The cries for a “right-handed power bat continue, but they shouldn’t
There’s a common refrain from Cleveland Indians fans: “The Tribe needs to acquire a right-handed power bat if they want to contend.” While that sounds good in theory, the logic behind it is not backed up by statistics. Before anyone heads to the comment section to immediately disregard this as blasphemy, hear out the reasoning behind it.
Baseball America studied the left-handed and right-handed splits over the course of 2009-2011 and found that Progressive Field was inhospitable to right-handed home run hitters. Their data shows that left-handed batters hit 249 home runs and batted .266/.338/.420, while right-handers batted just .251/.317/.380 and hit only 181 homers. That’s a significant difference, and it doesn’t have anything to do with sample size – 49 percent of plate appearances were right-handed while 51 percent were left-handed over the course of three seasons.
Right-handers at Progressive Field were ranked 28th in terms of home runs during that time, and it’s not as though the Indians have really made any impactful changes to the playing field since then. Sure, they’ve made renovations throughout the concourse and seating areas, but the biggest obstacle to righties still remains–the towering 19-foot wall in front of the bleachers.
Meanwhile, left-handers must only contend with the nine foot wall in right, which even the least powerful hitter can conquer. Why not play to the ballpark’s advantage?
One common complaint is the belief that a lineup must be balanced in order to be strong. To some extent, that’s true. A 100 percent left-handed team would be easily dealt with in terms of pitching matchups. But the Tribe isn’t full of lefties – they’ve got a collection of switch hitters to balance out their everyday lineup, and a couple of right-handers on the bench. Having right-handed batters is important, but because of Progressive Field’s layout, it’s difficult for hitters to hit home runs from that side of the plate.
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A good example of an unbalanced lineup that works is the Blue Jays. Their lineup this season was undoubtedly right-handed. In fact, they didn’t have a single left-handed power hitter on their roster, although they did have lefties and switch-hitters to break up the order. But all of their power was concentrated on the right side of the plate, where it would be most valuable to the team.
The Jays led the league in nearly every offensive category last season, because they played to their home ballpark’s strengths. The same Baseball America analysis that showed how superior left-handers were in Cleveland also stated that right-handed batters in Toronto had the highest isolated slugging percentage in the league. So the Jays stocked up on right-handed power, and “balanced” the lineup with the left-handed equivalent of Ryan Raburn – someone who can hit for power, but doesn’t depend on power for their success.
Cleveland should follow their lead. If they add power, it should be from the left-handed side, where it can most help the team.
Another critique of the lack of a right-handed power bat is the fact that only 81 games are played at home. However, of the remaining 81 games, some of them will be played in neutral or lefty-friendly ballparks. That means that for the majority of the season, the team would be paying a premium for someone who is playing at a disadvantage.
And the best right-handed power hitters don’t come cheap. A player like Raburn can be picked up for a couple of million dollars, but even someone like Chris Johnson comes at a premium. Don’t even take into consideration the “Dolans are cheap” argument that gets tossed around every winter. Think about it from a cost-per-run standpoint. Why should the Tribe pay a right-handed power hitter to play at a disadvantage in over half of their games, when statistics show they are less likely to hit home runs than their left-handed counterparts?
This isn’t the 90s. Manny Ramirez and company aren’t coming back. It’s time to stop using steroid-era players as the benchmark for the Tribe’s lineup. In today’s game, playing smart is a much better strategy than paying for value that the team won’t be able to capitalize on. And that’s exactly what watching a right-handed power hitter struggle to hit home runs out of Progressive Field would be – a waste of talent and a waste of money, which would leave fans feeling just as frustrated as always.
Leave the right-handers to the Blue Jays, and sign a left-handed power bat instead.