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Left-Handed Batters and the Anomaly of Daric Barton

I know we’ve touched on this before, especially when Geren takes Barton out of a lineup against a left-handed pitcher, or he pinch-hits for Barton against a lefty reliever, but looking at the numbers and projections for next season, it’s absolutely astonishing. Now I’m really curious. Why in the world do Daric Barton’s splits look like he’s a right-handed batter?

It’s common knowledge in baseball that when you have a choice, you try and match up your left-handed pitchers against a left-handed batter; the theory being that it’s harder for a lefty batter to hit against a lefty pitcher.

Let’s look at some quick examples of some other well-known left-handed first basemen:

Jim Thome is on the verge of 600 homers this year, so let’s check out his splits. They fall into line with what one would expect; he sports a career OPS vs. lefties of .763, but he mashes righties to the tune of a 1.047 career OPS.

How about new American Leaguer Adrian Gonzalez? We all know his numbers suffered due to Petco, but how were his righty/lefty splits? Career, his OPS vs. lefties sits at .783, while his career OPS vs. righties is significantly higher at .919.

How about reigning NL MVP Joey Votto? Yes, the lefty/righty split still holds with a .871 OPS vs. lefties and a incredible 1.001 OPS career vs. righties. 

Prince Fielder? Yep, another big split with a career .795 OPS against lefties and .976 vs. righties.

Ryan Howard?  Again, a gigantic difference at .766 OPS vs. lefties in his career, but a nasty 1.038 vs. righties.

Justin Morneau? Check.  Adam Dunn? Check.  Aubrey Huff? Check.

The list could go on and on of Major League left-handed batters who prey on right handed pitching, but struggle facing lefties. Interestingly, it must be noted that Ichiro Suzuki's and Chase Utley's splits are almost identical; they hit LHP almost as well as they do RHP. 

On our own team, Ryan Sweeney falls in line with normal lefty splits (albeit with significantly lesser numbers than all the guys above) as he holds a career .624 OPS vs lefties, but .757 vs. righties.  Our new right fielder follows the mold too, with an OPS 100 points higher vs righties than lefties.

So, that’s how left-handed hitters--great ones (and not so great ones)--regularly  appear in the stats. But Daric Barton? Not so much.

Last season, Barton collected 498 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, and 188 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. Fully 32% of Barton’s hits in 2010 were off left-handed pitchers. Barton racked up 104 hits against right handed pitchers, and 48 against left-handed pitchers, and his 10 homeruns were just about split right down the middle (six off RHP, four off LHP).  To put this in perspective, Barton batted .259 against RHP with a .761 OPS, but .310 vs LHP with an .895 OPS. In other words, he was a much better hitter against left-handed pitching, in a game that would traditionally assume that Barton shouldn’t be matched up against a left-handed pitcher.

And it’s not only data from the 2010 season that introduces this phenomenon; 2008 shows an even wider gap; in 128 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, Barton batted .273 with a .787 OPS, in absolute stark contrast to his .208 average and .629 OPS against right-handed pitchers (in 318 PA). Even in his injury-shortened 2009, the split is there. In 32 PA against LHP, Barton batted .333, while only managing .257 in 160 PA against righties. Interestingly enough, the only time Barton registered as a "normal" left-handed hitter is in 2007, when in 34 plate-appearances, he hit .296 against LHP, and in 45 PA, he hit .378 against RHP. But small sample size, rookie year, and all that.

When you add it all up, Barton’s career OPS vs lefties is .880 while his career OPS vs righties is way behind that mark at only .726.  Looking at Barton’s splits over his career, you would swear he was a right-handed batter.

So I supposed the conclusion we’re left with is that Daric Barton’s lefty splits are a small sample size and will eventually regress, or he will start to hit RHP as he should and be really awesome. Or that he’s secretly batting right-handed and we’re just not noticing.

What does this mean to the team? If I was Bob Geren, I would not hesitate to have him in the lineup against left-handed starters and I certainly wouldn’t replace him with a pinch-hitter in the later innings if a lefty reliever is summoned (and if we can find a pinch-hitter off the bench who is better than Barton anyway, the team is better than I thought).

What do you think? Can you think of another player with such an unique split? Why might this happen?