Three Lefty Starters? No Problem.

Milwaukee Brewers vs St. Louis Cardinals

A couple days ago, I wrote that the signing of Doug Davis could end up being a steal, considering the Brewers will only have to commit around $5.25 million to him if they don’t bring him back for 2011.  The general reaction to the signing seems positive, but one question still looms large — assuming Manny Parra breaks camp in the rotation, what are the Brewers going to do with three left-handers in their starting rotation?

It’s a legitimate question, and one that Doug Melvin actually addressed with Tom Haudricourt today.  Melvin’s answer focused on the fact that both Davis and Randy Wolf have fared very well against right-handed batters over their careers.  While that’s definitely nice to know and not completely meaningless considering the length of their careers, it’s only half the story.  How did teams in the NL Central do against left-handed pitchers last year?  Do the Brewers have anything to worry about if they really are heading into the season with three southpaws in the rotation?  Here’s how the rest of the division stacks up (after the jump).

Chicago Cubs
Overall vs LHP – .251/.331/.388 .720 OPS
RH vs LHP – .265/.347/.408 .755 OPS
LH vs LHP – .190/.261/.297 .559 OPS

As a team, not too bad.  Out of all the teams in the Central, the Cubs had the best OBP against left-handed pitching, which could pose a problem for the Brewers if Davis and Parra continue handing out free passes like candy.  Take a look at how badly their lefties struggled in lefty-on-lefty situations, though — unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’ll have many left-handed hitters in their lineup in 2010.  Luckily for the Brewers, Davis has built up a reputation as being a Cub Killer.  Lose one in Mike Cameron, get one back in Davis, I guess.

St. Louis Cardinals
Overall vs LHP – .233/.312/.362 .674 OPS
RH vs LHP – .244/.328/.392 .720 OPS
LH vs LHP – .207/.269/.287 .556 OPS

Given the one-two punch of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, you would think the Cardinals would be the biggest reason to worry about having so many left-handers in the rotation.  You would think wrong.  Pujols is so good that he’s going to beat you no matter which hand you throw with, so let’s not worry about him.  Holliday’s splits, on the other hand, contain a noticeable difference.  While he hit .321/.390/.553 against righties last year, he struggled to hit for as much power against lefties (.289/.405/.401).  Sure, it’s still a scary tandem, but outside of those two, who else should the Brewers southpaws fear?  The fact that their right-handed hitters were only able to hit that line against lefties last year despite Pujols’ production should be telling.  Get Holliday out, pitch around Pujols, and you should be fine.

Cincinnati Reds
Overall vs LHP – .260/.324/.398 .722 OPS
RH vs LHP – .261/.319/.397 .717 OPS
LH vs LHP – .258/.339/.401 .739 OPS

The Reds are an interesting case, putting up the best overall lefty-on-lefty line in the division.  A lot of that has to do with Joey Votto, who put up a .329/.400/.531 line against fellow southpaws last season.  I’ll be honest — outside of Pujols, Votto is the guy who scares me the most in the division.  He reminds me a lot of Prince Fielder in that it doesn’t matter which side of the mound you throw from…he’s going to hit you, and he’s going to hit you hard.  As for the rest of the team, while the numbers against left-handed pitching look better than most of the other teams in the division, let’s take their home park into consideration.

Houston Astros
Overall vs LHP – .276/.323/.432 .755 OPS
RH vs LHP – .277/.326/.442 .768 OPS
LH vs LHP – .267/.302/.366 .668 OPS

Like the Reds, those numbers — especially the batting average and team OPS — look impressive, but let’s not forget they play in a bandbox.  Also of concern when talking about the Astros is Davis’ shaky history against them — in 17 starts, he’s 3-11 with a 4.59 ERA.  He’s issued 54 walks to Houston hitters over his career, good enough for third most among all opponents.  Needless to say, filling the bases with walks against a lineup containing Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence isn’t going to lead to a lot of success.  Most people figure that the Astros are going to be a bad team this year, so maybe the Brewers can dodge a bullet here, or at least know any struggles their lefties may have against them shouldn’t hurt them too much in the standings.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Overall vs LHP – .245/.307/.376 .684 OPS
RH vs LHP – .259/.319/.389 .708 OPS
LH vs LHP – .215/.285/.351 .635 OPS

Second worst OPS against lefties in the division last year, beating only the Cardinals.  That shouldn’t be a surprise, considering no one on the team hit for much power last year (Garrett Jones led the team with 21).  They’re going to struggle to score runs again, so like the Astros, we probably shouldn’t spend much time fretting about the lefty trio against the Bucs.  Unless, of course, Andrew McCutchen spends a few games clearing bases with triples to the gap.

So there you have it.  I personally don’t think it looks like having three left-handed starters in the rotation will be a problem.  In fact, the list of negatives about being so lefty-heavy is probably shorter than the list of negatives of removing Parra from the rotation just for the sake of not having so many.  While there are definitely some scary right-handed hitters in the division, they’re so good that they’re going to beat you no matter who you have in your rotation.  It’s pretty clear that on paper, a rotation with Manny Parra — especially if he can pitch up to his projections — is better than one without him (and with, say, Jeff Suppan).

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