March 4, 2012; Tampa Bay, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Hunter Pence (3) at bat during a spring training game against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

How Will the Phillies Perform Against Lefty Pitching in 2012?


It’s no secret that the Phillies weren’t particularly successful when it came to hitting lefthanded pitching last year. The everyday lineup heavily featured lefthanded batters, giving the team an inherent disadvantage when a lefty was on the mound. Of course, this prompted a mob of angry, irrational Philadelphians to call into WIP screaming “RIGHT-HANDED BAT” near the trade deadline. Talk-radio silliness aside, they may have had a legitimate point. The Phils hit .246/.319/.382 against southpaws, which was good for a lackluster 91 wRC+. Let’s take a look last year’s production against lefties on an individual basis. Keep in mind that these are 2011 figures, not 2012 projections or career numbers.

The good:

  • Hunter Pence: .405/.528/.929
  • Shane Victorino:  .308/.424/.608
  • John Mayberry: .306/.358/.595
  • Placido Polanco: .336/.391/.437

In his time with Philadelphia, Pence absolutely destroyed lefties to thetune of a ludicrous 1.457 OPS. While we can’t expect him to  continue putting up video game-esque numbers, Pence is a career .375 wOBA hitter versus lefties. That sort of production is more than welcomed in a lineup that will likely see its fair share of struggles. The same can be said for Victorino, whose 2011 performance against lefthanders was better than his still-great career OPS of .877. As for Mayberry, his platoon splits are a well-documented phenomena, and this season will probably expose them even further. Much of his success in 2011 was a function of favorable matchups a la Charlie’s platoon system. If he is forced to spend significant time manning first base, Mayberry’s production will probably dip as he is gradually exposed to more righthanded pitching. Still, he’ll be plenty effective against lefties.

The average:

  • Carlos Ruiz: .265/.379/.337
  • Dom Brown: .281/.361/.344

Chooch’s numbers against lefties were actually way down from a stellar 2010 in which he hit them for a .410 wOBA—a figure that was largely driven by great power numbers. His SLG fell from .509 all the way down to .337, and it will certainly be interesting to see how he fares this year. As for Domonic Brown, all signs point to him spending the majority of if not the entire year down in AAA, where we all hope to see him destroy right and lefty pitching alike.

The ugly:
  • Ryan Howard: .224/.286/.347
  • Jimmy Rollins: .240/.280/.329
  • Chase Utley: .187./.296.308

The Phillies’ core group of position players also happens to be the worst at handling lefties on the mound. Howard, of course, is notorious for being susceptible to breaking balls thrown by lefthanders, so there’s no surprise there. Rollins has been up and down in terms of hitting lefthanded pitching, but he hasn’t been particularly effective since his MVP season in 2007. The real shock/sad thing here is Utley. Despite batting lefthanded, he has shown a proclivity for putting up reverse platoon splits during the course of his career. Last year’s dismal performance included, his career wOBA vs lefties is .381. To see it drop to .280 is remarkably alarming, and much speculation has taken place regarding this sudden decline. We are well aware that Utley was very, very injured last year, and unfortunately things look the same/worse for the aging second baseman as we head into this season.

The new guys:

So, we’ve established a few things thus far: Pence and Victorino will carry the team against lefties, Howard and Rollins will continue to struggle, and Utley and Ruiz represent huge question marks. Because this team is so banged up, the lineup is going to be sporting names like Freddy Galvis and Ty Wiggington for quite some time. What can we expect from them?

  • Freddy Galvis

To the best of my knowledge, splits data for Phillies minor league players do not exist/are hiding from me. I feel like it’s safe to assume, however, that Galvis won’t exactly be a stud at the plate regardless of the pitcher’s handedness. He’s been given this job because of his glove, not his bat.

  • Jim Thome: .253/.385/.493
  • Ty Wiggington: .259/.370/.426
  • Laynce Nix: .111/.286./.185

In 91 PA, Thome put up a more-than-competent 145 wRC+ when facing southpaws. It appears he played a bit over his head though, considering that figure is significantly above his 102 career mark. Ty Wiggington put up a similar slash line in 127 PA, and while it would be nice to have that sort of production while he fills in for Howard, it appears his skills against lefthanders have been on the decline in recent years. After posting three seasons of  a .375 or higher wOBA in 2006-2008, the last three years have seen figures of .291, .304, and .347. While we can hope for last year’s level of play, I’d wager that he ends up performing slightly worse. And last (and certainly least) we have Laynce Nix. The man simply cannot hit lefthanders, as evidenced by a feeble .506 career OPS. Fortunately, managers appear to have historically understood this fact, limiting the outfielder to just 216 PA versus lefties in his nine-year career. Let’s hope that Charlie understands this, too.

It doesn’t take a spreadsheet and a bunch of acronyms to understand that the Phillies are going to struggle offensively this season. As Ryan Sommers pointed out over at Crashburn Alley, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who feels good about this team’s opening day lineup. I, like most, would be pleasantly surprised if the Phils surpass the anemic 91 wRC+ of last year’s production versus lefties. Sadly, I simply don’t see that happening.

Tags: Analysis