Adrian Gonzalez used to struggle against fellow lefties, but has seen a change since 2010. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Remember when the Red Sox leaned far too much to the left? Heading into last season, some analysts acted as if the Red Sox lineup was a socialist construct that would bring about the downfall of western civilization. Despite their offense, they ended up missing out on the playoffs by one game -- but it wasn't because of the team's supposed over-reliance on left-handed bats that did it.
It's nearly impossible to be undone by leaning too left-handed in baseball to begin with. Nearly three-quarters of all innings are thrown by right-handed pitchers, meaning 75 percent of all innings are thrown by pitchers susceptible to left-handed hitters. Leaning left-handed is an advantage, even if it means lefty pitchers are going to be a problem. Ask the Red Sox about that one, as their lefty-leaning lineup decimated right-handed starters: the club hit .279/.345/.457 against righty starters, leading the majors in split-adjusted OPS (sOPS) at 22 percent better than your average team. If you limit things to just the lefty hitters versus right-handed pitchers, Sox lefties hit .287/.350/.493 against righties. Their right-handed hitters weren't too shabby against their fellow righties, either, posting an sOPS 15 percent better than average, good for fifth in the majors.
No one expected righties to be a problem with that lineup, of course. The key, then, was to hit left-handed pitchers better than other left-handed hitters would, or, at the least, no worse than in your typical southpaw-on-southpaw encounter. The Red Sox did just that: their lineup, as full of left-handed hitters as it was, led the majors in production against left-handed starters.
They hit .284/.356/.469 against left-handed starters, 29 percent better than average. Their left-handed hitters alone put together a .276/.348/.431 line, 37 percent better than average, and good for third in the majors behind Cincinnati and the Yankees.
The Red Sox don't just employ lefties: their lefties are great hitters, regardless of handedness. They aren't all prone to severe platoon splits, as Adrian Gonzalez can attest to. Whereas he was previously a low average, high power hitter against lefties (career line of .244/.316/.428 against southpaws through 2009), a shoulder injury and a change in approach helped him improve against them in 2010, as I wrote about in Baseball Prospectus 2011:
Even a damaged right shoulder that sapped Gonzalez's power couldn't stop him from having another MVP-caliber campaign. He compensated for the ailment's effects by using a more compact swing and a lighter bat after the injury began to bother him in May. This allowed him to sit back and wait for pitches he could drive to the opposite field-the longer follow-through on a swing intended to pull for power caused prohibitive pain. Using this new approach, Gonzalez hit .350/.429/.541 against southpaws, a huge jump from his 2006-through-April-2010 line of .248/.323/.433. The sample was small, but he may want to consider keeping his compact, opposite-field approach against left-handers in the future.
While he lost some of that power in 2011 -- his shoulder still seemed to limit him at times, as did his weird swnig funk after the All-Star break -- he continued to hit for average and draw walks against the southpaws that used to beat him, and now has a two-year stretch of .329/.405/.454 against them. It will be interesting to see how that holds up a year further removed from his surgery, but even if it means less power against lefties than in the past, he's getting on base more often -- that's more valuable in the long run, even if shorthand like OPS can't tell the difference.
It's easy to forget, given how the season ended, but the Red Sox lineup was absolutely ridiculous. Before Kevin Youkilis and Josh Reddick were hurt (and played hurt), damaging both their seasons and those of the Red Sox cumulative numbers, they were on pace to finish at historic offensive levels. We shouldn't be surprised they so thoroughly dominated, but even now it's a little crazy just how good they were. Luckily, the Red Sox haven't done anything to "fix" last year's lineup, meaning good things are ahead for this group once again.