The Bottom Line: No Lefties? No Problem!

With the departures of David Wells and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees are left without a single left-handed starting pitcher. In left-handed batter-friendly Yankee Stadium, many are criticizing the Yankees for letting this happen, but what's all the fuss about? I say, "no lefties? no problem!"

First, let's get straight what everyone's making a fuss over.  Yankee stadium is far more friendly to lefty batters than righty batters.  This is due to the shorter fence in right field than in left.  Left-handed power hitters (like Jason Giambi) that tend to pull the ball can put up monstrous homerun totals in a park like Yankee Stadium, while the deep left-centerfield alley tends to keep a lot of balls from going over the wall (unless Alfonso Soriano gets into one).

With this in mind, phase two of the complaint is an assumption that left-handed pitchers perform better against left-handed batters than right-handed pitchers do.  And this assumption is, in fact, generally correct.  So using a bit of the old logic:

1. Yankee Stadium favors left-handed batters.
2. Left-handed pitchers are better at retiring left-handed batters.
3. The Yankees need left-handed pitchers to retire left-handed batters.

Number 3 seems like an obvious conclusion based on the first two facts, but is it really the only conclusion?  The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of pitchers out there that are more than capable of retiring left-handed batters.  And some of these pitchers are right-handers.  And some of these right-handers just happen to be in the Yankees starting rotation.

Consider the following numbers (yep, I still like numbers) that reflect the career opponent's batting average for lefty batters:

Mike Mussina    .237
Kevin Brown     .255
Javier Vazquez  .265
Jose Contreras  .210
Jon Lieber      .307

The only pitcher with a problem getting out lefties is Jon Lieber.  The other four have no trouble at all, holding their lefty opponents to the league average or much, much lower.

So fine, let's replace Jon Lieber.  Problem is, who are you going to replace him with?  There are approximately nine left-handed starting pitchers available on the free agent market (trades aren't really in the question, as the Yankees have little to trade):  Shawn Estes, Randy Keisler, Damian Moss, Darren Oliver, Jim Parque, Kenny Rogers, Glendon Rusch, Ron Villone and Chuck Finley.

The Yankees have been down the Keisler and Rogers roads before, and they probably don't want to go back.  Keisler has never shown a thing in the majors, and is a six-year free agent already with just 13 career starts.  Rogers is 39 and coming off a poor season, but he is fairly effective against lefties (.244 career batting average).  Oliver, Rusch and Parque aren't even options.  Villone isn't really a starter and is extremely inconsistent.  Moss was just non-tendered by the Orioles and lefties hit him to the tune of a .273 batting average over his career. That leaves Finley, and who knows if he even wants to pitch next season?

In-house options?  The Yankees traded their best lefty prospect in Brandon Claussen.  Wells and Pettitte are gone, and apparently were never real options in the first place.  Andy wanted to go home, and Wells wanted guarantees that the Yankees wouldn't give him (and rightfully so).  

So are any of those guys worth replacing Jon Lieber, who won 20 games just two years ago and can be just as stingy with the walks as Boomer used to be?  

Brian Cashman said it best when he told the New York Daily News, "There aren't that many quality lefthanders (on the market), I'd rather go after a high-ceiling right-hander than a low-quality left-hander."

And high-ceiling right-handers are exactly what the Yankees have.

You can contact Mark Rubin by e-mail. Click here.

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