Deep Southpaw: Most Starts by a Lefty
The 1983 Yankees (the “Pine Tar Game” Yankees) started a left-handed pitcher in 127 of their regular season games. That’s the most lefty-starter games by any team in one season in the b-ref Play Index searchable era (1918-current). Ron Guidry, Dave Righetti and Shane Rawley, all lefties, were the three primary starters for the Bombers all season long (this was the season Righetti pitched his no-hitter). The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation were covered by a number of guys, but more than anyone else by two other lefties, Bob Shirley and, after he was called up from the minors in late June, Ray Fontenot. The 1983 Yankees won 91 games, but in the pre-wild card era that wasn’t enough to get them to the post-season. More lefty-heavy starting staffs after the jump.
The 1975 White Sox started almost as many lefties as the ’83 Yanks — 124 games started by southpaws. That staff hardly needed fourth and fifth starters; three veteran lefties started a huge number of games for the Pale Hose. Knuckleballer Wilbur Wood started 43 games, Jim Kaat (a prominent figure in baseball seemingly since John Quincy Adams was president) started 41 games and Claude Osteen (who had previously served as #3 in a rotation behind Koufax and Drysdale) started 37 games. Picking up for these guys as needed in the late innings was a right-handed kid named Rich Gossage, who Baseball-reference’s version of WAR suggests may have been the AL’s most valuable player that season. It couldn’t have been easy for AL hitters that year up against Wilbur Wood for seven or eight innings and then suddenly facing the young Gossage.
Two teams had lefties start 116 games: The 1974 Orioles and the 1979 White Sox. The ’74 O’s had a big three of left-handers Ross Grimsley, Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally, who led Baltimore to an AL East championship but couldn’t get the team past Oakland’s mid-1970′s dynasty in the ALCS (Baltimore hitters had an OPS of .467 in the 1974 playoffs). The 1979 White Sox had a whole different set of lefty starters than the 1974 version, and it was a whole lot less distinguished group. Ken Kravec, Rich Wortham and Ross Baumgarten, the White Sox three main lefty starters in 1979, had solid seasons, but do not conjure images of Cooperstown. Their #4 guy, lefty Steve Trout, was the one lefty starter on that team who went on to a substantial career.
The Kansas City Royals of 1982 had 113 lefty starts, with Larry Gura, Vida Blue, Paul Splittorff and Bud Black. The 1965 Dodgers started a lefty 112 times, despite Drysdale starting 42 games. Starts from Koufax, Osteen and Podres, plus a spot starts from others, added up.
Here’s a list of the eight team-seasons with the most lefty starts:
1. 1983 Yankees, 127lefty starts
2. 1975 White Sox, 124
T3. 1979 White Sox and 1974 Orioles, 116
5. 1982 Royals 113
6. 1965 Dodgers 112
7. 1980 White Sox 111
8. 1980 Yankees 110
In the 154-game schedule era, the 1951 Red Sox, with 106 starts by southpaws, show up as the lefty-heaviest of starting rotations. Those Red Sox had five different lefties start at least 16 games, led by Mel Parnell.
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