Does lineup handedness balance matter for the Blue Jays? In particular, do they need more lefties?
There seems to be a great deal of focus on the Blue Jays acquiring more left-handed hitters this offseason. Various writers, fans and John Gibbons himself have made that opinion known. The desire is widespread, but are more lefties actually needed?
Certainly just glancing at the handedness of the Blue Jays lineup might lead one to think so. Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Goins, Michael Saunders and Josh Thole were the only lefties (with more than cups of coffee). Justin Smoak, though a switch hitter, batted far more from the left side. At face value, that’s less than ideal, especially with Saunders as the only regular of the bunch. That’s five out of 13 or 14 position players on an active roster.
But the important thing to realize is handedness doesn’t matter; it’s the splits that count. If you have righties who can hit right-handed pitchers just as well or better than left-handed pitchers, you don’t really need handedness balance. The balance can be found in the splits. Generally speaking, lefties fare better against righty pitching than do righty batters, but the Jays defy that norm.
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The Blue Jays had the 8th best wRC+ against right handed pitching as a team in 2016. Blue Jays right-handed hitters had the best wRC+ mark against right-handed pitching in Major League Baseball. It was actually the Jays’ left-handed hitters that brought the team’s overall mark against right handers down. As L vs. R, Toronto was dead last league wide. Yes, last.
Evidently, having more lefties in the lineup is not necessarily the answer and having less can be an answer. Righties Edwin Encarnacion, Devon Travis, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki all hit equal or better against same-handed pitchers than they did in total.
In fact, what the Jays struggle with overall, weirdly enough, is opposite handed pitching. L vs L, the Jays were 4th league wide but were 20th as R vs L and, as mentioned, were last as L vs R. It’s a quirky issue to have.
It might actually help more if the Jays could get better against against left-handers and usually that means right handed hitters. But again, it’s better to focus on the splits.
Handedness balance for the sake of handedness balance is unnecessary and the underlying issue it aims to solve (better performance against righties) may not, in fact, be the greater area of need. A better strategy for the Blue Jays would be assess how the splits may change with possible free agent departures and then simply focus on acquiring good hitters (of whatever handedness) who won’t exacerbate any potential split issues.
TL;DR: Worry about splits, not handedness — and actually, don’t worry too much about either.