 2009 against LH (.441 wOBA, 175 wRC+).

Same with Posey. As he gets more ABs, I bet he starts raking LH pitching.

Peter
Guest
Peter
4 years 5 months ago

Nate,

I’m not sure “natural” has much meaning with Pablo. It’s at least ambiguous. He’s a “natural” lefty, who switched to throwing right-handed at around eight years old. I’m a natural lefty who played baseball left-handed, but golf right-handed. That “feels” natural to me.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Pablo Sandoval is a natural LH who taught himself to throw RH because he wanted to be a SS like pretty much all young ballplayers from Venezuela.

fergie348
Guest
fergie348
4 years 5 months ago

Hector Sanchez is not a right handed hitter. He’s a switch hitter. As are Gregor Blanco, Emmanuel Burriss, Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval. This is why the top of the lineup won’t change much without injury to one of the above. Once you get down the lineup a bit they get more lefty heavy but we’ve got Freddy Sanchez coming back eventually. Burriss is playing so well right now I can’t see where Sanchez fits in, but because it’s Bruce Botchy I’m sure they’ll find a spot for him..

Larry Yocum
Guest
Larry Yocum
4 years 5 months ago

If Sanchez is healthy (well, healthy for Sanchez), it’s a no-brainer. He is the second baseman. He is the better option offensively and defensively. Burriss has been nice so far in that he is getting a few hits, but his offense is really very empty. He only has one extra base hit in his last 209 ABs. That’s pretty sad. Burriss will back up SS and 2nd, making Theriot expendable. Sanchez will rest a lot though, so Burriss will get plenty of AB’s in that role.

walt526
Guest
walt526
4 years 5 months ago

Small correction: Gregor Blanco is a left-handed hitter, not a switch-hitter.

Madoff Withurmoni
Member
Madoff Withurmoni
4 years 5 months ago

It’s been misunderstood that Huff has been unavailable the last few days, but after the debacle at 2B the other day, Bochy penciled him in at 3B instead yesterday. He’s just been playing out of position which is why you couldn’t see him in the stadium.

walt kovacs
Guest
walt kovacs
4 years 5 months ago

guess the author missed what the mets skip said after the series

that the giants have so many switch hitters, he didnt know how to pitch agaisnt them

why does this site exist?

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

LOL! Now that I’ve picked myself up from rolling on the floor laughing, gotta say, well put, Walt Kovacs!!

Shankbone
Guest
Shankbone
4 years 5 months ago

What looked jumbled last week got clarified for a moment by Nate Schierholtz going on a tear. Sabean and Bochy like to build in as much flexibility as they can, its one of their trademarks. So they have 3 players who can handle CF duties: Pagan, Blanco and Cabrera. Giants fans often question whether Schierholtz can do that as well, but they haven’t bothered so far, so I’d say he is a corner OF in their book, the only one that counts.

However, Schierholtz’ shaky spring is one of the reasons Belt made the team in the first place. There are 3 spaces open on the corners (with Pablo square at 3b) for six bats. Four lefties, Pill RH and Cabrera SH who’s splits run lefty as well. Nate and Belt have good splits versus lefties, but its not a big enough sample (especially in Belt’s case). Nate is obviously the best fielding of the bunch. If he stays hot, it becomes 5 bats for 2 spots, with Blanco really becoming a sub/pinch runner instead of being in the mix for starts.

This is where they miss Cody Ross. He can play the whole OF (flexibility again!), really mashes lefties, and can get hot and go, like his is doing now. Can’t blame the greybeards for the negotiation on that one, tough situation and he’s better off in a hitters park for one more contract. Still, I miss him, he didn’t get a chance to get the hot streaks going last year with the injuries.

Mr Sarris, one point of issue. Hector Sanchez may or may not be an average bat. We don’t know yet. I love him, and I have to restrain my fanboy impulses. A switch hitting bat off the bench is a nice weapon though, and I’m following his progress closely. Of course Posey puts more pressure on these guys on his days off, because Bochy sends him to 1B. Not enough ABs for everybody or should they cut down their expectations from 550 to 400?

Cuban X Senators
Guest
Cuban X Senators
4 years 5 months ago

I don’t know Eno, if we’re gonna think about roster construction the #1 answer is still “every team carries too many pitchers.”

ElJimador
Guest
ElJimador
4 years 5 months ago

“Last year, no team had fewer at-bats that featured their right-handed hitter against a left-handed pitcher. The Pirates and the Giants had 545 of those situations.”

Where are you getting this number? Looking at splits on BR.com I see that the 2011 Giants had 1016 AB and 1128 PA as RHB vs. LHP, which compared to 1537 total PA vs LHP = a platoon advantage 73.39% of those PAs, whereas the NL as a whole had 18205 PA as RHB vs. LHP compared to 24814 total PA vs. LHP = a platoon advantage 73.37% of the time. So where is the 545 coming from?

Also this is a vastly different Giants lineup this year. Go down the list of their right handed or switch hitters who took up the most PAs vs. LHP last year and see how many are gone: Rowand, Ross, Tejada, Burrell, Sanchez (DL), Torres, Beltran, Keppinger, Stewart, DeRosa, Whiteside, Cabrera — all w/40 or more PAs vs. LHP and over 71% of the team’s total PAs as RHB vs. LHP. With that much turnover, how are the stats related to last year’s team even relevant to this year’s lineup options? Because even if the Giants were below average in finding the platoon advantage vs. lefties last year (and again, the splits I mention above don’t show that), would that just stand to reason given the quality of right handed bats they had? Ask any Giants fan and I don’t think any will tell you that a shortcoming of last year’s team is that they didn’t give enough PAs to those guys.

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