Judging the Royals

The difference between right and left-handed hitters

Updated: 2013-04-19T14:26:26Z

As I write this I have no idea whether the Royals will play the Red Sox tonight, things sound pretty wild in Boston. Here’s hoping they catch the guy they’re after, things calm down and the game goes on as scheduled. In the meantime, here’s a couple things to tide you over.

A reader’s question

A baseball question that you might choose to answer in the column, or not. I don't expect you to, but others might be wondering about it too:

Analysts and players/coaches talk fairly often about left-handed batters having a harder time with certain kinds of pitches and right-handed batters having a harder time with other/different pitches.  My question is: Why are left- and right-handed batters not just mirror images, as to their (mechanical/physical) functioning?  Let me give perhaps not an actual case, but an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about:  Why would the case of a back-door slider from a lefty to a right-handed batter be a different case from a back-door slider from a righty to a left-handed batter?

The answer

Here’s the explanation I’ve heard (and unfortunately, there’s no short version): baseball swings include rotation (the spinning motion) and weight shift (the back-to-front motion). Right-handed hitters see mainly right-handed pitchers; the ball is released somewhat in line with their head. Objects coming directly at you are hard to judge, so right-handed hitters need to be quick—the ball is at their head and then turns into a slider breaking into the strike zone. So, in order to be quick, right-handed hitters tend to emphasized rotation and have short, quick swings.

Left-handed hitters see mainly right-handed pitchers also: the ball is not released in line with their head and they tend to get a better view of the ball’s line of travel. Since they don’t have to be as quick as right-handed hitters, lefties tend to emphasize weight shift. That’s why they tend to have such pretty, longer, smooth-looking swings. That back-to-front weight shift allows them to stay on the ball a longer period of time, right handers are usually in and out of the contact zone much more quickly.

The advantage left-handers have against right-handed pitchers explains why so many batting champs have been left handed: most of the time they have an advantage. But when a left-handed hitter faces a left-handed pitcher, he’s often at a bigger disadvantage than a righty facing a righty: the lefty doesn’t face that situation as often as the righty does and his swing isn’t built to handle it. That’s why every team likes to have a left-handed reliever available to face left-handed hitters in crucial, late-inning situations. Guys like Toronto reliever Darren Oliver have been around so long because they fill that role.

So to answer your specific question: generally, a right-handed hitter would not stay on a back-door slider from a left-handed pitcher as long as a left-handed hitter would stay on a back door slider from a right-handed pitcher.

If this explanation makes sense to you, I’ll be happy to take the credit. If you think it’s a load of BS because you can think of exceptions—and there are always exceptions—blame Mike Schmidt. It’s from his book on hitting.

Interleague play

This year interleague play is spread throughout the season and that’s led to some new problems: how do you keep your pitchers ready to hit? Do they take batting practice all year? Do they take it right before an interleague series? It’s one thing to have a short stretch of the season where pitchers need to hit, it’s another thing to keep them ready to swing the bat throughout August. (The Royals last interleague series is against Washington, August 23-25.)

As near as I can tell the main goal is to make sure you don’t get a pitcher hurt (the pitchers have higher aspirations), but nobody wants to lose a starting pitcher because he fouled a bunt back into his own face or twisted an ankle running the bases. (Hey, if Jose Reyes can do it, anybody can do it.)

Rusty Kuntz—the guy responsible for getting the pitchers ready to bunt—said a lot of pitchers aren’t comfortable trying to lay one down. To be any good at bunting you have to keep your head down—really stick your nose in there close to the bat—and if you’re not used to baseballs coming close to your head at 95 mph, the natural tendency is to keep your head back, out of the way. If one of the Royals pitchers looks bad enough bunting, you may see him swinging away even when the bunt is called for. If a guy has a chance of hurting himself, is it worth losing a starting pitcher to move a runner 90 feet?

So National League teams have a real advantage when playing interleague games in their home park: at least their pitchers are used to bunting. On the other hand, Rusty said when NL teams come over to the American League they might have a disadvantage: no natural designated hitter. In the National League guys have to play a position. You might look at your roster for a "good bat—no glove" guy and realize you don’t really have one of those. Then you wind up with your regular lineup and a light-hitting bench player serving as your DH.

Some of the guys like interleague play—Chris Getz said he enjoys playing in new ballparks—but you hear a lot more players and coaches say they need to pick a rule and stick with it. Either that, or limit interleague play.

This schedule is making some people crazy.

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