There has been quite a bit of chatter/speculation/freaking out about just who will sit against left-handed pitching on the Rays this year. Personally, I think it's much ado about nothing. Here are the right handed-bats we can pretty much pencil in against southpaws:
- 3B Evan Longoria
- CF BJ Upton
- Sean Rodriguez
- C Kelly Shoppach
- DH Manny Ramirez
- Ben Zobrist
That leaves three spots open between first base, second base, shortstop and two corner outfield spots, since we know Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist will be fielding two of them. How will those plate appearances be broken up between Matt Joyce, Dan Johnson, Reid Brignac, Johnny Damon and an Elliot Johnson type?
Last season the Rays saw 56 left-handed starters or 34.5% of the time. We know the Rays struggled against lefties and that certain teams would line up their rotation in advance of playing the Rays. Hopefully with the addition of Manny Ramirez the Rays will move closer to the 30% league average mark which is about 39 left-handed starts.
Since 2008 only three Rays have managed to log 150 starts in a season.
- Evan Longoria 2009 -153
- Evan Longoria 2010 - 151
- Carl Crawford 2009 - 150
Its reasonable to assume each of the unassigned players will sit at least a dozen times throughout the season. Quick math says two of the five aforementioned options must sit against each lefty. Over 39 starts that's 78 total games on the pine or about 15 games a piece. Assuming switch-hitting Ben Zobrist will also sit about six games versus lefties to get some rest, that number falls to 14 or right about the amount of games most regular Rays have sat out of over the past three seasons.
Injuries and under-performance will certainly occur, but it looks like there will be plenty of plate appearances for all the young lefties to cut their teeth on over the course of the season. And if the Rays qualify for the postseason, Maddon and the front office will have had plenty of time to make the appropriate lineup decisions. I'm chalking this debate up to the boredom of Spring. The real debate should be about how to determine which lefties match up best with which other characteristics of pitchers beyond throwing hand.