Choose Your Left-Handed Starters Wisely

With the trade deadline behind us and only the dog days of August/September standing in the way of fantasy championships, let’s start taking a more targeted approach to our pitching matchups, with each one we choose, whether stud or streamer, carrying even more weight as the season winds down.

We’ll do this by first looking at how each team has fared by the handedness of the pitcher faced, starting with those wily left-handers and ranking teams in wOBA, xwOBA, wOBA/xwOBA (on contact), SwStr%, Whiff%, and BB%. Baseball can always baseball at any given time but looking at these ranks gives us a good starting point for how teams have generally succeeded (or failed) against certain hands, both in overall damage and whiffs.

Through Aug 1, here is how each team ranks vs LHP in the aforementioned categories:

One of These Sides Is Not Like the Other

Bad offenses tend to be bad, regardless of the hand they’re facing. But when choosing your streamers, don’t make the mistake of always assuming that any stream against one of the worst teams is a good idea because some teams can be rather lopsided. However, before we get to those, three teams are truly ratchet, living in the bottom-10 for wOBA against both LHP and RHP:

Oakland: 27th vs LHP, 29th vs RHP

Pittsburgh: 26th vs LHP, 28th vs RHP

Arizona: 22nd vs LHP, 22nd vs RHP

But then there are the teams that are at the bottom of wOBA but have a significant split between how they’ve fared against each hand:

Detroit (29th overall): 17th vs LHP, 30th vs RHP

Miami (27th overall): 30th vs LHP, 17th vs RHP

Los Angeles Angels (26th overall): 27th vs LHP, 19th vs RHP

And finally, some average to above-average offenses are also imbalanced in how they handle each hand:

Milwaukee (7th overall): 25th vs LHP, 4th vs RHP

Cleveland (16th overall): 29th vs LHP, 9th vs RHP

Chicago White Sox (17th overall): 5th vs LHP, 25th vs RHP

Using the above information, we can at least start to identify where we might want to raise our streamer standard (LHP vs DET, RHP vs MIA/LAA), as well as less obvious spots to get more aggressive (LHP vs MIL/CLE, RHP vs CHW).

But let’s go a little bit deeper than how teams fare in total and also take a look at how they’re failing against individual pitches, again focusing on left-handers. Is it useful to know that Pittsburgh is 26th in wOBA and 29th in K% vs LHP? Yes! Is it even more useful to also know that their numbers against left-handed sliders are overwhelmingly bad, with bottom-five whiffs against cutters? Personally, I think so. Did I know all of the above when choosing to write about Braxton Garrett (and his nasty slider) prior to him facing the Pirates in back-to-back games? Also, yes!

Ordered by rank in wOBA, here is how every team has ranked by pitch in wOBA, xwOBA, SwStr%, and Whiff%:

Ok, so we have how each team has fared vs LHP, in general, as well as where there are some weak points when it comes to the pitches they prefer. Now, let’s use that information to try and mix and match our way to some of the more favorable pitching matchups over the next week, or so. We’ll look for pitchers that are more in the streamer camp (because who doesn’t love a sneaky stream?) but also check in on some of the top guys for those looking to leverage matchups in DFS and/or bet strikeout totals.

Speaking of which, let’s start with one of baseball’s best pitchers that might shift into god-mode for the next couple of starts.

Targets: Oakland/Pittsburgh

Carlos Rodón, SF (@ OAK, @ PIT)

Most don’t need to be told that Rodón’s next two starts are prime – they had us at Oakland and Pittsburgh. Both teams are two of baseball’s worst vs LHP and the Pirates are 29th in both K% and BB%. But hey, Oakland is only 16th in K%, so that’s good, right?

Well, the problem is that the A’s (and Pirates) have been utterly inept when facing left-handed sliders in 2022. As in, Oakland is 29th in SwStr% and 30th in Whiff% vs LHP sliders, while Pittsburgh is 28th in SwStr% and 29th in Whiff%. Do you know who has a really nasty slider that gets elite movement on both planes while generating a 39.5% Whiff%?

That’s right:

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I don’t know what the number for betting his strikeout total is but go ahead and give me any and all overs on single-digit totals. But outside of fantasy and gambling, these are matchups (particularly Pittsburgh) that I just have circled as a fan. Because who doesn’t want to see a dozen Pirates strike out? This could get ugly.

José Suarez, LAA (@ OAK)

Staying in Oakland, Suarez is coming off of two good starts, allowing a total of 0 ER over 10.1 IP and picking up two wins against Kansas City and, well, Oakland. Suarez leaned heavily on his changeup in that last matchup with the A’s, getting an average of two more inches of drop vs his yearly average but generating just six whiffs on 33 pitches.

And while the changeup has been an average pitch for Suarez in 2022 it was one of baseball’s best in 2021, with a -13 Run Value that was second only to Devin Williams (-14 RV) and -2.8 RV per 100 pitches that was first (min 400 pitches).

Wave to the camera, Stephen:

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Oakland has been below-average vs LHP changeups and Suarez also has a decent slider that he throws around 15% on average but was at 26% in his last against them. Streaming lefties against the A’s is almost always a good idea but even more so when they have some key tools.

Target: Los Angeles Angels

At this point, the Trout-less Angels basically consist of the human videogame, Shohei Ohtani, and a collection of broken, rusty parts. How can you tell a team is failing a generational talent like Ohtani? When he’s being sandwiched between David Fletcher at leadoff and Luis Rengifo in the three-hole. That’s right; the old Fletcher-Ohtani-Rengifo triple-combo. Feared by all.

The Angels have struggled vs LHP, ranking 27th in wOBA and 26th in SwStr%, and are scheduled to face three lefties over the next week. However, the highest-rostered might not be the best option. But is there really a bad option, at this point?

Robbie Ray, SEA (vs LAA)

Even after getting roughed up in back-to-back starts against Houston (2 GS – 5.2 IP – 10 ER – 4 K), you obviously have to go back to the well in a matchup against the Angels. Ray has moved to a sinker over the past few months but the Angels aren’t very good against any fastball, whether of the sinking or rising variety. Los Angeles is 25th in wOBA vs both four-seamers and sinkers. But they have been decent (relatively speaking) against sliders, Ray’s main secondary, posting the 16th-best SwStr% and 10th-best Whiff%. Don’t scoff – I said relatively, didn’t I?

Marco Gonzales, SEA (vs LAA)

The ol’ slow hand might be set up even better than Ray, as his best pitch is a changeup (33.4% usage) that the Angels can’t help but wave at. Los Angeles is 30th in SwStr% and 30th in Whiff% vs LHP changeups.

JP Sears, OAK (vs LAA)

Welcome to the party, pal! Sears is the newest Athletic and gets a cushy bid in his first start for Oakland. We’ve already mentioned LA’s ineptness with fastballs and changeups, and hopefully, Sears has the right mix to take advantage, utilizing a four-seamer (60%) and changeup (17%). But he also has a decent slider (23%) that has run a -1.2 RV/100 over its tiny sample (n=72).

Target: Milwaukee Brewers

Through the first four months of the season, the Brewers have been a really good offense overall, coming in with the 7th in wOBA (11th in xwOBA) and 5th in wOBA on contact. But the tales of handedness paint a very split picture, as Milwaukee has been significantly worse vs LHP, coming in 25th in both wOBA and wOBA on contact, with the fifth-highest K%. This is exactly why the Brewers were so aggressive at the trade deadline in order to shore that weakness up.

Or-rrrrrr, they did virtually nothing except trade Josh Hader. I legitimately wonder sometimes if the Brewers and Cardinals have somehow been convinced that the most important prize in baseball is winning the NL Central. But I digress.

Nick Lodolo, CIN (@ MIL)

Outside of getting beat up by the Cardinals on July 16 (2 IP – 5 ER – 5 K), Lodolo has been fairly dominant since returning on July 5, running a 3.42 ERA over 23.2 IP, with an impressive 35 K. The rookie now has a 12.7 K/9 over his 38.1 IP and sets up really nicely in this matchup with Milwaukee.

Lodolo operates with a sinker (57%), curveball (26%), and changeup (17%), which is, coincidentally, about the pitch mix one might want to design if trying to beat up on the Brewers. Milwaukee is in the top-10 for wOBA against four-seamers but is 26th vs sinkers and 29th in xwOBA. And Lodolo’s non-fastballs are the two pitches that have given Milwaukee the most trouble. Against LHP changeups, the Brewers are 29th in wOBA, 25th in xwOBA, 29th in SwStr%, and 28th in Whiff%.

And when faacing LHP curveballs, the Brewers are just as bad, ranking 28th in wOBA, 30th in xwOBA, and 26th in SwStr%. ICYMI, Lodolo’s curveball has a 21.9% SwStr% that trails only Triston McKenzie and Corbin Burnes, among starters, and a 49.4% Whiff% that is only behind Pablo López. I wonder if that will work out…What say you, Lars?

You say Noot, I say ba-aaarrr:

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Jeffrey Springs, TB (@ MIL)

Springs has hit the skids over his last five starts (23.2 IP – 5.32 ERA – 27 K) but gets a chance to get back on track against the Brewers. And while he doesn’t have a good curveball like Lodolo with which to press his advantage, Springs does have an excellent changeup (33.6% usage) that has a -1.3 RV/100, 21.9% SwStr%, and 37.4% Whiff%.

As a reminder, against LHP changeups the Brewers are 29th in wOBA, 25th in xwOBA, 29th in SwStr%, and 28th in Whiff%. So, good luck:

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Jordan Montgomery, STL (vs MIL)

Someone hit rinse/repeat because the newest Cardinal will have a good chance to see how his devil-magic shoes are fitting, as (like Lodolo) he also attacks mainly with a sinker/curveball/changeup pitch fit that has been particularly vexing for the Brewers.

No need to rehash Milwaukee’s performance against the pair but both Montgomery’s changeup and curveball get plenty of whiffs, with the latter posting a 19.0% SwStr%:

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And the former rolling up with a 23.3% SwStr%.

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Let’s head down south while the Florida peninsula is still above sea level because we can’t ignore Miami, who is (along with Oakland and Pittsburgh) the final jewel in our terrible triumvirate vs LHP. The Marlins are 30th in wOBA and 27th in wOBA (on contact) but like the opposite of a quad-laser are 30th in K%, SwStr%, Whiff%, and BB%. AKA: pretty bad.

In terms of individual pitches, Miami has put up the most whiffs against cutters, sliders, and changeups, while posting their lowest wOBA vs sinkers (30th), sliders (28th), and curveballs (30th).

Drew Smyly, CHC (vs MIA)

We know what we’re usually going to get from Mr. Five and Dive (and it’s not great) but I’ll stream just about any reasonable lefty vs the Marlins. Smyly’s best pitch is still the curveball, against which the Marlins have the league’s best whiff rates. But while they don’t whiff against them, they also don’t do much of anything else, ranking 30th in wOBa and xwOBA. And they love to wave at cutters (which Smyly throws ~27%), ranking 29th in SwStr% and 28th in Whiff%

The cutter isn’t Smyly’s best pitch but it does get 3.2 inches more movement on the vertical plane than pitches at a similar velocity/extension and had a 14.1% SwStr%…In 2020. It’s only at 7.9% in 2022 but hey, it’s the Marlins!

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Ranger Suárez, PHI (vs WSN)

How about one more?.. Because like I wasn’t going to take a chance to hype my guy, Ranger. Suárez was an early season bust but has quietly got things going over the past two months, posting a 2.63 ERA (3.19 FIP) over his last nine starts and now sits at a respectable 3.60 ERA (3.83 FIP) on the year.

It’s all about the sinker for Suárez, a pitch gets top-tier sink (+3.3 inches vs avg) but also averages +1.4 inches of horizontal break, with batters generating just a -1.1 RV per 100. That’s down from the unreasonable -2.9 RV/100 he posted in 2021 but is still quite the bowling ball. The Nationals, however, have been pretty good against sinkers, ranking 11th in wOBA, 3rd in SwStr%, and 1st in Whiff%. Counterpoint: They no longer have Juan Soto and Josh Bell and are currently running out a fairly atrocious lineup.

Suárez’s main secondary is his changeup (22% usage), against which batters have run a -0.2 RV/100, with a 37.4% Chase% and 34.1% Whiff%. The Nationals are 29th in wOBA and 27th in xwOBA against left-handed changeups:

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Suárez was ho-hum the last time he faced the Nationals on June 17, allowing 3 ER over 5.2 IP and striking out five. But again, a lineup with Juan Soto and Josh Bell is a lot different than one with Lane Thomas and Luke Voit.