A brief article on the Washington University in Saint Louis website discusses how left-handed pitchers and hitters have a distinct advantage in the game of baseball.
This is probably not surprising news to most readers of this site, but the math has been done, and despite roughly 90% of the adult population being right-handed, about 25% of professional baseball players are left-handed. Two and a half times the national average is no joke.
Statistics brought out in the article to support the thesis that baseball favors lefties include the fact that 59 of the 138 hitters enshrined at the baseball hall of fame are lefties. That’s nearly 43%.
When the eight switch-hitters are added to the tally, the percentage rises to 49.
The number of lefty pitchers in the hall of fame was 21% of the total, which isn’t nearly as impressive as the hitters, but still twice the left-handedness rate of the general population.
The reasons given for the disadvantages experienced by righties are many. From a right-handed hitter’s perspective, first of all, southpaw pitchers are few and far between, so the unfamiliarity of the pitching motion probably hurts the hitters in that situation. The advantage is probably greatest in little league and pre-university baseball.
That said, the southpaw’s advantage is assumed to dissipate at higher levels due to the fact that right-handed batters have more experience against them and are able to see the ball slightly better against a lefty because the batter is not required to turn his head so much to see the pitcher’s release.
Right-handed hitters, at the professional level at least, hit better against left-handed pitchers than against the more predominant right-handed pitchers. Left-handed batters, due to being able to pick up the ball more easily, have a relative advantage when facing right-handed pitchers. Because 75% of pitchers at the pro level are right-handed, left-handed batters have a natural match-up advantage most of the time.
Left-handed batters also have a roughly 5.5 foot advantage in terms of their proximity to first base. Additionally, a lefty’s swing-generated momentum will carry them towards first base while a righty’s will pull them towards third. This means that lefties reach first base about a sixth of a second faster than right-handed batters. In other words, it’s easier for them to beat the throw to first base.
All of the numbers crunched in this study were for MLB, but it’s easy to see how they can be validated by a casual look at the success stories here in NPB.
As of games played July 12th, 2008 in the Central League, five of the top ten batters (statistical rankings) are left-handed hitters. The same is true for the Pacific League standings (Chiba’s Nishioka is a switch-hitter).
Furthermore, when looking at the Japanese players that have gone on to play professional baseball in North America, big names like Ichiro (lefty), Hideki Matsui (lefty), Kaz Matsui (switch hitter), Akinori Iwamura (lefty) and Kousuke Fukudome (lefty) all come to mind.
This is, of course, not to say that right-handed pitchers and hitters can not also be outstanding baseball players. Yomiuri’s Alex Ramirez, Yokohama’s Seiichi Uchikawa, Seibu’s Hiroyuki Nakajima and Rakuten’s Rick Short are all righties.
As for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, several members of the first team that play regularly are left-handed hitters. Norichika Aoki, Aaron Guiel, Shinichi Takeuchi, Yuuichi and Kazuki Fukuchi (switch-hitter) all bat left-handed. Interestingly enough, they are also all outfielders.