Bend Sinister

This past September 26, when Dee Gordon came to the plate as the first Marlins hitter to bat after the passing on September 25 of the team’s young star Jose Fernandez, Gordon, who bats as a left-handed batter, took the first pitch as a right-handed batter. That was done in honor of Fernandez, a righty pitcher and batter. After that first pitch from Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon, Gordon turned around and hit from his usual side, as a left-handed batter. From his normal side, Gordon promptly hit a home run off of Colon, to give Florida a lead, and the Marlins went on to win a game that was deeply haunted by the death of Fernandez the previous morning.

By a strange coincidence, Gordon’s homer as a lefty batter, coming after his first-pitch appearance from the other side of the plate, caused an all-time MLB record, specific to lefty hitters, to be tied (the record was then subsequently broken a few days later).

Here are the pitchers who have allowed, over a career, the most home runs to batters hitting from the lefty side of the plate (including both regular and post-season home runs allowed):

1. Bartolo Colon 231
2. Robin Roberts 230
3. Catfish Hunter 224
4. Jack Morris 214
5. Ferguson Jenkins 213 (or 214)
6. Bert Blyleven 206
T7. Phil Niekro and Don Sutton 203
9. Javier Vazquez 202
10. Dennis Eckersley 198

Bartolo, who himself hit a memorable home run this season (albeit as a right-handed batter), tied the all-time career HRs-allowed-to-lefties record, previously held by Robin Roberts, when he allowed the Dee Gordon homer on September 26. Colon then broke the record when he allowed another memorable homer on October 1, to Ryan Howard. It was Howard’s final HR for the Phillies, and perhaps of his career (I’m not sure Ryan Howard will find another MLB spot next season — he’s been a rather consistently sub-replacement level performer since he badly injured his Achilles tendon making the final out of Philadelphia’s 2011 post-season; the Phillies have not been back to the post-season since that play). That final homer for Howard, the record-breaker for Colon, came as the Mets sought to clinch a post-season berth on the second-to-last day of the season. Howard’s blast off Colon tied the game, and put the Mets’ post-season hopes in jeopardy, but another left-handed hitting first baseman, James Loney — owner of one of the lowest HR per PA ratios of any recent long-term first basemen — hit a homer of his own to restore the Mets lead, allowing Colon, the new all-time leader in homers allowed to lefties, to get the win and the Mets to grab a wild card spot. The Mets then went on to lose the wild card game — on a ninth-inning homer by unheralded lefty batter Conor Gillaspie.

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birtelcom
birtelcom
5 years ago

A methodology note regarding the list in this post: Getting the platoon splits on home runs allowed is not a simple matter. Baseball-reference’s Play Index platoon split search information is incomplete when you go back further than the 1980s. To fill in the gaps, I used two other sources, the individual Home Run Logs that appear on individual pitcher pages at B-ref, and the individual player pages at Retrosheet. These sources are much more complete than the Play Index split searches. In all cases relevant to putting together the top 10 list in the post, the Home Run Logs and… Read more »

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
5 years ago
Reply to  birtelcom

I did some research on the Ferguson Jenkins HR discrepancy. The discrepant year is 1966 in which BR shows 9 LHB HR and retrosheet shows 10 such HR. The BR Event Finder for Jenkins shows Tito Fuentes, a switch-hitter who homered off Jenkins, as batting RH against Jenkins. Fuentes was almost certainly batting LH against the right-handed Jenkins in which case the 214 HR indicated by retrosheet is correct.

birtelcom
birtelcom
5 years ago

Thanks for looking into this further, Richard. However, contra your assumption, take a look at Tito Fuentes’ player page at B-ref, where it says that Fuentes did not start switch-hitting until 1968. Before that, he apparently only batted as a righty.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
5 years ago
Reply to  birtelcom

Then BR is correct and Jenkins surrendered 213 HR to LHB. Augie Galan did the reverse, he was a switch-hitter until 1942 and after that batted lefty.

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
5 years ago

Congrats to Mr. Colon. Yet another memorable and anomalous item to add to the career line of the man who throws 85% 80-MPH fastballs for strikes.

Mike L
Mike L
5 years ago

Good to see you back in the saddle, Birtelcom.
Seeing Eckersley on that list surprised me, since he only started 361 of the 1071 games he appeared in, I’d be interested in a top ten HR-9 innings breakout by handedness, with perhaps a 2500 total IP minimum.

birtelcom
birtelcom
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

I did a double-take when I saw Eckersley on the list, too (though Kirk Gibson probably did not). However, if you look at Eck’s career, he pitched a lot of innings — more than Colon, for example. Eckersley was a full-time starter from age 20 through age 31. Over the 12-year period from 1975 through 1986, he was seventh in the majors in IP (and second in the majors in total HRs allowed over that 12-year period, behind only Phil Niekro). And then he went on to pitch in relief from age 32 through age 43.

Doug
Editor
5 years ago

Good to have you back, birtelcom. I mentioned this on Bryan O’Connor’s “Forecasting the 2016 Post-Season” post, but since you mentioned Conor Gillaspie here, I’ll repeat that Gillaspie’s Met-killing exploits in the Wild Card game were repeated in his next elimination game with an eighth inning triple that put the Giants ahead. Both games yielded WPA over 0.300 for Gillaspie, tying him with three others having two such elimination games in the same post-season (had the Giants held on to their 9th inning lead, Gillaspie would have been the first with 0.400 WPA in two elimination games). Gillaspie did his… Read more »

Doug
Editor
5 years ago

RE: Ryan Howard, I think your prediction about his career having ended is a pretty safe bet. Howard unfortunately leads this group of non-pitchers (showing their career HR totals) having -3 WAR or less after their age 30 seasons. Rk Player HR 1 Ryan Howard 382 2 John Shelby 70 3 Pat Tabler 47 4 Greg Dobbs 46 5 Ramon Martinez 29 6 Jake Powell 22 7 Kirt Manwaring 21 8 Danny Sheaffer 13 9 Doug Flynn 7 10 Mickey Grasso 5 11 Earl McNeely 4 12 Bob Lillis 3 13 Skeeter Webb 3 14 Doc Powers 3 15 Bill… Read more »

David P
David P
5 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Howard also has the second worst career WAR and WAA for an MVP winner (position players and post 1931). The only MVP winner with a worse career was Zoilo Versalles. Of course, Versalles likely deserved his MVP award…

Mike L
Mike L
5 years ago

I’ve said this before, but Thome was traded from the Phillies to Chicago to make room for Howard full time. Thome was entering his age 35 season, and Howard his age 26 season. From that point forward, Thome played in seven more seasons and amassed 17.5 bWAR. Howard 11 more years and 10.5 bWAR. The trade made sense at the time…but

birtelcom
birtelcom
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

On the other hand, Thome was a DH the rest of his career while Howard played first base. If you break down those WAR numbers, you’ll see that Howard gets 145 Rbat while Thome is at 139. The difference is that Ryan is docked about 8 WAR for below-average defense at first, while Thome as a DH avoids any WAR fielding adjustment. If Ryan had gone to the AL to DH and Thome had stayed in Philly to play first base, who knows?

Mike L
Mike L
5 years ago
Reply to  birtelcom

Thome got 139 Rbat in 3032 PA. Howard 145 in 6141 PA
But, point taken, and I don’t think Thome could have continued his career past the end of his Philly contract, so he would have lost his age 39-41 years. He had 32 Rbat as a 39 year old DH

bstar
bstar
5 years ago
Reply to  birtelcom

birtelcom, I don’t think it would have affected either player’s WAR that much. No, you don’t get negative fielding runs for the DH, but the positional adjustment is more negative than it is at first (-15 at DH vs. -9 or so at 1B). Ryan Howard from 2006-on is -164 defensive runs (-82 Rpos, -82 Rfield). But that’s in over 6100 PA. Per 650 PA, Howard has been around -17 runs. Thome, on the other hand, only had 3000 PA. He’s only -66 runs, but that works out to -14 runs per 650 PA. So if Howard had DH’ed in… Read more »

Doug
Editor
5 years ago

Ryan Howard has (probably) finished his career tied in home runs with Frank Howard. Their other counting and rate stats are not too dissimilar (generally quite similar, actually) but produce very different WAR results owing to their different run scoring environments. Rk Player dWAR oWAR WAR From To Age G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm 1 Frank Howard -24.1 51.2 37.6 1958 1973 21-36 1895 7352 864 1774 245 35 382 1119 782 1460 .273 .352 .499 .851 793H/D LAD-WSA-TEX-DET 2 Ryan Howard -17.4 22.3 14.9 2004 2016 24-36 1572… Read more »

David P
David P
5 years ago

Here’s a question…is Ryan Howard the most overrated player in MLB history?

He has 6 top ten MVP finishes, including a first, second, third, fifth, and two tenths.

And yet he never finished in the top 10 in overall WAR, nor in player position WAR. And he only has one top oWAR finish (4th in 2006 when he won the MVP).

Hard to think of anyone else with such a large discrepancy between MVP voting performance and actual value provided to his team.

no statistician but
no statistician but
5 years ago
Reply to  David P

David P: In terms of MVP award shares, Howard does seem to be what you claim. No one else comes close. In other terms, maybe not. There are middling players overrated in their eras by circumstance—Bobby Richardson comes to mind; There are players who, while being pretty good, were not as good as they were regarded, such as Lou Brock and Jim Rice. There are players who rode abbreviated early success into an undeserved reputation later on, like, in my opinion, Dwight Gooden. There are players who, for whatever reason, became media darlings, from Rabbit Maranville to Ryne Sandberg and… Read more »

Mike L
Mike L
5 years ago

NSB, this is very well written.
I would add only one thing–from 2006-2009, which is where Howard went 1st, 5th, 2nd, and 3rd in MVP votes, he hit 200 HRs, leading the league twice, had 572 RBI, leading three times, and averaged over 340 TB a year. And all for a team on the rise, three times in the playoffs, twice in the WS, and once taking it all. Yes, they are old-fashioned stats, but any fan before the introduction of advanced metrics would look at those and say…”sure, makes sense.”

David P
David P
5 years ago

I generally agree with your points NSB. That being said, guys like Rice, Brock, and Morris were actually very good players for a long time. Maybe not Hall-of-Fame good but not far off either. Howard though wasn’t even close. During his 7 year peak, during which he won a rookie of the year + had 6 straight top 10 MVP finishes, he only totalled 19.1 WAR and 6.1 WAA. Jim Rice’s best 7 year period (just to pick a player) was 32.1 WAR and 18.0 WAA. Granted Howard did hit well with RISP and was a much better hitter in… Read more »

Jimbo
Jimbo
5 years ago

At what point in baseball history did it become accepted knowledge that switch hitters should bat right vs left-handers and vice versa?

Or in other words, when was the platoon advantage discovered?

birtelcom
birtelcom
5 years ago
Reply to  Jimbo

Peter Morris’s amazing book “Game of Inches”, a history of baseball rules, practices and strategies, shows clear documentation of platooning back to the 1880’s, almost as soon as pro baseball started to see curve balls. Left-handed hitters almost immediately noticed they had a disadvantage against left-handed pitchers, and coaches and managers quickly began to prefer using righty hitters against the rare lefty pitchers they saw. Once the rules that strictly limited the number of in-game substitutions was lifted in the early 1890s, platoon-based in game substituting increased, though limited by small rosters. Morris mentions a player-manager in 1883 who himself… Read more »

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
5 years ago

Variation of yearly range for percentage of switch-hitters:
1901-1910_____.065-.091
1911-1920_____.055-.088
1921-1930_____.044-.075
1931-1940_____.033-.052
1941-1950_____.029-.057
1951-1960_____.031-.044
1961-1970_____.042-.070
1971-1980_____.071-.096
1981-1990_____.093-.110
1991-2000_____.085-.106
2001-2010_____.084-.092
2011-2016_____.074-.083

Doug
Doug
5 years ago

Richard,

Is that percentage of hitters, or percentage of PAs?

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
5 years ago
Reply to  Doug

It’s percentage of hitters.