Posts Tagged ‘left-handed pitchers’

Southpaws

December 19, 2011

I don’t know how you classify ball players, but I tend to lump them into five categories: great, good, OK, not so good, and yuck. Most players who get more than a cup of coffee in the Major Leagues tend to clump in the OK and not so good categories with a sprinkling into each of the others. That’s really true of left-handed pitchers.

Did you ever notice how few truly fine left-handers there are? Do me a favor. Stop reading for a moment and sit down and try to write out your top 10 or 15 or 20 (at your discretion) southpaws. Now take a look at it closely. Notice how few truly great pitchers are on that list. Not a lot, right? I did that the other day while sketching out a different post and was shocked at how quickly I ran out of first-rate pitchers. Do it with right-handers and you go a lot longer on the list before you start getting into the good and OK categories. And for the record I’m talking about starters, not relievers or set up men. But in both cases, the number of first-rate lefties is really small.

Now obviously that has to do with the fact that only about 11% of the population is left-handed. But it still seems to me to be quite a small crew (less than 11% of pitchers) who can step out as top of the line lefties. I’m not so sure why that is. Maybe it’s just the small sample size (is that great alliteration or what?) that makes the difference.  So I’ve decided to advise my son to teach my grandson to throw left-handed. OK, the kid’s right-handed, but it’s not too late to teach him to throw with the other hand (he’s only six). Heck, there’s the potential for a lot a money and for a place among the elite of southpaws. Go ahead, son, give it a try. Do it for the old man.

Stamp Collecting

May 28, 2010

I collect stamps. It’s a fun hobby, teaches me things, occupies time, and in the words of Winston Churchill talking about hobbies in general “focuses the hand and eye and thus relaxes the mind.”

There are a number of factors that contribute to the value of a stamp, age, rarity, condition, and popularity. The last is interesting. Assuming that two stamps, one from Britain and the other from Botswana, are equally old, equally rare, and in equal condition, the  British stamp will be worth more simply because no one collects Botswana stamps and everybody collects Brits (an obvious exaggeration, but not by much). But of course the other factors, especially rarity,  matter also.

I find these stamp collecting rules applies to baseball. Two pitchers have equal abilities, equal up side, etc. One is right-handed, the other a lefty. Which is more valuable? The lefty, of course. Why? Well, they are simply harder to find so everybody tries to collect the quality southpaw first, knowing there’s always another righty out there somewhere if you can just find him.

I’m not a big fan of the WAR stat when it comes to pitchers. The hitters stat isn’t bad, but the pitchers stat gives some really goofy results. Did you know that Kevin Brown was better than Carl Hubbell? Neither did I (or anyone else). Did you know that you’d rather have Bret Saberhagen than Sandy Koufax? Who knew? But the list is valuable for a couple of things (like reminding one why a rigid formula isn’t the best way to evaluate baseball players). Want to know how hard it is to find a quality southpaw pitcher? Take a look at this list: Grove, Spahn, Johnson, Carlton, Plank, Glavine, Hubbell, John, Koosman, Newhouser, Ford, Tanana, Finley, Koufax, Pierce. That’s the top fifteen left-handed pitchers according to WAR (I’m not going to comment on whether the order is silly or sane, it’s just the list in order). The problem is that Grove is seventh on the list and Pierce is 66th. That means there are 51 right-handed pitchers better than the 15th best lefty (and maybe there are).

Again I’m not arguing that the list should have Pierce higher or lower, merely that there are a lot more good right-handers than left-handers (who make up from nine to 13% of the population depending on who you believe). That alone makes them, like the British stamp, more valuable than the righty (or the Botswana stamp) to Major League clubs. Unfortunately for me, my son was right-handed. I’m trying to get him to teach his son to throw lefty. We could use the money.