Mailbag: Making A Lefty, Scott Kazmir, Artificial Turf

Happy Friday, everyone. Only one more week of the cold, baseball-less winter. Next week at this time we’ll be looking forward to the start of Spring Training. Well, pitchers and catchers will be reporting, which is the first step anyway. We will see some photos of Gerrit Cole stretching and probably even taking some long toss. Exciting! In other news, longtime favorite Curtis Granderson announced his retirement:

Wishing nothing but the best for Curtis in retirement. Anyway, it’s time for another mailbag. We have three great questions today, and, as always, if you’d like to be included in an upcoming mailbag, just drop us a line at viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We choose our favorites each week.

Mickey Asks: If you had the power to turn any hitter on the Yankees’ roster into a lefty hitter, OR to turn any Yankees pitcher into a lefty pitcher, who would best impact the team? E.G. would turning Judge into a lefty hitter improve the team more than turning Cole into a lefty pitcher?

This is a fun question! Without giving it too much thought, I want to say Judge. I mean, there’s just something alluring about the left-handed swing, isn’t there? For some reason, they just look prettier. So, on that purely cosmetic reason, imagine this swing from a lefty:

That would probably be the prettiest Yankee swing since Robinson Canó (and it might be anyway). On the contrary, Friend of the Blog Lucas Apostoleris worked some video magic a few weeks ago that showed Cole as a lefty pitcher. Check it out:

Both would be cool! It’s hard to choose, so let’s game this out with some numbers, shall we?

First, there are, by far, more right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters in baseball. There were just over 110,000 plate appearances from righty batters against just 76,000 for lefty batters in 2019. There are also far fewer lefty pitchers (12,000 IP) than righty pitchers (31,000 IP) in the league. Lefty-on-lefty matchups, while rare, clearly favor the pitcher, with lefty batters logging an 89 wRC+ in 2019 against southpaws. Righties, by contrast, put up a 105 wRC+ against them. Finally, righty-on-righty matchups had a 91 wRC+ for the righty batter, while lefties put up a 102 wRC+ against righties.

This is pretty insightful, I think, and there are a few takeaways. The first is that there are not many left-handed players in the league, relatively speaking. With this in mind, the second takeaway is that being a left-handed hitter (or a switch hitter) is a much more valuable skill, because a lefty batter is much more likely to face a right-handed pitcher on a given day than the opposite — and that’s where the advantage really lies.

So, I think I’m going to take Judge. There is probably an argument that taking a more marginal player with a good split and switching his handedness may increase the value-add to the Yankees, but meh. Give me Judge — who is a better hitter against lefties (160 wRC+) than righties (150 wRC+) now, so we could assume he’d fare similarly if roles were reversed — as a lefty bat with that sweet short porch right there. Feels like a no-brainer given this broader context.

Rich Asks: Just saw that Scott Kazmir is attempting another comeback. The Twitter video even looked promising. Any chance the Yankees will take a minor league flier on him? Might be good lefty insurance should Monty/Happ have issues. 

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Sure, why not? I mean, I would be surprised — Kazmir hasn’t pitched in the league since 2016 and is 36-years-old — but anything is possible. Here is the video in question:

He is a lefty, which is our theme today, which means that he’ll have approximately 500 lives as a pitcher. Those are just the rules. But still, he hasn’t pitched since 2016, when he was with the Dodgers. And he wasn’t particularly good then, with a 4.56 ERA (4.48 FIP, 114 ERA-) and 0.9 fWAR in 136 innings. The strikeout rate (22%) and walk rate (8%) were okay though.

Honestly I’d be pretty surprised to see Kazmir even get a job, let alone one with the Yankees. On the other hand, nobody is going to give him a MLB deal, so what’s the harm in seeing if he can pull a rabbit out of his sleeve for a few months? I firmly believe that a team can’t have too much pitching depth, and a MiLB deal is virtually free, so why not? He makes as much sense for the Yankees as he does anyone else.

James Asks: Here’s a slow end of January baseball question. Are there any stats or data showing that certain types of hitters, fielders, or pitchers do better or worse on artificial turf compared to grass?

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This is a good question! Here’s a fun nugget: there are only two stadiums in the Majors that currently use artificial turf, and both of them are in the American League East. Those are, of course, the Rodgers Centre and Tropicana Field. (The Dome shut down in 2010 and Minnesota plays outside on grass now.) In other words, there are just 162 games played on artificial turf each season (81 at each) which feels insane! The Yankees play a disproportionate amount of those, which also probably skews our perception of this.

For a statistical analysis, this provides a few problems, I’d guess. There’s a lot of player turnover and it may be hard to get a meaningful sample that controls for the outside variables to get a sense of what player type or skillset does best on turf. Don’t quote me on that, it’s just a gut feeling. I’ll have to do a deeper dive here to be sure. But it’s a much, much smaller sample size than everything else, which I think matters.

However, I did remember a study from Beyond the Box score from five or so years ago that looked at the effect of playing on turf on a player’s aging curve. You can check out the whole analysis here, but here is the main takeaway in graph form:

wOBA-AgingTurf_1995-2014

In other words — with some caveats about sample size — we see that players who spent three seasons playing on turf decline faster and harder than those who don’t. So it’s very possible that turf accelerates declines and is harder on players’ bodies than playing on grass. I’d guess more research needs to be done here to be definitive, but it makes sense to me on an intellectual level. And, not to mention, we don’t see many artificial surfaces league-wide. There has to be a reason for that.

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8 Comments

  1. MikeD

    The artificial turf question is interesting, but I think trying to draw any conclusion today is impossible because the majority of data that does exist was on very different type of fields. Turf was quite common back in the ’70s and ’80s. Think of the large parks in St. Louis and Kansas City. It wasn’t just turf. It was damn near cement! Nothing like the turf we have today. It played lightning fast. The Charlie Lau art of hitting was in vogue because of turf. Make contact, get the bat on the ball, put it in play and run like hell. In KC, hard hit singles would take off like rockets past the second baseman, head up the gap, often resulting with the runner next standing on third if it split the outfielders, which wasn’t difficult on that style turf. To combat that, teams would put burners like Willie Wilson and Willie McGee in CF, or great defensive infielders like Frank White or Ozzie Smith up the middle. Rangy middle infielders who could cut the ball off. The turf today doesn’t play like that, and it’s supposedly much more “cushiony” so it doesn’t have the wear-and-tear on the body. So today, what artificial turf we do have, doesn’t play super fast like the old turf, and is much less damaging to the joints. Add it all up, and I don’t think we have enough data to even take a guess.

    • Yeah, this is true. There’s also different kinds of turf today and they play differently from one another. Turf at the Trop is very different than the “Astroturf 3-D Extreme” at Rogers. I think the stuff at Chase Field is closer to the Trop than at Rogers.

      I thought I read somewhere this offseason that more parks are going to have turf soon as well, so this whole issue may become a bigger deal soon.

      • MikeD

        I can see more and more teams installing artificial turf in the coming years as the quality of the product continues to improve. It’s likely more cost-effective for teams, and it’s also no longer the ugly eye-sore of past versions of turf. Ultimately, it will come down to the health aspect. Teams will not want to install turf if they think in anyway it might lead to more injuries. Too much money being spent today on talent.

  2. Fran Simmonds

    Just to note the Diamondback switched to turf last year.

  3. dasit

    note to self: launch a campaign for curtis granderson to take over the MLBPA

    #tonyisphony

    • RetroRob

      Maybe the opposite. They might want to go back to the days of Marvin Miller, Donald Fehr types running the Union, not players. I suspect they picked Tony Clark because they want to maintain peace, but if they really think they’re getting ripped off, it’s time to go back to the old play book and put a tough-as-nails negotiator at the top.

  4. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    Good to see Grandy retire. I was worried Cash might sign him and Boone would bat him 3rd to break up the righties. He was a good Yankee and we’ll look forward to seeing him in Old Timers Day.

    Mickey Asks: If you had the power to turn any hitter on the Yankees’ roster into a lefty hitter, OR to turn any Yankees pitcher into a lefty pitcher, who would best impact the team? E.G. would turning Judge into a lefty hitter improve the team more than turning Cole into a lefty pitcher?

    I would turn Tanaka into a lefty, Gary into a vegan and Happ into a spit bucket, MIckey. I think Tanaka would be a crafty lefty and more effective against the long ball in Yankee Stadium. I wouldn’t do anything with Judge, he’s doing just fine as he is. Same with Cole. They’re both HOFers. But this brings up a good point, why don’t more players become switch hitters or switch pitchers? A switch hitter like Mickey is far more dangerous. And with the new 3 batter minimum a switch pitcher will be the new Moneyball advantage because he can match up against any hitter for 3+ batters. And don’t say it can’t be done because Pat Venditte did it.

    Rich Asks: Just saw that Scott Kazmir is attempting another comeback. The Twitter video even looked promising. Any chance the Yankees will take a minor league flier on him? Might be good lefty insurance should Monty/Happ have issues.

    No chance in hell, Rich. Isn’t Happ bad enough? We don’t need to compound that problem with another washed up lefty who can’t throw more than 90 mph. If we’re gonna do that just talk Andy out of retirement. Monty deserves a chance to show what he can do and at least he isn’t collecting AARP magazines. Everyone looks promising in a Twitter video against no batters.

    James Asks: Here’s a slow end of January baseball question. Are there any stats or data showing that certain types of hitters, fielders, or pitchers do better or worse on artificial turf compared to grass?

    I don’t know about stats, James, but they need to get rid of all artificial turf because it’s dangerous to players health. We never play well in Tampa and it’s because that place is such an awful building to play in and nobody goes to the games even when they’re a good team. Can you imagine if Stanton had to play all of his games on turf? He wouldn’t last 10 minutes. I’m guessing pitchers that give up ground balls do worse on turf and hitters that hit the ball on the ground to better but I don’t know if there’s stats to back that up.

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