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More on 3B by LHB vs RHB

Posted by Andy on November 27, 2007

So, I went back and calculated triples by LHB and RHB for a bunch of years. Click through for lots of analysis.

First, here is the raw data.

        LHB AB          LHB 3B          RHB AB          RHB 3B

2007    68335            512             99448            426
2006    66708            493            100633            459
2005    70538            454             95797            434
2004    70981            463             96372            435
2003    79082            475            108367            459
2000    68946            470             98344            482
1995    58151            428             90573            396
1990    59169            417             93466            448
1985    66745            455             93575            510
1980    58602            471             95081            605
1975    58067            407             90554            480
1970    53401            355             95931            572
1965    45639            322             75755            456
1960    34108            270             60198            380

So the first column is year, followed by total at-bats by lefties, triples by lefties, total at-bats by righties, and triples by righties.

Let me mention right up front that I check about the contribution made by pitchers. It affects the data, but only slightly. For a point of reference, in 2007, pitchers had 3347 right-handed ABs and 3 triples, plus 1717 left-handed ABs and 4 triples. It has roughly a 1% influence on the overall rates.

Now, here is the rate data (for all batters including pitchers):

        LHB              RHB

2007    133.5            233.4
2006    135.3            219.2
2005    155.4            220.7
2004    153.3            221.5
2003    166.5            236.1
2000    146.7            204.0
1995    135.9            228.7
1990    141.9            208.6
1985    146.7            183.5
1980    124.4            157.2
1975    142.7            188.7
1970    150.4            167.7
1965    141.7            166.1
1960    126.3            158.4

So this is number of at-bats, on average, per triple. Obviously, a lower number means more triples. As you can see, it's been pretty consistent for the last 15 years or so, with lefties hitting roughly 50% more triples than righties (on a per AB basis.) Back in the period 1960-1970, the data was also fairly consistent, and the rate of triples was much closer to even, with lefties hitting about 15% more triples than righties.

1980 appears to be a blip, where all batters hit more triples. I don't know if the blip is isolated to year 1980 or to a period around 1980. A fuller study would need to be done.

It's tough to tell the reason for the difference between these two eras (1995 or so to present and 1960 to 1970) but it's tempting to think that the DH has something to do with it. Above, I already noted that the performance of the pitchers themselves doesn't account for the difference. Is it somehow possible that introduction of the DH in the early 1970s has an impact? I don't see how, since we're talking about a lefty-righty difference. I see that lefties get more at-bats these days than they used to. Back in 1960, righties had almost 100% more at-bats than lefties, but these days they get only about 50% more. But since we're looking at rates, the number of at-bats doesn't matter. I am strongly inclined to think that the difference has more to do with defensive strategies.

So let's talk about defensive strategies. I am guessing that outfielders play deeper these days than they used to, since balls tend to be hit further (more doubles and homers.) If so, this would tend to exaggerate the issue raised in the previous post, where rightfielders have such a longer throw to make to third base (as opposed to the throw made by leftfielders) that lefties have an advantage for hitting triples if we assume that both lefties and righties have similar pull tendencies to their own side of the plate.

Here's some data to consider. I went back and looked at triples given up by Cubs pitching at Wrigley Field for all the same years as posted above. As far as I know, the dimensions of Wrigley have stayed pretty constant over the years, so this should eliminate any weird issues such as changing the location of walls, etc. I used visiting players to avoid any particular Cubs who might have been good at hitting triples. Adding together the data for 1995, plus 2000 to 2007, left-handed batters have hit 50 triples in 9825 AB, and righties have hit 56 triples in 15127 at-bats. That's 1 triple per 197 AB for LHB and 1 triple per 270 AB for RHB. So, triples by opposing players at Wrigley have been rarer than league-wide. More importantly, visiting lefties have tripled 37% more (on a per AB basis) than visiting righties at Wrigley. Now, in the 1960-1970 period (considering just the 3 years 1960, 1965, and 1970, as above), visiting lefties hit 30 triples in 3259 AB and visiting righties hit 41 triples in 5346 AB. That's 1 per 108 AB for LHB and 1 per 130 AB for RHB. So Wrigley was actually an easier place for visitors to hit triples than league average in the period 1960-1970. The important number, though, is that lefties hit triples at a rate 20% higher than righties.

So the basic question is: why (at Wrigley) do visiting lefties hit 37% more triples in the current era, but hit only 20% more triples in the 1960-1970 era? The only answer I can come up with is defense. Now, it could be defensive alignment (i.e. playing deeper) or it could be specific Cubs outfielders...for example Sammy Sosa giving up a lot of triples to right field, which I find quite believable. But that wouldn't explain the league-wide difference that we've seen unless modern rightfielders are just worse at preventing triples than their older counterparts.

Now one more piece of data. In 2007, there were 938 triples hit overall. 428 of them were fielded by the RF, 391 by the CF, and 118 by the LF. (One was fielded by the 2B, which I'm sure was a line drive off his glove that went to the outfield.) Right away, you see the evidence that more triples go to right field, which would seem to really favor lefties. The overall percentages were 45.7% to RF, 41.7% to CF, and 12.6% to LF. For LHB, they hit 253 to RF, 195 to CF, and 63 to LF. That's 49.5% to RF, 38.2% to CF, and 12.3% to LF. For RHB, they hit 175 to RF, 196 to CF, and 55 to LF. That's 41.1% to RF, 46.0% to CF, and 12.9% to LF.

So RHB actually hit the most triples to CF, whereas LHB hit the most to RF. This is more evidence in support of the RF vs LF theory for triples, and since batters pull most often, it definitely favors lefties hitting more triples.

What did I miss?

6 Responses to “More on 3B by LHB vs RHB”

  1. Tom Clancy Says:

    It's not all that significant, but lefties get an extra step or two on righties coming out of the box and that might influence their decision/ the third-base coach's perception of whether they have a chance to make 3. Might be interesting to look at rates of getting thrown out at third by handedness, though that might be hard to control. Something like instances where a double was recorded but the player was out and no error?

  2. Andy Says:

    I believe that studies have shown that advantages for getting to first base vary wildly by batter, regardless of handedness. For example, I think there are lots of lefties who are slower than an average righty, although there are certainly a few lefties (such as Ichiro) who get out of the box tremendously quickly.

  3. Tom Clancy Says:

    Well, the thrown out at third would still be interesting, especially split up by where the ball was hit to.

  4. David in Toledo Says:

    Here's two (probably wild) ideas. Everybody used to have to hustle, before free agency and the long guaranteed contracts. And there are a lot more home runs hit today: 1243 hr, 12-team NL in 1980; 2703 with 16 teams in 2007.

    So a hitter smashes one in 1965. He runs like hell toward third base until he has evidence that it's okay to slow down. Think Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Pete Rose batting right-handed.

    In 2007, however, that batter may pause to see if it's a home run. Hustle is not his middle name. Even if he heads toward first base, the batter may not run all-out, particularly if he's right-handed and can't follow the flight of the ball without the risk of tripping on his long pants and looking even more foolish. The ball will probably be caught, or go over the fence, or be thrown to second before he can get there (certainly to third), and he has a long-term contract, everything's cool. (Think, maybe, Manny Ramirez, with 1 triple per 415 ab?)

    However, the left-handed batter SEES his line drive heading for the right-field corner or the right-center gap and KNOWS that he has a chance for a three-bagger. Competitive instinct overcomes 2007's cultural complacency and the lefty may be more likely to run hard, based on what he can see as he moves toward first base.

  5. Dvd Avins Says:

    Rose was known as Charlie Hustle BECAUSE his degree of oblivious hustle was unusual. I think 'the good old days' may have been less different than David suggests.

  6. Andy Says:

    Well...I agree with both of you guys. Rose was obviously a special case, just as Jeter is today, but without doubt a higher fraction of guys played harder back then. Just watching old games on ESPN Classic is a real eye opener. You see a lot of guys run out of the box much faster, a lot more contact on average when breaking up double-plays, and a lot more visible frustration from players who fail to come through. It's certainly true that we cannot point to Rose or Jeter as representative of their eras, but David's general point is true.