There is currently a lot of hand-wringing over the Rangers' anticipated problems against left-handed pitchers. Admittedly, I have delved into the topic by proposing Ryan Garko as a free agent target. TR Sullivan did an excellent job of describing the Rangers performance against left-handed starters in 2009 and pointing out that as many as half of the starting pitchers in the AL West could be southpaws with Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders, Cliff Lee, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jason Vargas, Brett Anderson, Josh Outman, and Gio Gonzalez in the mix for rotation slots. After looking a bit deeper into the topic, I feel safe in saying that this is much ado about nothing.
The Rangers won 52 percent of the games that they played against left-handed starters in 2009 while being nominally more effective against right-handed starters (55% winning percentage). The team hit .257/.318/.440 vs lefties and .261/.320/.447 vs righties. And although the right-handed hitting Marlon Byrd has been replaced by the left-handed hitting Julio Borbon, there are still six right-handers in the everyday line-up.
In their careers, the players who figure to comprise the Rangers’ everyday line-up have done the following against left-handed pitchers:
Julio Borbon - .268/.333/.342 as a minor leaguer
Michael Young - .306/.358/.470
Josh Hamilton - .287/.339/.450
Vladimir Guerrero – .324/.407/.593
Ian Kinsler – .300/.363/.548
Nelson Cruz – .235/.320/.432 in 2009
Chris Davis - .226/.271/.428
Jarrod Saltalamacchia - .209/.260/.328
Elvis Andrus – .279/.373/.388 in 2009
Young, Hamilton, Guerrero, Kinsler, and Andrus all figure to fall between solid and spectacular against left-handers. Saltalamacchia appears to be the biggest problem in the everyday line-up, but that can be easily fixed by replacing him with Taylor Teagarden who has hit .254/.333/.508 as a major leaguer and .290/.453/.521 as a minor leaguer vs left-handed pitching. Nelson Cruz displayed a reverse split for the first time in his career in 2009 (.898 OPS vs RHP and .752 OPS vs LHP). A .245 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) appears to be the primary reason for Cruz' performance against lefties and he can be expected to rebound after posting a 344/.431/.584 vs lefties during his minor league career. A turnaround from Chris Davis also appears possible since he's been as good against lefties (.306/.362/.552) in the minor leagues as he has been against right-handers (.306/.367/.595).
I admit to being concerned about Julio Borbon, who has displayed a significant split as a minor leaguer (675 OPS vs lefties and 805 OPS vs righties). Rocco Baldelli would be a very nice hedge for Borbon, given that he has hit .295/.346/.485 against major league lefties. The team also has an internal option to play centerfield vs left-handers with Brandon Boggs, who has a 944 OPS in 416 plate appearances against minor league southpaws (.289/.389/.555). Failing in those two regards, the Rangers would still be able to limit Borbon's potential influence vs left-handed starters by having him hit ninth in favor of Andrus or Kinsler.
Using the following four assumptions:
(1) The Rangers do not add a veteran to platoon with either Davis or Borbon
(2) Teagarden replaces Saltalamacchia when the team faces a left-handed starter
(3) The veterans hit at their career rates
(4) Davis (700 OPS) and Borbon (600 OPS) are awful against left-handers
The Rangers would have an everyday line-up that would be expected to OPS ~800 and score 5.1 runs per game vs lefties. If Cruz and Davis eliminate the splits that they displayed for the first time in 2009, then the Rangers could feast on the lefty-leaning AL West.