My family was overjoyed when my first nephew, upon discovering that he had hands and could do all sorts of things with them, showed early signs of leftism. One-piece school desks would pose a challenge for him for at least sixteen years, but nobody cared. This kid might pitch.

He stayed off the mound, but it was a good six years of planning which members of the extended family were worthy of free Reds tickets. And as a person who must wear a wristband to yoga because she teaches college and yet cannot tell her right from her left, I haven’t thought much about the topic since.

In Terms of Elly

Then I considered this in terms of Elly De LaΒ  Cruz, who can bat from both sides of the plate, but hits better from the left.

Here are his stats against right-handed pitchers.

This is how he fares against left-handed pitchers.

Hm.

However, when Elly throws– at 93 miles an hour (you know, as we all do)– he uses his right hand.

I like to think that our Elly is so fast that he could use an extra millisecond or two to indulge in the luxury of decision time. He probably could throw left more often if he wants to, but shortstops tend to be righties for reasons of diamond real estate. Maybe he’ll look into that if he’s ever bored and wants to mix up the highlight reel a little.

On the Basepaths

Speaking of milliseconds, a non-Elly player, this article pointed out, must keep in mind the handedness of the pitcher even after he leaves the box.Β  Until five minutes ago, I had no idea players use different strategies for stealing off a left handed pitcher vs a right handed pitcher. I suppose the children who were competent at catching, throwing, and hitting were learning this while I was flipping through an Archie comic book and eating croutons out of the box.

I highly doubt that Elly uses any of them. Maybe that explains his disorganized grenade takeoff– he not only doesn’t care if the pitcher sees him, it doesn’t matter at all where this guy puts his heel or how far apart his feet are before the throw.

But there’s only one Elly. Righty pitchers wipe the stats floor with lefties every single time. So why are left-handed pitchers so valuable across the MLB? And why can’t Elly figure them out as well as RHPs?

The Difference

This article features an alarming amount of math, which frightened me, but I was still able to discern that while lefties and righties post many of the same numbers, righties throw faster, generate a faster spin rate except on changeups, and in general out-velocity your average southpaw. Which makes for interesting beer conversation, but what’s the real advantage here?

It’s throwing at a human being rather than a radar gun. This study found that lefties outdo righties when it comes to short reaction times. Useful for a pitcher. And not only does a pitch from a lefty seem to dance more, it’s just disconcerting and disorienting for a righty to face one. Elly throws and operates daily life from a right-handed perspective rather than a left-handed one. And so he battles.

Fangraphs theorizes that the difference for batters is decided early on. The article pointed out that in their early developmental stages, most players don’t face left-handed pitchers, and by the time they do, their mental software is programmed for right-handed pitchers. The authors produced as an example Mickey Mantle, who hit better against lefties– and who grew up practicing with his grandfather. Guess which hand Grandpa threw with.

But then sometimes you get an Elly, who is both human and radar gun-defiant.

15 Responses

  1. Hanginwithem

    Reminds me of a story:
    My eldest son was on deck. The situation was classic. 2nd and 3rd, 2 outs in their last at bat. The lefty elected to walk the righty at the plate in order to pitch to my son, a lefty. I smiled inwardly, because I am a lefty that threw him countless hours of BP and because I knew my son was thinking the pitcher created a situation that was not to his advantage at all. First pitch, liner to the gap in right center, 2 runs cross, ball game! My inward smile turned into a huge grin as the team raced onto the field to celebrate. And I remember thinking all that BP I threw him paid off in a moment I’ll never forget!

  2. LDS

    Lots of links for us baseball fans today. I’ll have to go through them later. But I think that the Reds should work with EDLC to give up switch hitting in the off season. He’s lucky the rules were changed or he’d be seeing a lot more left handers in spots.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I wonder how much of this is “learning everything at once” for him. I was so excited to see that he made real strides in the off season– much more patient at the plate. Maybe he needs the opposite: Concentrating on getting those averages closer together.

  3. Will the Red

    Wonderful article, Mary Beth. I do occasionally consider how much of this experience for Elly is “drinking from the fire hose,” since he had less than 150 games (I think) in the minors before he came up. So much of his raw talent and speed would be that much better with the skill/tips that are in the articles you link to/mention, and that we HAVE TO assume the coaching staff is working with him on, but then he does his “bye-bye” with his hands when he’s stealing and we’d lose that and, well, sure he might be slightly more successful, but “Elly being Elly,” is a wonderful gift, right?
    I just don’t want him to go the way of Pokey Reese and Billy Hamilton and others that had great talent but felt like the franchise ultimately wasted. He’s too special for that!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Yes, and all the coaching up he’s been getting makes me even more impressed that he learned English so quickly and so well. It’s a tough language to learn, especially from one of the Romance languages. But he really is speaking it and not just “sliding by”– his pronunciation and syntax are quite good. He’s such a gem!

  4. Mark Moore

    Today’s phrase “disorganized grenade takeoff” definitely made me smile. With his height, it’s only amplified to those of us who watch. Seems he gets on more than one Billy Hamilton, so that’s a positive. I do wonder if giving up the switch-hitting is warranted. He has made adjustments this year, then regressed some. He’s also playing darn near every game. That’s a different set of challenges to face.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      To be fair, I stole “disorganized grenade takeoff” from myself.

      He is our iron man. It’s a kindness to the fans. Imagine shelling out the cash for Reds tickets to see Elly and… Elly ain’t there.

  5. Jim Walker

    I believe I was a natural lefthander who was force fed being a right handed baseball thrower because my father wanted me to be a catcher like he had been. Needless to say, even in the public school system of the day, the pencil found its way into my right hand. However, thanks to a cousin in law digitalizing my uncle’s pics from yesteryear and making them available, I now actually have a picture of me as a toddler throwing a (football) left handed!

    I muddled through, throwing (a baseball) righty but batting lefty. In other sports, I did what seemed natural which was left dominate in football and basketball but right dominate in bowling, except when I’d throw a baseball or bowl a game left handed just to do it.

    In the vernacular of the day, it’s your own thing. Do what you want to do. Let EDLC decide for himself. πŸ˜‰

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Oh it’s always so sad to hear about a squashed lefty! Make that football photo your baseball card picture. Cannot wait to see how Elly develops– and what he chooses– as his career continues to unfold.

  6. earmbrister

    Always a pleasure reading your work MBE. I was a Dan Driessen wannabe as a kid batting/throwing L/R. That included swinging anything lefty (bat, hockey stick, golf club) – “put down the stick Ricky”.

    A good buddy of mine thinks I should try golfing righty – it couldn’t be much worse!

    EDLC has impressed me this year. Of all the rookies, I thought that he’d be the one with the sophmore slump. Instead, EDLC has performed well and is seemingly only scratching the surface. The man has mad skills – I wouldn’t presume to know how he should approach his handedness going forward.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks for the kind words! I was so pleasantly surprised when Elly came out of the gate like he did in April. It seemed like a possibility he’d be another Billy Hamilton. Of course he’s still uneven, but he’s truly proving himself.

  7. SOQ

    I always enjoy your articles Mary Beth. You are an excellent writer with a unique style.
    I Love it

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks so much. That always means a lot. Especially for this one– I had to touch math AND remember left from right for at least 500 words, and it took a lot out of me πŸ™‚