Baseball gives lefties an unfair advantage, author contends

News-DemocratAugust 20, 2013 

Ted Frank, of Belleville, talks about his book, "Baseball - The Unfair Sport."

DAVID WILHELM

— Ted Frank has had a lifelong passion for baseball, but Frank doesn't turn a blind eye to what he perceives to be the sport's inequities.

Frank, 74, of Belleville, said the sport decidedly favors left-handed hitters, and after months of studying statistics on baseballreference.com, Frank's 157-page book, "Baseball --The Unfair Sport," highlights these injustices.

"I got so tired of seeing left-handed batters strutting up (to the plate), acting like they belong in the major leagues," Frank said. "Well, there's usually a right-handed pitcher on the mound because 73 percent of the pitchers are right-handed and 75 percent of the pitches are thrown by right-handed pitchers.

"So, left-handers have a big advantage. Ninety-five percent of them hit opposite-side pitchers much better than they hit same-side pitchers. There are many left-handers in the league who hit .200 against left-handed pitchers and .300 vs. right-handed pitchers. These are the types (of players) that are kept in the league. Why? Because they bat predominantly against right-handed pitchers."

A problem with perception

Frank breaks down the numbers in Chapter 5, "The Big Secret," and explains how perceptions of left-handed batters are skewed in the minds of fans and those in the media.

A left-handed batter with a .270 average, Frank said, is widely considered to be a better player than a right-handed hitter whose average is, say, between .245 and .265.

But is that an accurate assumption? Frank, who worked in quality control at McDonnell Douglas and Boeing for 42 years before retiring in 1998, cites Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder/first baseman Garrett Jones, and many others, as prime examples.

In the 2012 season, the left-handed-hitting Jones batted .274 with 27 homers and 86 RBIs. A solid season, most would agree.

However, Frank looks beyond the black and white of the final numbers. He points out that Jones batted .189 (14-for-74) with two homers and 10 RBIs against left-handers. It continued a trend that has seen Jones bat .193 with 16 homers vs. lefties in his career, compared to .275 with 82 homers vs. righties.

"I list 25 right-handed hitters whose same-side average is way better than Jones and their opposite-side average is better than Jones," Frank said. "(But) all the right-handed hitters I list have a lower overall batting average than Garrett Jones, and they all are thought of to be worse than him as a hitter.

"The announcers never talk about this. They never, ever bring this up --well, once a month, they might --how poorly (left-handers) hit against same-side pitching. The right-handed batters don't have that luxury because three-fourths of the pitchers are right-handed."

What's more, Frank said, is many people who call themselves die-hard baseball fans do not comprehend the concept.

"Talk to anybody who thinks they know baseball," Frank said. "They do not understand this. They do not know it. They can understand a little bit: 'Yes, (left-handed hitters) have got a little bit of an advantage.' But they don't think they have the advantage that they have."

On the weak side

Another player Frank points out is Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, a left-handed hitter who batted .284 with 20 home runs and 89 RBIs in 2012. Against left-handers, however, Ethier mustered just a .222 average (49-for-221) with four homers and 29 RBIs.

Ethier has batted .309 with 116 homers vs. righties in his career, but only .237 with 22 homers against lefties.

Frank also doesn't mince words about former Cardinals utilityman Skip Schumaker, a fan favorite in St. Louis whose ineffectiveness against left-handed pitchers, in Frank's opinion, was the reason the Cardinals traded him to the Dodgers last winter.

Schumaker has batted .206 in his career against left-handers, with a scant 13 extra-base hits in 442 at-bats. Against right-handers, Schumaker has batted .302 with 158 extra-base hits in 2,249 at-bats.

"He doesn't belong in the league," Frank said. "If he were right-handed, he wouldn't be in the league. There's no place in the league for a .200 (right-handed) hitter against same-side pitching."

St. Louisan Ryan Howard, the National League Most Valuable Player in 2006, is another featured player in Frank's book.

Howard's .224 career average against left-handers includes 77 home runs, but he's overwhelmingly more effective against right-handers (.295 with 234 homers).

"If I were on the mound, Ryan Howard wouldn't scare me if I were left-handed," said Frank, who is right-handed.

"I get tired of it," he said. "(Left-handed hitters) strut up there like Mighty Casey. Honestly. They think they're so great, yet you bring a left-handed pitcher in and they shrink right before your eyes. They shrink down to a wimp, a weak-hitting wimp. Ryan Howard included."

No fun to be right

Frank said right-handers who hit as poorly against right-handed pitchers as Jones, Ethier, Schumaker, Howard and others do against left-handers never would stick on a big-league roster since the great majority of their at-bats would be against same-side pitching.

Many right-handed hitters crush left-handed pitching, but their opportunities against lefties are far fewer than those their left-handed hitting counterparts enjoy against right-handed pitching.

Also, Frank insists that a left-handed hitter whose average is "balanced" --close to the same against righties and lefties --will not be afforded the same amount of playing time as one who routinely pounds right-handed pitching.

"The worse they are against the same-side left-handers, the more apt management is to keep them," Frank said. "Why? Because they can hit against right-handers (so well) and right-handers make up 73 percent of the pitching. So they keep these types as opposed to left-handed batters who will hit .270 against both (righties and lefties)."

Addressing the issue

Can the advantage gained by left-handers be negated? Sure. Fences can be moved deeper in right and right-center, for one. But Frank, a widower with four grown children (three sons, one daughter), suggests something even more radical.

"The solution is to eliminate the lead from first base until the pitcher moves his forward foot, which would eliminate stealing and eliminate the throw to first base all the time," Frank said. "But the big thing is the first baseman could move off the base and play in a normal defensive position. ... If he were to play a normal defensive position, he would stop balls that he wouldn't usually get."

That, Frank said, would take away a handful of hits each season for left-handed batters, dragging down their average and evening the playing field in the "unfair" sport.

Mike likes it

Frank has had his book endorsed by one noteworthy celebrity: longtime Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon, also 74.

"He took the book and walked away and said, 'Yeah, I want to see what's unfair about baseball,'" Frank said. "In other words, what can this (guy) teach me about baseball? That was his attitude.

"He called me six days later and left a message on my answering machine. He said, 'Ted, this is Mike Shannon. I read your book. I really, really, really liked it. Very enjoyable. Very interesting. I want to know where I can buy the book. I want to buy eight more of those books.' So I took him down eight more books. He was down at the racetrack (Fairmount Park) and he bought them for $10 apiece."

To purchase Frank's book, go to amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. It is priced at $9.95 (new) and $6.95 (used). Frank also can be reached at (618) 397-4421.

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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