Lefty vs. lefty: Advantage ... Alvarez?

November 1st, 2022

now has to face Ranger Suárez, the Phillies' one lefty starter, in Game 3 of the World Series instead of Game 4 … and that means potentially in a Game 7, too. You'd think that would be an edge for Philadelphia -- more opportunity to neutralize the Astros' most dangerous hitter with the platoon advantage.

But is it?

Suárez got Alvarez in relief in Game 1, striking him out on a nasty sinker on the low-inside corner. But in his career, Alvarez has been historically good in lefty-lefty matchups.

Split data is complete back to 1974. In that time, the only left-handed hitter better against left-handed pitchers than Alvarez is Barry Bonds. Go back further, using the stats we have, and the only other hitters better than Alvarez are Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Alvarez comes in ahead of Ted Williams, Tris Speaker, Stan Musial and Larry Walker.

Highest OPS by LHB vs. LHP all-time
Min. 500 PA vs. LHP

  1. Babe Ruth: 1.125
  2. Barry Bonds: .986
  3. Lou Gehrig: .981
  4. Yordan Alvarez: .963
  5. Ted Williams: .927

Note: Splits data complete to 1974

This season, Alvarez had a .321 batting average, .586 slugging percentage, .998 OPS and 10 home runs against lefties -- and that was before the walk-off home run he crushed against Robbie Ray in the ALDS.

How does he do it? Here's what makes Alvarez so good against left-handers.

He crushes lefties' secondary pitches

Check out Alvarez's numbers in 2022 against left-handers' secondary stuff -- the curveballs, sliders, changeups and splitters that are supposed to strike you out.

MLB LHB vs. LHP breaking balls: .202 BA / .314 SLG
Alvarez vs. LHP breaking balls: .358 BA / .623 SLG

MLB LHB vs. LHP offspeed pitches: .193 BA / .380 SLG
Alvarez vs. LHP offspeed pitches: .364 BA / .727 SLG

MLB LHB vs. LHP breaking + offspeed: .201 BA / .321 SLG
Alvarez vs. LHP breaking + offspeed: .359 BA / .641 SLG

Compared to the average Major League left-handed hitter facing lefty-lefty breaking and offspeed pitches, Alvarez is over 1 1/2 times better in batting average and nearly twice as good in terms of slugging. His .359 batting average and .641 slugging percentage against lefty secondary pitches were both second-best among left-handed hitters behind Nathaniel Lowe.

And Alvarez makes more dangerous contact against those lefty-lefty secondary pitches than anyone. Against lefty breaking balls and offspeed pitches, over 17% of Alvarez's plate appearances have ended with him barreling the baseball -- that means hitting the ball with the perfect exit velocity and launch angle for an extra-base hit or home run.

Highest barrel rate by LHB vs. LHP breaking/offspeed, 2022
Min. 50 PA vs. LHP ending on breaking/offspeed pitches

  1. Yordan Alvarez: 17.1% of PA
  2. Kyle Tucker: 10.1% of PA
  3. Nathaniel Lowe: 9.9% of PA
  4. (tie) Max Muncy / Andrés Giménez: 8.1% of PA

Alvarez barreled the ball over 4 1/2 times as often as MLB lefties overall when he saw breaking balls and offspeed pitches in lefty-lefty matchups.

In other words, if you're a lefty, and you throw Alvarez your nastiest curveball or slider, or try to sneak in a left-on-left changeup, in the hope of getting him to whiff, there's a high chance that Alvarez is just going to slug that pitch for extra bases. You need to execute perfectly down-and-away to have a chance. Because if you're a left-hander and you let him connect with a breaking or offspeed pitch, it's a barrel 29% of the time. That's a higher barrel rate on contact than any hitter had against left-handers' secondary pitches this season, even right-handed hitters -- Alvarez ranked No. 1 ahead of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.

So you might try to attack him with your heater. Except …

He doesn't miss against lefties' fastballs.

The problem for left-handed pitchers like Suárez is, if you go after Alvarez with breaking stuff, you're risking a lot of damage. But if you go after him with fastballs, he's going to make contact -- and it's likely going to be hard contact.

When a lefty throws him a fastball, Alvarez only swings and misses 16.8% of the time. And if that lefty leaves that fastball in the strike zone -- like Ray on Alvarez's home run -- he makes contact 88.8% of the time. That's nine out of 10 swings.

And when Alvarez makes contact with a fastball from a left-hander, he rips the ball. Look no further than the 116.7 mph home run off Ray.

Alvarez's average exit velocity against lefty fastballs this season was 97.1 mph. Over two thirds of his batted balls were hard-hit, meaning 95 mph or harder off the bat. Alvarez hit those fastballs harder than any lefty in the league this season -- topping the leaderboards over the Phillies' star lefty bats.

Highest avg. exit velo by LHB vs. LHP fastballs, 2022
Min. 25 batted balls vs. LHP fastballs

  1. Yordan Alvarez: 97.1 mph
  2. Bryce Harper: 94.7 mph
  3. Kyle Schwarber: 94.3 mph
  4. Juan Soto: 93.8 mph
  5. Shohei Ohtani: 93.1 mph

Highest hard-hit rate by LHB vs. LHP fastballs, 2022
Min. 25 batted balls vs. LHP fastballs

  1. Yordan Alvarez: 67.5%
  2. Bryce Harper: 60.0%
  3. Kyle Schwarber: 59.3%
  4. Juan Soto: 55.8%
  5. Joey Votto: 55.6%

Alvarez's combination of slugging against secondary pitches and hard contact against fastballs means that if you're a lefty facing him, you're caught between a rock and a hard place.

It's hard to stop him from getting a hit against a fastball unless you can get him to chase, and it's risky to throw him a breaking ball knowing that if your location isn't pinpoint, he's going to drive in runs. It will make his battles with Suárez a must-watch World Series matchup.