The Cardinals’ right-handed batters have been hitting right-handed pitchers better than left-handed ones, and that provides a huge advantage late in games.
Righties hit lefties better and lefties hit righties better. In general, that is a rule that many managers live by. For most players, it turns out to be correct. That rule doesn’t apply to every player, though, and recognizing the exceptions can be very important.
On average, righties hit about 25 points higher in wOBA when facing southpaws than when facing other righties. It is often a good strategy to use more right-handed batters against lefties. It is often a good strategy to bring in right-handed relief pitchers against right-handed batters.
None of what I just said applies to the Cardinals.
Cardinals’ right-handed batters are hitting significantly better against pitchers that throw from the same side, creating a big advantage when teams try to adhere to the general strategy rules.
Cardinals’ righties have a .326 wOBA against opposing righties compared to just .306 against lefties. To illustrate how rare that is, those marks rank 6th and 26th, respectively in the majors despite the fact that the decline isn’t that large. It’s about the difference between Yasmany Tomas and Addison Russell on offense this season.
— Cardinals Buzz (@CardsBuzz) May 4, 2016
Late in the game is when managers really start to go after platoon splits. When the starting pitcher is in the game, there is only so much that you can do. However, the mixing and matching starts once the bullpen gate opens. Even though the Cardinals’ righties are better when facing the same hand, other teams don’t play them like they do.
Cardinals’ right-handed batters have faced righties about the same percentage of the time as league average. Given their numbers against both hands, that should not be the case. To give you some numbers that will add more context, wRC+ has them as five percent above average against righties but nine percent below average against lefties.
Opponents should be able to keep this simple: use all of your lefties against the Cardinals. Southpaws do better against both Cardinals’ righties and lefties than right-handers do. There really is no need to switch to a right-handed pitcher in most cases.
Stephen Piscotty has been the only right-handed batter for to hit better against lefties than righties for the Cardinals this season. Aledmys Diaz, Matt Holliday, Jedd Gyorko, Yadier Molina, and Randal Grichuk have all been hitting righties better.
For some of those players, this is nothing new. Holliday and Molina do not show a tendency to hit lefties better throughout their careers. The Cardinals, as a team, are probably closer to equal against either hand as opposed to showing an advantage either way, but it has provided a boost so far.
Managers work hard to get the platoon advantage most of the time. Managers often make the right decision in trying to get that advantage. However, other teams are just wasting relievers when trying to match the Cardinals’ right-handed batters. Teams have been yanking one pitcher who could still be used for another who just gives up a hit anyway.
The ability to hit pitchers who throw with the same hand as the batter is very useful. Other managers cycle through relievers and use more of their bullpens hoping to get an advantage that doesn’t exist. In a three-game series, more arms will pitch and more arms will get tired.
If you have a player who is actually better against his own hand, then you may have an advantage when the other team doesn’t even realize it. The platoon splits should even out over the remainder of the season, but other teams still aren’t realizing what is happening. The Cardinals have been taking full advantage.
Until it is clear that the Cardinals’ righties aren’t as good against right-handers, opposing teams should not assume that they have to use righty-on-righty matchups. Until other teams do adjust, the Cardinals will continue to reap the benefits of more tired bullpen arms.
Photo Captured by: Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports