Heading into last year's offseason, one of the Rays primary goals was to improve against left-handed pitching(LHP). Pat Burrell, the biggest free-agent acquisition under Andrew Friedman, was supposed to be the solution. As you may have heard by now, Burrell's career slash line of .276/.410/.540 against lefties did not carry over to his new team, and "The Bat" went homerless against southpaws in 2009. Despite Burrell lack of production against LHP, the Rays made quite the improvement against them overall.
After hitting just .246/.330/.396 against lefties as a team in 2008, the '09 Rays hit .260/.353/.439 against them last season. Led by lefty-killing, Ben Zobrist and his 1.035 OPS against, the Rays also had Gabe Kapler (.931), Jason Bartlett (.930) and Evan Longoria (.909) mashing from the right side of the batters box. Even left-handed Carlos Pena saw an increase in OPS of 160 points year over year against pitchers with the same handiness.
With Zobrist, Kapler, Bartlett, and Longoria back in the mix in 2009, these numbers should remain stellar even if the names mentioned regress. One would hope that Burrell and his .278 wOBA against left-handers regresses toward his career number of .389. In addition to Burrell, the Rays have some new faces that also excel in mashing crafty lefties.
One of the more talked about players this offseason, Kelly Shoppach is a new hired gun for the Rays. With a career slash line of .295/.368/.614 against lefties, Shoppach should fit right in with the group from above. In the past four seasons, Shoppach's wOBA against LHP has topped .400 three times including .442 this past season. His career .411 mark shows how much he really enjoys seeing a lefty on the mound.
Sean Rodriguez may not have a defined role on the team, but if he makes the team it would be smart to get him as many at-bats against LHP as possible. While splitting time between Salt Lake City and Durham in Triple-A last year, Diddy hit .327/.455/.636 against them. Those are Zobrist-esque numbers are nearly as impressive against righties; the kid can hit, at least in the minors.
Speaking of minor-league numbers, the statistics of Matt Joyce against LHP are also promising. While Joyce, a lefty, has historically struggled against LHP, his 2009 numbers represent hope that he may be nearing "everyday player" status. Of course it is a small sample size in the International League, but Joyce hit .273/.345/.508 in over 140 plate appearances against LHP in 2009. Even if Joyce is not ready for everyday duty, the aforementioned Kapler and his wOBA of .394 in 2009 against lefties are here to cover him.
Depending on how the roster is constructed, the Rays could field a lineup of: Zobrist, Bartlett, Upton, Longoria, Aybar, Kapler, Rodriguez, Shoppach and Burrell against lefties. Based on career numbers and projections, that lineup would give fits to names like Sabathia, Lester, Pettitte, Lee, Hernandez and other notable southpaws on AL contenders. Even if Burrell continues to disappoint the Rays offense against lefties is on the right track.