Halos ready for lefty-heavy AL West
Offense appears well-prepared to combat tendency
The American League West is brimming with potential left-handed starters. As many as nine -- three each in Seattle and Oakland -- could surface in the 20 rotation spots available in the division.
The Angels plan to have Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir bringing left-handed heat among their big five, with premium prospect Trevor Reckling looming on the horizon.The Mariners conceivably could deal nothing but lefties behind Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee heading a group that includes Ryan Rowland-Smith, Luke French, Jason Vargas and Garrett Olson. The Athletics can choose from Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez and Josh Outman, and, while the Rangers are primarily right-handed in the rotation, they have two viable options -- Derek Holland and Matt Harrison -- from the left side. The Angels' response to a steady diet of lefties would go something like this: "Bring 'em on. Please." All these southpaws could play right into the wheelhouses of the three-time reigning AL West champs. They battered southpaws in 2009, going 36-17 (.679 winning percentage), and there's no reason to believe that brand of noise won't continue. The exits of leadoff man extraordinaire Chone Figgins and venerable cleanup man Vladimir Guerrero have fans concerned, but manager Mike Scioscia appears to have quality hitters and athletes stepping into their roles. Hideki Matsui, the new designated hitter, punished lefties last season in Yankees pinstripes as did no other left-handed hitter in the American League. His .976 OPS (on-base plus slugging) was higher even than league MVP Joe Mauer, who checked in at .910 for the Twins. Among all AL hitters with at least 125 at-bats, Matsui was ninth in OPS against lefties. Two of those ahead of him are new teammates -- Juan Rivera (second, 1.030) and Torii Hunter (.978, eighth). Matsui also was eighth in runs created against lefties, according to the widely respected publication, "The Bill James Handbook," with 8.4. Hunter was second with 11.0, behind only Derek Jeter (11.4). Rivera was right behind Matsui at 8.0, giving the Angels three of the league's nine most productive hitters against southpaws. Matsui had 13 homers and 46 RBIs in just 131 at-bats against southpaws, compared to 15 homers, 44 RBIs in 325 at-bats against right-handers. Switch-hitter Erick Aybar, expected to assume most of the leadoff assignments, batted .325 with a .356 on-base percentage against lefties, while hitting .305 with a .351 OBP against righties. Brandon Wood, hoping to provide right-hander thunder at third base in his first opportunity to claim an everyday job, had only 23 at-bats against lefties in '09. He hit .217 with a .348 slugging mark -- compared to .167 and .222 against righties. Wood's plate appearances have been so sporadic and infrequent that it's virtually impossible to get a true read of his talents. Switch-hitter Maicer Izturis, the all-purpose athlete who figures to spell three infielders, killed lefties in '09, batting .380 and slugging .500 in 50 at-bats. He batted .288 and slugged .424 against righties. His OBP was .475 against lefties, .341 against righties. Figgins batted only .246 with a .328 OBP against lefties, while Guerrero came in at .250 with .410 slugging and .276 on-base marks. Both hitters were far more productive against right-handers. The Angels can line up a virtual Murderers' Row against southpaws behind Aybar, Izturis and Bobby Abreu. Check out some of these 2009 stat lines (average, on-base, slugging) against lefties: Hunter: .336, .400, .578
Rivera: .333, .385, .645
Matsui: .282, .358, .618
Mike Napoli: .330, .417, .606
Kendry Morales: .296, .319, .481
Howard Kendrick: .313, .331, .500 Morales, it should be pointed out, struggled early in the season against lefties but finished with a flourish. The switch-hitting first baseman hammered them down the stretch as mercilessly as any hitter in the league while batting .330 overall after the All-Star break. Abreu (.267, .348, .386) did not hit lefties as hard as righties, but his multiple skills and discipline make him a fit in the No. 2 hole while he remains a power threat hitting third against righties. He pounded them to the tune of .305, .408, .457. "Our lineup is definitely one that has some versatility," Scioscia said. "There are a lot of ways we can go with it, and I think we can get very deep with it. "Our offense really carried us for a long time last year. We hope it doesn't have to do that with better pitching from a healthier staff this year." Finishing second to the Yankees in offensive productivity, the Angels produced a club-record 883 runs in 2009. If the opposition cooperates with enough lefties, it could be in jeopardy.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.