Growing up as a Cardinals fan, I would always dread games where the Cardinals were up against a left-handed starter. It was always frustrating to see the likes of Ted Lilly and Barry Zito inexplicably shut down Cardinals hitters on a consistent basis. Perhaps it's hard for me to shake these memories, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Cardinals haven't been that bad against lefties in recent years, especially in the Mike Matheny era.
|2012 vs R||0.270||0.338||0.410||97||107|
|2012 vs L||0.276||0.338||0.450||107||118|
|2013 vs R||0.280||0.343||0.412||106||111|
|2013 vs L||0.238||0.301||0.371||83||89|
|2014 vs R||0.252||0.317||0.363||97||96|
|2014 vs L||0.254||0.330||0.388||108||104|
While the Cardinals were horrendous against lefties in 2013, they generally hit lefties pretty well in 2012 and 2014. According to tOPS+ (which measures OPS for the split relative to the team's total OPS, where 100 is average), the Cardinals did better against left-handers than right-handers in 2012 and 2014. In addition, their sOPS+ (which measures OPS for the split relative to the league's split OPS, where 100 is average) indicates that they were above league average at hitting left-handed pitching in both years.
With the acquisition of Jason Heyward, the Cardinals' 2015 lineup will be more lefty-heavy than it has been in the past, with five of eight starting position players hitting from the left side. With that in mind, here's a look at those five players, including their 2014 and career splits.
|2014 vs L||0.262||0.361||0.361||0.327||109|
|2014 vs R||0.277||0.381||0.381||0.343||120|
|Career vs L||0.276||0.347||0.428||0.341||118|
|Career vs R||0.301||0.392||0.435||0.365||134|
Carpenter has a pretty normal split for a left-handed batter, as he has been solidly better against right-handed pitching in his career and in 2014. The difference isn't overly drastic, though, and he has still been above league-average against lefties in his career, so he shouldn't be a major liability against lefties in 2015.
|2014 vs L||0.169||0.252||0.225||0.225||39|
|2014 vs R||0.304||0.384||0.436||0.363||133|
|Career vs L||0.221||0.301||0.349||0.292||81|
|Career vs R||0.281||0.374||0.466||0.367||133|
As you can see, Heyward has struggled mightily against left-handed pitching throughout his career, and this difference was especially highlighted in 2014. He only had 159 plate appearances against lefties in 2014, so small sample size is in player here. While Heyward's incredible defensive value means that he should play just about every day, Mike Matheny should probably ensure that any regularly scheduled rest for Heyward happens when a left-hander is on the mound.
|2014 vs L||0.190||0.231||0.298||0.236||47|
|2014 vs R||0.318||0.349||0.505||0.367||137|
|Career vs L||0.197||0.227||0.326||0.243||51|
|Career vs R||0.306||0.348||0.503||0.368||137|
Like Heyward, Adams has had an extreme lefty-righty split throughout his major league career. There has been plenty of talk of finding a platoon partner for Adams, and the Cardinals did bring in right-handed hitting Mark Reynolds this past offseason. However, Reynolds doesn't have a much of a platoon split, suggesting that he will be more of a bench bat than a frequent starter against lefties. Given that Adams only has 203 career plate appearances against lefties and has a good track record against them in the minors, it's probably too early to label him as a platoon player.
|2014 vs L||0.375||0.404||0.455||0.379||144|
|2014 vs R||0.283||0.364||0.357||0.325||108|
|Career vs L||0.288||0.353||0.365||0.323||104|
|Career vs R||0.296||0.361||0.405||0.338||115|
Jon Jay hasn't shown much of a platoon split throughout his career. In fact, he hit much better against left-handed pitching in 2014, though the small sample size of 94 plate appearances suggests that this may have been an anomaly. If healthy, Jay figures to be the primary center fielder for the Cardinals in 2015, regardless of who is on the mound.
|2014 vs L||0.315||0.324||0.466||0.348||123|
|2014 vs R||0.234||0.285||0.371||0.289||83|
Wong's 2014 season constitutes just about all of his major league career, and so far, he's shown a rather large reverse platoon split, though SSS is once again an important factor. Nevertheless, his minor league numbers suggest that he shouldn't have issues hitting lefties, as his minor league slash line was .281/.333./.459 at Springfield in 2012 and .289/.329/.383 at Memphis in 2013.
Personally, I'm not overly worried about how the Cardinals will do against lefties in 2015. While I do agree that the numbers put up by Heyward and Adams against lefties are concerning, it appears that the team's other left-handed position players should be (or have the potential to be, in Kolten Wong's case) solidly above league average against left-handed pitching. In addition, the Cardinals' right-handed hitters (Holliday, Peralta, Molina) have all put up normal platoon splits throughout their careers, hitting lefties better than righties.
And even if the Cardinals struggle against left-handed pitching in 2015, they probably won't be seeing many tough left-handed starters in the NL Central. As it stands right now, the only left-handed starters in the NL Central projected to start the season in their team's rotation are Jon Lester, Travis Wood, Francisco Liriano, and Tony Cingrani. That's 20% of starters, much less than the league average, which usually hovers around 30%. (In 2014, 35% of qualified starting pitchers were left-handed; 29% of all pitchers were left-handed.)
There are certainly individual Cardinals players who could improve their performance against left-handed pitching, especially Jason Heyward and Matt Adams. With that being said, the rest of the players in the Cardinals' lineup have a good chance of being league average or better against left-handed pitching, ensuring that a repeat of 2013's frustration against lefties is probably unlikely in 2015.