The Tigers do not have the sort of lineup that should struggle against left-handed pitching. Against a right-handed starter, the Tigers feature a lineup with 4 left-handed bats and 5 right-handed bats. Two of those lefties effectively in platoons, so against a left-handed starter they tend to have only 2 left-handed bats (Fielder & Dirks) and 7 right-handed bats.
Nonetheless, the Tigers lineup has struggled against left-handed pitching this year – with only a .724 OPS vs. L and a .771 OPS vs. R. A part of that is the fact that Tiger left-handers who have seen a lot of left-handed pitching really have struggled (in relative terms) to hit lefties this year. Prince Fielder, for example, has some pretty serious L-R splits – though you’d still never want to take his .808 OPS vs. lefties out of the lineup. Part of that is the fact that certain lefty-killers who are not going to be seeing any play in this ALCS failed spectacularly at lefty killing in 2012. Think Ryan Raburn, but also Jeff Baker and Brad Eldred and Danny Worth (but mostly Ryan Raburn). But, as I mentioned in my “keys to the ALCS” mostly it comes down to the Tigers regular right-handed bats just not teeing off on left-handed pitching like they are supposed to. Miguel Cabrera and Gerald Laird have hit righties better. Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta have had no discernable splits. Only Delmon Young has really done his job (if you – like I do – consider his “job” be to hit lefties well and righties not at all).
The Tigers are going to face two tough lefties in C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte in games 4 and 5 of the ALCS – and really we want them to beat at least one of those guys to avoid sending the series back to New York. But, fear not, there are at least reasons for hope. The Tigers may be a significantly better lefty-hitting team now than they were a couple of months ago. While guys like Raburn, Santiago and Boesch were failing to hit lefties spectacularly – new additions Avisail Garcia (.745 OPS vs. L) and Omar Infante (.900 OPS vs. L) have done pretty well. A big chunk of Peralta and Laird’s seeming weakness against lefties can be chalked up to small samples and random chance. Peralta was slightly better against lefties despite a .237 BABIP against them. Laird, likewise, was awful against them largely due to a .212 BABIP. While BABIP is not entirely luck, we’re also not talking about a huge number of plate appearances. And, of course, certain among those Tiger righties (Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta in particular) did knock Pettitte around in game 1.
If you ignore how they have actually fared against lefties in 2012 – beating this Tigers lineup in Comerica Park looks like an extremely tough task for Sabathia and Pettitte in games 4 and 5. Both like to pitch – at least if you go by the splits – against bad teams and left-handed hitters and they like to do it at home. Tough. They’ve got a good team, full of right-handed hitters, on the road. Who doesn’t prefer to pitch to bad teams, you say? Well… Justin Verlander for one. Max Scherzer for another. Most pitchers do better at home, but this year Sabathia has a 4.02 ERA and .754 OPS allowed on the road (compared to 2.69 and .565 at home). On paper, the Tigers have the same sort of righty-loaded lineup that they have for years – that should clobber lefties, especially at home. Sabathia’s lifetime ERA against the Tigers is 4.46, precisely because they have usually had a lot of lefty-killers. I believe they still do – and it’s time they showed it. And, of course, sent the Yankees home thoroughly swept and disgraced to spend the winter complaining about bad calls.