The Cardinals Can Hit Lefties, Too

(L-R) David Freese, Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after Freese and Molina scored on a single by Allen Craig in the top of the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers during Game Six of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park on October 16, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals can hit the crap out of the ball, and they don't much care with which hand the opposing pitcher is pitching.

I don't want anybody to take this as me ripping into another writer. Ripping into other writers isn't my thing, even if they or their articles are extraordinarily bad. It makes me feel really sad and dirty, and besides, there are plenty of other people who are happy to blast, so my participation isn't needed.

But I was reading a post by Jon Morosi late late Sunday night, after the St. Louis Cardinals finished off the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS. The Cardinals were thus set to meet the Texas Rangers in the World Series, and because of that, Morosi noted:

The Texas rotation may find that St. Louis is a favorable matchup. The Cardinals were just 20-20 against left-handed starters during the regular season[...]

Why did Morosi bring that up? Three of the Rangers' four postseason starters, you see, are lefties. That's weird. Few teams have gone into the playoffs with three left-handed starters. Most teams have zero or one. The Rangers have three. And implied by the Cardinals' quoted W/L record is that they struggle against southpaws, and that the Rangers might therefore have an advantage.

But it just doesn't hold up under examination. I can think of three ways to respond to this, shown below in ascending order of detail and snark.

(1)
This is what Albert Pujols looks like facing a righty:

Pujols_medium

This is what Albert Pujols looks like facing a lefty:

Pujols_medium

(2)
Some split data from the regular season:

Cardinals vs. RHP: .765 OPS
Cardinals vs. RHP: 1st in NL
Cardinals vs. LHP: .768 OPS
Cardinals vs. LHP: 2nd in NL

(3)
Season splits, like those shown directly above, are handy approximations, but they can include irrelevant information. The Cardinals' season splits, for example, include numbers posted by guys like Colby Rasmus, Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, and Gerald Laird, among others. Guys who are either gone or who will barely play at all in the World Series. We don't care about their performances. We care about the players we're most likely to see.

Here's the last starting lineup the Cardinals put up against a lefty, which came last Thursday facing Randy Wolf:

Rafael Furcal#
Allen Craig
Albert Pujols
David Freese
Matt Holliday
Yadier Molina
Ryan Theriot
Jon Jay*
[Pitcher]

Furcal's a switch-hitter, meaning the only lefty bat Wolf got to face was Jay. This is the lineup the Cardinals can use against a southpaw at home, and in an AL ballpark, they can replace the pitcher with a switch-hitting Lance Berkman. The Cardinals get the platoon advantage at almost every spot.

Here are those players, and their respective career OPS figures against lefties:

PLAYER vs. LHP
Pujols 1.085
Holliday 0.893
Craig 0.862
Freese 0.834
Furcal 0.793
Berkman 0.778
Theriot 0.775
Jay 0.733
Molina 0.726


I know in some cases it's weird to look at the full career, like with Rafael Furcal, since he's been playing for 12 years. But it's by looking at full careers that you get the best idea of a hitter's platoon split, and all of these guys can at the very least hold their own against a southpaw. Furcal has a .759 OPS against lefties the last three years. Molina's a better hitter than he was early in his career. Berkman's much better from the left side than he is from the right side, but he's not exactly an easy out against anybody.

The Cardinals can hit. Offense is their biggest strength, and they can hit lefties just as well as they can hit righties. Citing their W/L record against left-handed starters on the year is misleading because it includes information other than their team performance at the plate, which is unrelated. What's important isn't that the Cardinals went 20-20 in games in which the opponent started a lefty. What's important is that the Cardinals hit those lefties pretty well, and went .500 for other reasons.

C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison are left-handed starters on the Rangers who are going to face the Cardinals in the World Series. They're not likely to have it any easier than Colby Lewis. The Cardinals have vulnerabilities, but you're not going to find many of them in the batter's box.

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