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 Jesús 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:

Best Half-Seasons Against Lefties Since 2002
Team Season Half PA wRC+
New York Yankees 2019 2nd Half 889 152
San Francisco Giants 2003 2nd Half 479 146
Chicago White Sox 2020 Short Season 506 143
Detroit Tigers 2020 Short Season 400 142
New York Yankees 2004 1st Half 1019 136
Detroit Tigers 2017 2nd Half 654 134
Philadelphia Phillies 2007 2nd Half 900 133
St. Louis Cardinals 2003 1st Half 914 132
Houston Astros 2019 1st Half 927 132
Los Angeles Angels 2014 1st Half 1116 132
Cleveland Indians 2008 2nd Half 751 132
Los Angeles Angels 2013 2nd Half 765 132
Toronto Blue Jays 2015 1st Half 812 131
Los Angeles Angels 2012 2nd Half 736 131
Houston Astros 2019 2nd Half 872 131
San Francisco Giants 2002 1st Half 763 130
Cincinnati Reds 2011 1st Half 734 130
New York Yankees 2007 2nd Half 738 130

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:

Best Two-Month Periods Against Lefties Since 2002
Team Season Months PA wRC+
San Francisco Giants 2002 April-May 346 163
New York Yankees 2019 July-August 686 162
Chicago White Sox 2020 July-August 347 161
Cincinnati Reds 2011 April-May 342 158
Philadelphia Phillies 2007 July-August 602 157
New York Yankees 2019 August-September 670 156
Detroit Tigers 2020 August-September 347 154
Atlanta Braves 2004 July-August 616 152
Detroit Tigers 2017 June-July 496 152
San Diego Padres 2012 August-September 561 151
Los Angeles Angels 2012 June-July 576 151
Los Angeles Dodgers 2017 May-June 485 151

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:

White Sox Against Lefties in 2020
Tim Anderson 55 .509 1.000 300
James McCann 36 .528 .714 236
Yasmani Grandal 37 .405 .500 147
José Abreu 57 .316 .558 135
Eloy Jiménez 46 .304 .556 132
Nomar Mazara 26 .385 .417 127
Luis Robert 51 .353 .455 123
Adam Engel 35 .343 .424 114
Yoán Moncada 46 .370 .333 105
Edwin Encarnación 41 .275 .424 92
Danny Mendick 34 .265 .355 70
Nick Madrigal 22 .227 .227 22

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

Best Hitters Against Lefties in 2020
Tim Anderson 55 .509 1.000 300
Nelson Cruz 51 .549 .907 283
José Ramírez 67 .478 .930 264
Marcell Ozuna 54 .463 .867 234
Rhys Hoskins 55 .509 .732 223
Juan Soto 56 .429 .780 209
Trea Turner 64 .453 .732 208
Brandon Lowe 60 .417 .720 206
AJ Pollock 60 .367 .818 201
J.T. Realmuto 54 .500 .591 197
Ketel Marte 54 .444 .654 194
Christian Yelich 72 .431 .638 180
Wil Myers 70 .386 .656 176
Mark Canha 56 .482 .500 176
Adalberto Mondesi 55 .345 .698 174
Xander Bogaerts 69 .420 .594 174
Anthony Rendon 73 .425 .576 173
Willy Adames 53 .396 .596 172
Max Stassi 52 .365 .659 169
Jedd Gyorko 57 .404 .644 166
Minimum 50 PA

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:

White Sox Career Numbers Against Lefties
Name 2020 PA vs. LHP 2020 wRC+ vs. LHP Career PA vs. LHP Career wRC+ vs. LHP
José Abreu 57 135 977 149
Tim Anderson 55 300 630 133
Edwin Encarnación 41 92 1426 127
James McCann 36 236 642 124
Luis Robert 51 123 51 123
Yasmani Grandal 37 147 823 115
Eloy Jiménez 46 132 195 113
Yoán Moncada 46 105 457 91
Adam Engel 35 114 342 86
Nomar Mazara 26 127 600 62
Danny Mendick 34 70 51 54
Nick Madrigal 22 22 22 22

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 Jiménez 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 Encarnación should be in the starting lineup at this stage of his career, and it’s possible that James McCann or a slightly hurt Jiménez 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 Encarnación, and a possibly hurt Jiménez, 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:

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.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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3 years ago

The quality of LHP they faced in the central would probably be worth looking at here

3 years ago
Reply to  Towel

FWIW, they faced a LH starter in 14 games (with season long ERA and some notes):
– Bubic (three times) 4.32 ERA – interesting note on Bubic – his ERA against the Sox was only 3.31 but he gave up 4 UER giving him a 5.51 RA
– Rodon 8.22 ERA
– Tyler Alexander 3.96 ERA
– Boyd (two times) 6.71 ERA – back to back starts and he got shelled, 10.38 ERA in 8.2 IP
– Skubal 5.63 ERA
– Lester (two times) 5.16 ERA – oof, 18.12 ERA in 7.1 IP vs the Sox
– Brault 3.38 ERA
– Duffy (two times) 4.95 ERA – also back to back starts, 6.94 ERA in 11.2 IP. He also gave up 1 UER so a 7.71 RA
– Rich Hill 3.03 ERA

Not exactly a who’s who of tough lefties

3 years ago
Reply to  Anon

Rodon is on the Sox.

The Chisox didn’t exactly help their season long ERAs, would like to see the data on these SPs vs the sox compared to the rest of MLB.

3 years ago
Reply to  mbs2001

Oops – I was leafing through box scores to compile that and just goofed. That was a game against the Brewers and Brett Anderson who ended with a 4.21 ERA.

3 years ago
Reply to  Towel

I’m eyeballing the list of all lefties who threw more than 10 IP and all the quality lefties in the Central are either relievers or they pitch for the Sox (Keuchel) and it definitely seems like there are just not many good lefties in the Central.,-1&pg=3

3 years ago
Reply to  Towel

This is one of those things that normally isn’t that big of a deal because you play a lot of games across divisions but in THIS season we absolutely can’t talk about platoon splits so casually. The White Sox got to face off against Shane Bieber, Kenta Maeda, Zach Plesac, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Kyle Hendricks, Trevor Bauer, and Yu Darvish. Against lefties, they got Matt Boyd and Brett Anderson.

Granted, they also faced off against some awful righties too and Rich Hill is actually pretty good but at least part of the story with these splits is that they managed a league-average offense against so many excellent righties *despite* having such a good lineup and then destroyed the bad lefties where they also had the platoon advantages.

All that said, it’s not crazy that this team would outperform against lefties even if they were facing off against, say, Framber Valdez and German Marquez occasionally. The team’s good hitters are all right handed except for Moncada and Grandal. The only other guy who hits lefty with more than 40 PAs is Mazara, who might not even deserve a roster spot much less start.

3 years ago
Reply to  Towel

The fact that the Tigers did well suggests you may be on to something. But the Twins would have faced most of the same lefties as the White Sox and had a wRC+ against them of 81 in 583 PA.

3 years ago
Reply to  MikeS

The Tigers had a .400 BABIP against lefties. that was the highest against lefties by 70 points. They did have an above average LD% but nowhere near the leader. Same with their Hard%. They had the lowest FB% by a fairly wide margin and the 3rd highest GB% yet they managed the 7th best ISO. Meanwhile their BB% (low) and K% (high) were both below average from a hitter’s perspective.

Their numbers against lefties this year are all sorts of fluky and I would bet anything that same group of hitters is mostly garbage next year (mostly, I like Candelario to hold on to some of his gains and Miggy will still probably be respectable).

3 years ago
Reply to  Anon

Literally everything this year should come with a small sample size alert.

Hell, if the White Sox lose the next two games (and Manaea doesn’t start game 3) then sometime next year we will hear about how the White Sox lost a game started by a lefthander for the first time since 2019!