Dodgers: Can the lefty-laden rotation handle righty power?

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Hyun-Jin Ryu. Clayton Kershaw. Rich Hill. Julio Urias. Caleb Ferguson. Adam Kolarek. All of these arms likely to have their fingerprints on a Dodgers’ playoff run in October. And they all are lefties.

In fact, of the 13 pitchers on the Dodgers’ active roster currently, only four are left-handed. But still, if Hill and Urias are back for the playoff race, they will be expected to pitch, and the staff becomes even more left-handed.

Plus, two of three aces of the rotation are lefties in Kersh and Ryu, meaning that any time loaded with right-handed power would have a solid advantage when facing these starters. Rights?

That’s the general assumption, especially in today’s game, that lefty pitchers have less success against right-handed hitting, and vice versa. But for the most part, the Dodger lefties have handled right-handed hitters.

The Dodgers’ entire rotation has a league-best 2.27 ERA against right-handed hitters at home in 2019, almost a full run better than the next rotation. And even when controlling just for southpaw starters, the team still leads the league with an ERA of 2.34.

The rotation is also fourth in strikeouts while walking the fewest righty hitters in the game. And with left-handed pitchers versus right-handed hitters at home, the Dodger’s lefties have a season ERA of 1.89, well ahead of the rest of the MLB.

But ERA against a certain group of hitters may be tricky to trust, as lineups are mixed with righties and lefties intermingling throughout. So a more telling set of statistics might be the Dodgers’ left-handed arms versus the right-handed bats of the opposing offenses. And the same story is told. The lefties on the Dodgers have held opponents to the lowest triple-slash line in baseball with a mark of .234/.286/.380 with the lowest WOBA against as well.

That all changed when the Yankees rolled into town to take on Ryu in game one of their Players’ Weekend Series on Friday night, and their 10–2 win proved to be thanks largely in part to, you guessed it, right-handed power.

Aaron Judge smacked a homer, as did the “Kraken” Gary Sanchez, and the breakout righty Gio Urshela knocked a pair of two-baggers against the Dodger starter as well.

To be fair, the Yankees do have the fourth-best OPS against lefties in all of baseball, but if the Dodgers expect to win in October, they’ll need to be able to beat the best, something their best pitcher in terms of ERA could not do Friday night.

But beyond the right-handed power, the lefties in the bullpen and Ryu both gave up lots of extra-base hits to lefties and righties alike. Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius mustered plenty of success against lefties, with Gardner reaching on a double off of Kolarek and Gregorius slamming a pair of moonshots against Ryu, including a homer of the grand slam variety.

So what happened, did the staff just have an off night? Or was this Yankee offense exposing an existing weakness that luck and weak NL offenses have masked to this point in the season?

This really isn’t something I feel 100% comfortable answering statistically, as there are so many confounding variables. But I feel that the best way to compare the Yankees to other offenses is in construction, as in comparing the lineup construction and hitter profiles of the Yankee lineup to that of the toughest NL lineups the Dodgers have faced, and analyzing the results of these games to determine potential playoff speed bumps we may find the team facing come October.

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Another lineup that may compare to the Yankees’ own is that of the Colorado Rockies, more in terms of the star right-handed power. Even just isolating Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado to see how the Dodger lefties and rotation in general faired in their matchups could be an interesting comp to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez on the power front.

Here’s how they’ve matched up.

In 2019, Arenado has gone 1-3 with an RBI off Kershaw and 3-7 with a double, a home run, a walk, and 3 RBI against Ryu. He also has a single off of lefty Caleb Ferguson and has gone 3-4 against Urias.

For Story this season, he has gone hitless against Ryu and Ferguson while recording a hit and a walk in 3 ABs against Urias.

Expanding the sample size into last season, the pair of righty Rockies combined across the 2018 season to go 10-35  against Dodger lefties. While that isn’t quite as bad as it could be, there obviously is some variability baked in in such a small sample, and even then the duo almost hit .300.

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So while the Dodgers’ lefties are amongst the best in baseball, and have done a solid job of shutting down righties this season, be on the lookout for right-handed sluggers in the playoffs this season, as they seem to have the power to do damage against even the best lefties in the game.