The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Trends in Cardinals left-handed and switch hitters


One component of left-handedness that came to mind as a result of my recent post on La Russa’s lineups is how the Cardinals rosters have been composed over time. Here I looked at season-opening 25-man rosters since Tony La Russa arrived in St. Louis prior to the 1996 campaign.

First, we’ll look at the composition of the pitching staff from the left side.

Opening roster 96-08 avg 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996
LH rotation 0.8 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 3 1 1 1
LH relief 2.1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2 2 3 1 2 2

With the departure of Mark Mulder and the Tommy John surgery of Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals lack a credible left-handed starter either at the major league level or the high levels of the system. As a result, it seems assured the club will not have a left-handed pitcher in the rotation in 2009, certainly not to start the season without a trade.

The season-opening relief corps almost always consists of two lefties. The last time the Cards came north with three was in 2005, when Bill Pulsipher lasted just a few weeks. Conversely, 1998 was the only season in which La Russa’s club began the season with a sole lefty in the pen.

Now, let’s switch gears to the hitters on opening day rosters, starting with the left-handers.

Opening roster 96-08 avg 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996
Lefty-hitting starters 2.5 3 2 1 2 3 3 4 3 3 1 3 3 2
Lefty-hitting reserves 1.3 0 1 2 1 2 2 1 3 1 1 0 1 2
Lefty-hitting total 3.8 3 3 3 3 5 5 5 6 4 2 3 4 4

Despite averaging about four left-handed hitters per season since 1996, the Cardinals have had only three starting each of the last four seasons. Given the perception of having glut of left-handed hitting outfielders, this surprised me a bit.

Of course, there are other left-handed hitters on the roster – those that switch hit.

Opening roster 96-08 avg 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996
Switch-hitting starters 0.4 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2
Switch-hitting reserves 1.0 1 1 1 2 2 0 0 0 1 1 3 1 0
SH total 1.4 2 1 2 2 2 0 0 0 1 1 3 2 2

In four of the last five years, the Cardinals have had a pair of switch-hitters available, either on the bench or in the starting lineup.

Putting the two together provides a compete view of the left-handed hitting options available on the Cardinals in recent seasons.

Opening roster 96-08 avg 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996
LH/SH starters 2.9 4 2 2 2 3 3 4 3 3 1 3 4 4
LH/SH reserves 2.3 1 2 3 3 4 2 1 3 2 2 3 2 2
LH/SH total 5.2 5 4 5 5 7 5 5 6 5 3 6 6 6

With a 13-year average of 5.2 left-handed or switch-hitting batters on the season-opening rosters, recent years have been fairly consistent. Note that 2008 had four left-handed capable hitting starters, the most since 2002.

Now that we have that bit of history established, let’s compare this to the likely make-up of the 2009 Cardinals. The forecasts below are from my camp-opening projections, run on Scout.com (details are subscriber only).

Opening roster 96-08 avg 2009 forecast Names Other possibilities
LH rotation 0.8 0
LH relief 2.1 2 Miller, Ring Manning, Ostlund

There’s not much mystique in the pitching category. As noted above, there are no left-handed starters in contention for a job. Among the relievers, Royce Ring may or may not be replaced by Charlie Manning, but unless Trever Miller is hurt, only one of the pair should be on the opening day roster.

Opening roster 96-08 avg 2009 forecast Names Other possibilities
Lefty-hitting starters 2.5 2 Ankiel, Schumaker Rasmus
Lefty-hitting reserves 1.3 2 Duncan, Thurston
Lefty-hitting total 3.8 4

In terms of left-handed hitters, the long-term average of four may be met through a pair of starters and two reserves. I understand Colby Rasmus could break his way onto the club, but I submit that the total would probably remain the same, as Joe Thurston would be the likely roster casualty (see Skip Schumaker at second base dominoes).

Note that if Jon Jay could force his way into the outfield mix, it would probably be at the expense of Rasmus/Thurston. As of now, Rasmus and Thurston are the only left-handed hitters in camp who seemed to be in the mix for a job other than the three outfield holdovers from last season. Third baseman Brett Wallace and catcher Bryan Anderson is the other left-handed hitters in camp, but the latter has no chance without an injury to Yadier Molina or Jason LaRue and the former’s odds are even less.

The situation is not nearly as good with switch-hitters, however.

Opening roster 96-08 avg 2009 forecast Names Other possibilities
Switch-hitting starters 0.4 0 none none
Switch-hitting reserves 1.0 0 none none
SH total 1.4 0

As you can see, there is really nothing to say. Recent switch-hitters Aaron Miles, Cesar Izturis and Scott Spiezio are gone, replaced by no one. Of the 35 position players in 2009 spring training camp, not a single one hits from both sides of the plate. So there are no long-shots around that could break through.

If the 2009 season begins this way, it will be the first Cardinals club since 2003 without a switch-hitter either in the opening lineup or on the bench.

For completeness, here is the left-handed plus switch-hitting forecast for 2009.

Opening roster 96-08 average 2009 forecast
LH/SH starters 2.9 2
LH/SH reserves 2.3 2
LH/SH total 5.2 4

Without a trade to bring in a switch-hitter, it appears that La Russa will have less lineup flexibility and in-game pinch-hitting match-up options in 2009 compared to past seasons. Four hitters capable of hitting left-handed would tie 2007 for the Cardinals’ lowest total since 1999.

I doubt La Russa will go as far as asking his opponent to loan him a switch-hitter to pinch hit, but the skipper probably won’t like being restricted in his numerous in-game maneuvers, either.

In the next report, I will look at left-handed pitching from the Cardinals opponents’ perspective.

Related article: “La Russa’s lineups – a historical view”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.