THT Mailbag: We’re Back

It’s been a busy couple weeks here at the Hardball Times. The deadest time of the baseball year also happens to be our busiest time, as we try to get new features up and running for the beginning of the season. As you have probably noticed, these include our new THT Links features (as if we don’t spend enough time reading about baseball on the Internet) and also some new advertising on the site, which hopefully is not too off-putting to anyone. All in all, it’s an exciting time of year for us, as before the beginning of the season we will once again be previewing all 30 major league teams, with a few more new features up our sleeve.

So as we roll out these new features, let us know what you think. The site wouldn’t be what it is without you, the reader, and any feedback you have for us, positive or negative, major or minor, would be great. So if you do have an opinion on what we’re doing or an idea to make it better, we’d really appreciate it if you could take the time to drop us an
.

Now onto the questions.

Left Is Right

My brother and I were having a discussion the other day, and hit on something that seems intuitive but for which I've never seen definitive proof: That right-handed persons, batting what we call "left-handed", would see a spike in both power and strikeouts, because their strong hand is providing pull rather than bat control when they swing. (This would also be true of lefties batting righty, but there are relatively few of those.)

It seems like the sort of thing that would be difficult to test empirically—one might be able to use switch-hitters' platoon splits, I suppose—and I haven't the faintest clue as to how to go about it, or whether even the work has already been done.

Anyway, this is related to my theory that the way in which people bat—what we think of as "right-handed" and "left-handed" swinging (essentially a misnomer because in both instances both hands are used)—is bass ackwards, and a relic of the dead-ball era, when bat control far outweighed power as a consideration when swinging. Clearly, there's a certain segment of the population that still does and should value bat control enough to have their strong hand on top, but it seems like a more productive way of hitting, given the modern run environment, to sacrifice some singles and so-called "productive outs" in exchange for some strike outs and some long hits (doubles and homers).

Is that crazy? Should my brother and I just crawl back into our cave and huddle over our Mariners broadcasts for what scant warmth they provide?

- Joseph J.

David Gassko: That's a fascinating idea, but unfortunately, the results don't bear out. Throughout baseball history, the average left-handed hitter has hit 11.25 home runs and struck 62.61 times per 630 plate appearances (about a full season's worth). If we look only at hitters who batted left-handed, but threw right-handed (there's actually a large amount of such hitters ... more 250,000 plate appearances worth in total), we find they averaged 10.80 home runs and 58.44 strikeouts per 630 plate appearances. So in fact, it seems that right-handed hitters that are taught to hit lefty actually hit with less power, and also less strikeouts.

It's an interesting theory, but the numbers tell us the opposite of what you expected.

John Walsh: It's an interesting theory and one that can be checked roughly by looking at the data. David suggested comparing left-handed batters who throw lefty with those who throw righty and see if there is any difference. Your theory would predict higher strikeout and home run rates for the right throwers. I looked at these rates for all MLB outfielders and first baseman since 1946. I eliminated the other infield positions, since they are not played by left-handed throwers—including them would have skewed the data. The following shows strikeouts and home runs per 630 plate appearances for my sample (these are all left-handed batters):

Throws   SO    HR
Left     83.6  16.0
Right   84.2  17.3

So, on the surface the numbers tend to support your theory, but I'm not convinced that these small differences are significant. You may be right, though!

PI Fantasy

Just curious, do you see any use of PI for fantasy, and if so, how would you use it?

- John W., Texas

John Beamer: Like many general baseball tools, PI can be used for fantasy, though probably isn't as perfect tool, as it focuses on the past and not the future.

What most fantasy owners want to know if how will player A project this coming season, and therefore should I draft him? If you want to know the answer to that the best thing to do is look at some projections such as Marcels, which are available on this site, or, if you are a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, PECOTA. These will give you a view on what is possible future outcomes of the players you are interested in.

That isn't to say that PI isn't or can't be useful. It can. All projections are based on historic data, which PI will give you, and PI will also allow you to examine a players splits, something which isn't available for most projections.

Personally, I'd use PI to complement a projection and make my draft choices based on that.

Historical Hijinks

Is baseball player James Harvest (James Harvest Sportswear) real person?

I have searched information is who is and his career.

On the James Harvest collection site there is a text:

JAMES HARVEST SPORTSWEAR
James Harvest knew what he was doing. His great sense of precision made him one of America's greatest baseball-players. He was the legend that
throughout his 11 year long baseball career never disappointed his fans. It is now almost 50 years since James Harvest gave up his baseball career.

- Ari K., Finland

Bryan Tsao: Congratulations, Ari. Not only have you submitted the "farthest" email so far, you've also submitted the funniest. The 1960s being before my time, I actually looked Harvest up over at Baseball Reference and Retrosheet, which are two fantastic baseball resources which list almost all the players in baseball history.

Not getting any results, I went to his website (which includes an amazing Flash intro here) and checked on his history page, which goes into detail about his time at Boston College and in the U.S. Navy, which seemed plausible enough until this nugget:

During the next 7 years, James was the top scorer 5 times and was voted "Most Valuable Player" three times. He also won the Truman Memorial Trophy twice for the most home runs hit in a single game. James Harvest retired from baseball in 1953. A crowd of 120,000 fans gave James a five-minute standing ovation at his farewell game in New York. James never returned to the mound.

Anyway, the entire experience was pretty bizarre. If anyone has any more information about this, I'd love to hear about it.

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