Jerry Manuel and handedness

Do right-handed hitters generally hit lefty pitchers better, and vice versa? The answer is yes; this is generally true of most major leaguers. However, by no means is this applicable to every situation. Sometimes you’d rather have your lefty batter hit against a lefty pitcher, or even bring in a left-handed pitcher to face a right-handed hitter. Jerry Manuel has failed to grasp this concept. Throughout the season he has plagued Mets fans with ill-advised in-game switches because of fictional matchup favorites.

Last night was a perfect example of this situation. Mets rookie catcher (and lefty hitter) Josh Thole was coming to the plate in the seventh inning to face left-hander Mike Gonzalez. Here are Josh Thole’s 2009 Double-A numbers against righties and lefties:

Righties: .328/.396/.437 (268 at-bats)
Lefties: .328/.391/.388 (116 at-bats)

There is no major difference there. Thole hits righties better than lefties, but his numbers against lefties are still extremely solid. The fact that he can bat .328 alone should be an indicator of his ability to hit southpaws. Just to drive home the point, here are his 2008 numbers from High-A St. Lucie:

Righties: .289/.380/.425 (266 at-bats)
Lefties: .333/.386/.432 (81 at-bats)

Yeah, I think we can conclude that Thole is just fine against lefties. But Jerry Manuel disagrees. When Thole got called up to the majors, Jerry said that the rookie wouldn’t play much against lefties: “I want him in spots where he can have success and build on that.”

Anyway, back to last night. Thole comes up, and Jerry decides that this matchup is just too unfair to Thole, and he has a righty catcher on the bench to boot! So up comes the lefty-masher Omir Santos. Here are Santos’ 2009 splits entering that plate appearance:

Righties: .282/.321/408 (174 at-bats)
Lefties: .213/.242/.337 (89 at-bats)

Is there much else to say? This is just Terrible Decision Making 101. So what happened? What else could happen? Santos properly drilled a go-ahead homer over the left field wall to give the Mets the lead. Hitting on 19 in blackjack and getting a deuce doesn’t make your processing correct, and neither does going all-in with 7-8 against pocket queens and hitting a set on the river. A word to the wise, Jerry. Don’t quit your day job to play percentage-based games any time soon. What’s that? That basically is Jerry’s job? God help us all.

UPDATE:

I wanted to post more numbers to give a better context:

Omir Santos minor league career: 1248 at-bats (as far back as minorleaguesplits goes)

Righties: .256/.308/.351
Lefties: .254/.287/.336

BIG difference there. .36 points in OPS.

Josh Thole’s minor league career: 1314 at-bats

Righties: .284/.375/.378
Lefties: .317/.399/.376

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Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat
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archilochusColubris
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archilochusColubris

But it’s been shown that it takes thousands of at-bats for platoon splits to stabilize. These splits are barely significant at all. I don’t know all the context into the decision, but it doesn’t seem like Santos was necessarily the wrong play.

Tubulus
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Tubulus

Agree with the comment above. The chi-squared test shows no statistically significant different between Santos batting average vs righties or lefties. So, given that there is presumably good evidence that, in general, batters hit opposite-armed pitchers better, I would think Santos is the right statistical choice. I’m no statistician, so please correct me if I’m wrong.

Pat Andriola
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Pat Andriola

Omir Santos minor league career: 1248 at-bats (as far back as minorleaguesplits goes)

Righties: .256/.308/.351
Lefties:  .254/.287/.336

BIG difference there. .36 points in OPS.

Josh Thole’s minor league career: 1314 at-bats

Righties: .284/.375/.378
Lefties: .317/.399/.376

Hope that sets some things straight.

Tim Stoeckel
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Tim Stoeckel

archilochus and Tubulus:

Unless I’m missing something, it seems to me the point Pat is trying to make is that Thole is far and away the better overall hitter; even adjusting for platoon splits, were they to exist with these two players, Thole would probably still be the better choice.

Pat Andriola
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Pat Andriola

Yes, thank you, Tim. I included the splits to make it apparent that even a lefty-righty reason for the pinch hit was counterproductive, but also should have driven home the simple fact that, regardless of handedness, Thole is simply the better hitter.

browngoat
Guest
browngoat

Also, at this point in the season, EVERYTHING should be about next year.  Why not give Thole an at bat against a tough lefty reliever?  See what you have going forward and maybe the Mets go with a Santos-Thole platoon next year, instead of signing a free agent catcher.

Joe
Guest
Joe
This is bizarre.  Regardless of the game-strategy implications, the bigger issue is Manuel having said that he wanted to put Thole in “positions where he can succeed,” where there is no evidence that Thole will have a significantly lower likelihood of success if facing a lefty.  Were I a Mets fan, I would find it distressing that Manuel doesn’t realize this.  And if it’s a matter of confidence, why plant a seed of doubt in the kid’s head that he might have extra trouble vs. major league lefties.  The other question I have is this: given that Thole is in… Read more »
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