Despite the fact that left-handers make up less than a quarter of the population, they sit at roughly 40% in terms of lefties being in the batter’s box. That’s because left-handed batters have a few distinct advantages over their right-handed counterparts.
In terms of a left handed batter vs right handed pitcher, the batter wins that matchup in the vast majority of contests. The way the ball breaks as it comes in from a right-handed pitcher is natural for a left-handed batter to hit.
For those that are less than familiar with the game of baseball, there is a lot of strategy that goes on behind the scenes. Baseball teams have managers, rather than coaches and that is effectively what they do and placing lefties in at the right time is all part of the plan.
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Does a Left Handed Batter Have an Advantage?
Left-handed batters have two major advantages when they step up to the plate. The first advantage is in terms of positioning. When a lefty swings, the trajectory of the baseball bat and their body carries them in the direction of first base.
Essentially, they almost have a head start down the first base line and they’re already a few steps closer to first base, by virtue of the fact that the batter’s box for a lefty is closer to first base than the batter’s box for a right-hander.
The second advantage is that they typically have a large hole between the second and first base to hit the ball, especially if there is a runner on first and the first baseman has to stay closer.
Left-handed batters against right-handed pitchers generally have higher batting averages than righties vs. righties. It’s not uncommon for parents to raise their children—the ones who show a propensity for and interest in the game—to be switch hitters.
Its also common for youth players to practice hitting left-handed, even though that isn’t their dominant hand because they recognize through either being taught or through observation, the advantages that it brings to the table.
Why do Lefties Hit Righties Better?
A left-handed batter has a direct line of sight from the peak of the pitcher’s throwing hand all the way down to the release, whereas a right-handed batter has to look over their shoulder to see the pitcher.
Not only is it easier to hit that way, but breaking and curveballs tend to curve in, towards the batter, so the lefty doesn’t have to deal with reaching out or lunging to try and reach the ball. It’s simply a more comfortable stance, where they can see the entire windup and release, tracking the ball as it comes in with more ease.
Of course, there are things that right-handed pitchers can do to try and minimize the advantage. Screwballs are one of them, yet most pitchers avoid them due to either the complication in throwing them or the fact that it can really damage the arm over time.
Throwing curveballs to the outside can fool a left-handed batter, as well as throwing well to the inside, with the ball breaking at the last moment. Even with these strategies, it takes an outstanding pitcher to be able to utilize some or all of these strategies consistently against left-handed batters.
The Platoon Advantage
You would think that there would be a correlation between right-handed batters against left-handed pitchers. The problem is there isn’t as much of a correlation, as right-handed batters, like left-handed batters, spend most of their life facing right-handed pitchers.
Lefties hit better against righties more consistently because of the aforementioned advantages, in addition to the fact that lefties face righties for the vast majority of their at-bats. Right-handed batters rarely face a left-handed pitcher so the advantage simply isn’t the same.
Why is that? It comes down to something called the Platoon Advantage. Managers have come to see that batters statistically perform better against their opposite-handed opponents while pitchers tend to perform better against their same-handed opponents. This means that batters have an advantage in right/left and left/right matchups and pitchers have it in left/left and right/right matchups.
Keeping the platoon advantage in mind, MLB teams started to actively seek more lefty batters to face righty pitchers and gain that edge for a larger percentage of the time. Teams would use their right-handed pitchers more often against right-handed batters to gain the upper hand more often. Since left-handed pitchers are not as easy to find and are often reserved for more left-handed hitter matchups, right-handed hitters don’t benefit from the platoon advantage as much.
Where Does a Left Handed Batter Stand?
From the pitcher’s perspective, a left-handed batter will stand to the left of the catcher and umpire, facing inwards towards the catcher. Of course, a left-handed batter will be on the right from a catcher’s perspective. Note that we’re assuming that the catcher always catches with his left hand and throws with his right, as left handed catchers are quite rare.
Like a right-hander, a left-hander can stand anywhere inside of the batter’s box, so long as both feet are in the batter’s box when the ball is pitched. Inside the batter’s box includes standing on the chalk outline.
The batter’s box is 4’ wide and 6’ in length, so there is plenty of room to stand inside of the rectangle.
Percentage of Left Handed Hitters in MLB
In 2018, 35% of all hitters in Major League Baseball were left-handed. Now, the number is closer to 39% or 40%. There is a reason it’s that high, despite left-handers making up a much smaller percentage of the overall population. Compare this to quarterbacks in football where finding a lefty is a rarity.
The strategic and offensive advantages of having left-handed hitters cannot be stressed enough. The aforementioned advantages for left-handed hitters are reason enough. Also, there are far more left-handed hitters and switch hitters than there are left-handed pitchers. This means that a left-handed hitter is going to experience a right-handed pitcher far more often than a left-handed pitcher.
Those are the kinds of odds and advantages that any baseball manager would be more than happy to have and it’s the reason there are so many left-handed batters. It’s one of the few team positions that left-handers occupy in good numbers.
There are more righties than lefties stepping up to the plate, but the difference is far more narrow than the vast difference between right and left-handed pitchers.
Best Left Handed Hitters of All Time
There are a lot more left-handed hitters that would grace the top of such a list than you think. That’s largely because Major League Baseball has always had a decently high ratio of left-handed hitters playing professional ball, and for the above-mentioned reasons.
- Babe Ruth
- Tony Gwinn
- Ken Griffey Jr.
- Ted Williams
Everyone knows the name Babe Ruth and almost everyone can immediately associate his name with baseball. However, not everyone knows he was left-handed. Of course, baseball aficionados know but the association of lefty isn’t written in stone next to Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs.
Tony Gwinn was probably one of the greatest contact hitters of all time and incredibly difficult to strikeout. In fact, he struck out only once for every 20+ times he stepped up to the plate, which is absolutely stupefying.
Ken Griffey Jr. would probably have gone much farther than his ultimate record indicates but he was unfortunately plagued by injuries towards the end of his career.
Ted Williams hit 521 home runs and 525 doubles in his career, and that includes missing three seasons while he went off to serve in WW2.
Do Right Handed Pitchers Throw Harder Than Lefties?
Statistically, MLB lefty pitchers don’t throw as hard as MLB righties and it is quite rare to see a lefty go past 95 mph. However, it’s not necessarily to do with any disadvantage in mechanics that lefties might have but rather just their scarcity in baseball overall.
Since southpaw pitchers are scarce, the percentage of them in MLB that can throw hard is quite small, which makes it seem like lefties can’t throw as hard as righties. Since teams need lefties so badly, some of them might make it to the big leagues with less than stellar speeds and scouts look for other qualities in lefty pitchers. It’s a lot more competitive for right-handed pitchers, so the average 2-3 mph gain on a fastball can make a significant difference in getting in.
However, there are a few southpaw pitchers that start with a 94 or more fastball. Examples are Aroldis Chapman, Billy Wagner, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Chris Sales, and Stephen Louis Dalkowski Jr.
So many more names belong on that final list, all of them left-handed hitters, and all of them all-time greats. Ultimately, the advantages for left-handed hitters are real and a major part of baseball.