The Tampa Bay Rays have a very left handed roster at this point in time. This comes as little surprise as reports center around bringing in a right handed bat or two to help balance the lineup.
Last year’s roster was also very left handed leaning, and the same position players are expected to return in Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe, Ji-Man Choi, Kevin Kiermaier, Joey Wendle, and possibly Michael Perez.
When all the catchers went down with injuries Perez lost his job to Travis d’Arnaud, so currently the Rays would see an uptick in left handed at bats from the catcher position if he wins the backup role, but likely in the short side of a 70/30 time split with Mike Zunino.
In 2019, the Rays received 2,547 plate appearances from left handed hitters. This ranks right in the middle of the pack at 16th and 40.5% of the total plate appearances by the team.
Only 591 of those plate appearances were against same handed pitchers. The Rays had the ninth most plate appearances in the same handed matchups. Last year the Rays went 32-25 (90 win pace) against left handed starting pitchers.
The Rays have added Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, another left handed bat, taking the place of the right handed Tommy Pham on the roster, so the Rays would likely see a rise in plate appearances given to left handed hitters overall given the current roster.
What does this mean in the AL East?
Last year I had a lot of worries around roster construction last year due to the abundance of left handed starters in the American League East.
The New York Yankees had James Paxton, JA Happ, and CC Sabathia in the rotation. Sabathia has retired and Happ might be on the trading block. While they did add Gerrit Cole and should receive more than three starts from Luis Severino, so it doesn’t look to be any easier, but should be less left handed. Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton make it difficult for a left handed heavy lineup in late game situations.
The Boston Red Sox had a very left handed heavy starting rotation, but at this point they could be more left handed heavy in 2020. Last year Chris Sale, David Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez were in the rotation and this winter they signed Martin Perez in free agency. There is a lot of smoke surrounding a potential Price trade which would likely help balance their rotation, but as of now they are more left handed heavy.
The Toronto Blue Jays only received 91.2 innings from left handed starters last year, led by Clayton Richards. They have since signed Hyun-Jin Ryu and he is currently the only left hander in their rotation, but they should get a few more innings — and, more importantly, quality innings — from left handed starters overall.
The Baltimore Orioles return breakout starter John Means and he looks to be their only left handed pitcher expected to be in the rotation at this point.
Overall, it’s likely a wash in starts the Rays expect to see against left handed starters in the division, but potential trades to come of Happ and/or Price could make it more advantageous to have a left handed heavy Rays lineup.
2019 Lefty vs Lefty Matchups
In 2019 the Rays received 2,547 plate appearances from left handed hitters. This ranks right in the middle of the pack at 16th and 40.5% of the total plate appearances by the team. Only 591 plate appearances were against same handed pitchers. The Rays had the ninth most plate appearances in the same handed matchups. Last year the Rays went 32-25 (90 win pace) against left handed starting pitchers.
The Colorado Rockies had the most plate appearances at 857, which makes for an interesting study. They were forced to play 4-5 left handed batters against a left handed starter with Charlie Blackmon, Daniel Murphy, Ryan McMahon, David Dahl, Tony Wolters, and Raimel Tapia receiving at least 100 plate appearances against left handed pitchers.
The Los Angeles Dodgers gave a similarly high 837 plate appearances to left handed batters vs left handed pitchers, and that is a team that has heavily utilized platoons. Joc Pederson only got 50 plate appearances against left handed pitchers, but they did have three everyday guys that bat left handed in Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Max Muncy. Alex Verdugo received 109 plate appearances as he filled in for the often injured AJ Pollock.
Even the best laid plans don’t work out as they should.
How aggressive should the Rays be in getting a right handed bat?
Ultimately we are talking about a couple hundred of plate appearances — at most.
When Jonathan Villar led the league in plate appearances against left handed pitchers it was only 247, and he was one of only 18 players that got over 200 plate appearances.
The Rays should care about filling the roster with the best players they can, and not worry so much about handedness. They could theoretically prefer an equivalent player that bats right handed instead of left handed, as that is the best use of remaining roster space to maximize value on the field, even if it mostly comes as a way to get the left handed bats a scheduled day off, but it won’t make or break the 2020 season.
I’ve been guilty of trying to getting that perfect balance on offense. The reality is that it is hard to fit a guy on the roster that only hits left handed pitchers. They need to serve some function whether it being a competent depth piece when injuries do occur or provide some defensive value when they are forced into more playing time than expected.
It’s nice to map out an ideal playing time distribution to optimize your roster, but you need the flexibility to be able to adjust over the course of 162 games.
Right now I would like to see a right handed outfielder added to the roster that can cover center field. Kevin Pillar or even Guillermo Heredia likely won’t help offensively, but they fill a need in the Rays roster, and that’s more important than either’s handedness.