The White Sox’s Advantageon September 29, 2020 at 2:05 pm

The White Sox’s Advantage

The White Sox were one of the better hitting teams in baseball this season, posting a 114 wRC+ over their 60 games. What’s somewhat unusual, as was pointed out to me on twitter, is that they have done their damage by crushing left-handed pitching. Indeed, while that snippet of information might not making this next fact a complete surprise, the White Sox did not lose a start to a left-handed pitcher all season, winning all 14 of their matchups against southpaws. Later today, the A’s will send lefty Jesus Luzardo to the mound for Game 1 of their Wild Card Series against Chicago. What are we to make of this matchup?

The White Sox have a fine offense against right-handed pitchers, with a 106 wRC+, but their 143 wRC+ against southpaws was first in the majors this season:

The Tigers were close, though they put up their numbers in roughly 100 fewer plate appearances. On a seasonal level since integration, it doesn’t appear that any team has had at least 500 plate appearances against lefties and put up better numbers than the White Sox in 2020. Now a full season probably isn’t fair to compare to a shortened slate, so I went through our splits leaderboards, which go back to 2002, and looked at half-season performances that might rival what the White Sox have done:

Last year, the Yankees crushed lefties; Barry Bonds and the Giants did the same back in 2003. Those are the only clubs with half-seasons better than the White Sox’s 2020. Even if we look at every two-month period since 2002, the White Sox still do pretty well:

The White Sox were closer to average in September, but their first month-plus was fire and even with a so-so close to the season, they managed to lead baseball. The small number of plate appearances can seem a little flukey. Here are the team’s individual players with at least 20 plate appearances against lefties this season:

If we zoom out, Tim Anderson’s numbers versus lefties were actually the best in baseball this year:

Small samples might not mean a whole lot, but that list includes many of the best hitters in baseball. And it isn’t as if Anderson hasn’t hit lefties well before now. Here are the White Sox’s career numbers against lefties:

Not only have the White Sox hit well against lefties this season, but most of the group has done so for longer stretches over the course of their careers. If Eloy Jimenez can’t play, the downgrade to Adam Engel is significant, but even Engel’s poor career numbers overall aren’t quite as bad against lefties. It’s not entirely clear that Edwin Encarnacion should be in the starting lineup at this stage of his career, and it’s possible that James McCann or a slightly hurt Jimenez might be a better fit. Mazara, the only lefty regular in the lineup with Moncada and Grandal switch-hitting, isn’t as good as these 26 plate appearances suggest, but it’s also probably a little premature to draw any conclusions about Nick Madrigal’s ability to hit lefties given the minuscule sample size. Even with an inexperienced Madrigal, an aging Encarnacion, and a possibly hurt Jimenez, the lineup is going to be a tough one for a left-handed pitcher to navigate.

Luzardo, Oakland’s pitcher in Game 1, isn’t some soft-tossing lefty. He throws a four-seamer and a two-seamer around 96 mph. He has a very good change, typical of left-handers who work well against righties, but he uses his curve plenty against righties, too. It’s a sweeping pitch in the low-to-mid-80s that comes inside to righties as it did here, against Carlos Correa:

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Luzardo has wiped out lefties this year, but he won’t be able to do that against the White Sox. He’ll have to handle their righty-heavy lineup. It will be a very interesting matchup worth watching, as will the use of starter Sean Manaea and relievers Jake Diekman and Mike Minor. In a three-game series, tiny advantages can make a big difference, and the White Sox’s platoon advantage is quite large.

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