The Wisdom (Or Lack Thereof) of the Lineup Versus Lefties


While the Oakland Athletics are riding high now, having turned their fortunes around while bringing their record back to a respectable level at 28-23 having just swept the Houston Astros for a third time this season, not everything is perfect as can be.  There has been one thing that is always good for inducing a groan in unison from Athletics fans on a daily basis.  That one thing would be the lineup against left handed starters.

May 1, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics first baseman Nate Freiman (7) hits a RBI-double scoring third baseman Josh Donaldson (20, not pictured) against the Los Angeles Angels during the third inning at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

You know what I’m talking about, the lineup where Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, John Jaso and just about anyone who doesn’t hit right handed is riding the pine for at least the early portion of the game.  That means the likes of Nate Freiman, Luke Montz, and previously Michael Taylor would be getting the start.  Needless to say that kind of swap changes the entire complexion of the lineup, taking credible hitters out and inserting major question marks in their place.  I say all this while acknowledging the fact that the insertion of Nate Freiman paid major dividends in the Sunday victory over the Astros.

The clear logic behind this move is to take out hitters who normally struggle against left handers and put right handed hitters in who tend to hit lefties better.  But that logic only works when the replacements are capable of outproducing their counterparts.  So in the case of the Athletics, does making such drastic changes to the lineup make any sense at all?

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers.  Brandon Moss, the most common omission from this type of lineup is hitting .179/.238/.282 versus left handed pitching thus far in 2013 over 42 plate appearances, but his .247/.311/.374 indicates he can handle them a little better than he has this year.  Seth Smith is hitting .357/.400/.524 in just 45 plate appearances.  John Jaso is hitting .267/.313/.267 in 17 plate appearances as he shares catching duties with Derek Norris.  Moss and Jaso’s lines aren’t particularly strong, but Smith’s line is extremely impressive.

How have their counterparts fared?  Nate Freiman has a .314/.405/.486 line in 42 PA, note that this does not include his big Sunday stats so his line will look even better.  And for the record, I really do like Nate Freiman.  Luke Montz is hitting just .200/.208/.458 in 25 PA, that slugging percentage is aided by that home run he hit against CC Sabathia in the Bronx, but other than that he hasn’t done much in these spots.  Michael Taylor was the worst of the three though, posting a .091/.231/.091 line in his 13 PA against lefties, but he couldn’t buy a hit against anyone really, yet he continued to get starts.  Aside from Freiman, the A’s truly have no business replacing a left handed hitter for a righty just because he hits right handed.  If the A’s had more competent right handed hitters on the bench (or in the minors now in the case of Michael Taylor) it would make infinitely more sense.  Granted, injuries in the outfield necessitated some of the playing time that was given to these three, but without a doubt we’ve all seen that right handed hitter heavy lineup that just screams of conceding defeat.

The fact of the matter is this, the A’s are in a position to contend as they trail the Texas Rangers by just 4.5 games.  They made up 5 games with 9 left to play last year, so 4.5 with 111 to play is nothing.  They need to put out the best lineup they can each and every day.  I understand managers like to play match ups and adhere to what conventional wisdom tells them they should do, but in this case a little bit of common sense goes a long way.  We all have to ask ourselves, honestly would you rather have Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, and John Jaso in the lineup when perhaps the match ups don’t totally favor them, or Nate Freiman, Luke Montz, and Michael Taylor in their best match ups?  I know I would go with the former, 162 times out of 162.