Who's left? Odd trend for AL hitters examined

March 1st, 2018

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- This will blow your mind. There are 20 position players in the American League who received MVP Award votes last year. There were 21, but went to play for the San Diego Padres, so that leaves 20.

Guess how many of those 20 are left-handed hitters.

Before you guess, consider that the four best hitters in AL history are probably Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig, all left-handed hitters. Many would put Tris Speaker fifth. He, too, batted left-handed. The legacy of great left-handed hitters -- from Ruth to Williams to Yaz to Reggie to Brett to Boggs to Junior to Thome to Ortiz to Cano -- has been a hallmark of American League baseball.

Did you guess how many of the 20 American Leaguers who got MVP Award votes hit left-handed?

Answer: 1. Didi Gregorius. He got four MVP points, the equivalent of a seventh-place vote.

The brilliant Joe Sheehan came up with that amazing fact, but it's more than just trivia. The AL is a right-handed-hitting league like it hasn't been in a very long time; I had to go all the way back to 1974 to find a time when the AL leaned so far to the right. Usually, managers will stack their lineups so lefty hitters face righty pitchers at least half the time, usually a touch more. From 2000-15, right-handed pitchers faced lefty batters about 51 percent of the time.

Last year? Right-handed pitchers faced lefty batters less than 44 percent of the time, the lowest percentage since the aforementioned 1974 season. And, remember, a lot of those are switch-hitters.

Here's another one: No left-handed batter has won an AL MVP this decade. The last lefty to win an AL MVP Award was Josh Hamilton in 2010. No left-handed hitter has finished in the Top 5 since '14, when finished third.

This seems to be a very specific AL thing. The National League has all of the top left-handed hitters in the game right now -- , Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, , , , etc. -- and is sending lefties to the plate at roughly the same rate as usual. Something odd is happening exclusively in the AL right now.

Perhaps the better question is: Will this affect play in 2018? And for that, I think the answer is yes.

"Matchups are everything in baseball," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "They are the most important thing. So, yes, obviously we keep up with all these trends. We construct our rosters, our bullpens, our lineups to try to match up with the teams in our division and the teams in our league."

Consider left-handed specialists, the famed LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy). What is the logic of keeping one in the AL in 2018? Ask yourself this: Who is the best left-handed hitter in the AL right now? Maybe you think it's future Hall of Famer , but we must concede he's 35 now and took a fairly big step back last year.

Is it Gregorius? Probably not, simply because he doesn't walk much; anyway he is likely to bat sixth in that Yankees lineup. Texas' Joey Gallo is a fascinating player because of his immense power, but he strikes out so much that you don't know just how his season will turn out. hit 38 home runs for the Rays last year; he's with Minnesota now. Boston's is much a personal choice; he flashed plenty of talent last year as a 22-year-old and I expect him to be better. Seattle's is terrific and underrated.

But you get the point -- there are not many league lefties who scare you enough to drive roster choices. If you are in the NL East, yes, you better have a plan to deal with Harper and Murphy. If you expect to contend anywhere in the NL, you need an answer for Corey Seager and Rizzo and others.

The AL Central is particularly devoid of good left-handed hitting. Brantley is probably the best lefty hitter, but he has not been healthy in two years. Minnesota's Mauer, Cleveland's , Kansas City's

"We have always had the philosophy of having left-handed pitchers who get right-handed hitters out," Moore said. "We don't want to put our manager in a position where he has to use two pitchers to get through one inning. So it doesn't change our philosophy, but we are certainly aware."

Another example: The Red Sox have two dominant left-handed starting pitchers in Chris Sale and . If they can both stay healthy, they have a chance to be the best lefty combo since … who? Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee for the Phillies in 2011? Mark Mulder and Barry Zito for the '03 A's? Steve Avery and Tom Glavine for the 1991 Braves? Point is, they could be really good.

Sale and Price feast on left-handed hitters. They do plenty well against righties, too, but they destroy left-handed hitters -- lefties slug 50 points lower against Price and 100 points lower against Sale. The question now is: How much is this worth? The league has become so right-handed, and the Yankees in particular will send up that right-handed trio of , and -- Judge, Jury and Executioner -- that you wonder how much that will impact the Red Sox.

This doesn't seem like a permanent trend -- there is no reason to believe that young hitters are coming up hitting righty now. One baseball executive did wonder if maybe because some of the greatest players in recent years have hit right-handed -- , , , -- that kids are hitting more from that side of the plate. But that seems unlikely. The AL is just in a lefty slump. It's something worth watching in 2018.