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Addressing the Left-Handed Problem

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One thing has become official this week: the Twins have resigned Jim Thome. At $3 million he got far less than Lance Berkman, and he played far better last year, so one has to assume that no matter how bad you are in the field the ability to do something other than DH is necessary to have power in free agent negotiations. The Twins added (or kept, however you look at it) an elite bat and a likely hall-of-famer, but missed an easy opportunity to balance their lineup. Thome, of course, hits left-handed – like most of the rest of the Twins. While we Tigers fans grumble about the excessive right-handedness of our lineup, Twins fans do the opposite. As John pointed out earlier this week, not only the Twins but the White Sox, Royals and Indians as well had a lefty slant last year and hit (and won) better against right-handed starters than lefties. We are the exception, (as usual) the Tigers did significantly better against lefties – in fact no team in the AL had a bigger right-left OPS split (in that direction) than we did last year. That’s a big reason why we can’t seem to beat Carl (!@#$) Pavano, and a reason that I hope Bondo winds up in camp with an NL team in 2011 – but that’s better left for another post.

This isn’t about our inability to hit righties, it’s about our rivals’ inability to hit lefties. This need for pitchers who can get left-handed hitters out is an oft-mentioned and well-understood need, but we have seemingly done nothing at all to address it. This makes me wonder why, and what exactly Dombrowski’s strategy here might be. You could consider me a Dombrowski believer: whatever mistakes he may have made, he’s no Omar Minaya and I do believe that he has a plan and a reason for every move he makes. All 5 of our primary starters last year were right-handed. One move to address this potential problem was putting Phil Coke in the rotation. However, that gave us a collection of bullpen lefties among the least inspiring in the league entering the hot-stove season.

That hot-stove season is mostly over now, and the first thing that has to jump out at you is this: we haven’t signed any left-handed pitching. And I don’t count minor league deals to guys like Lefty starters, to be sure, were a bit scarce this year – but we didn’t really make any sort of move in the direction of those that were out there. It seems in retrospect that the Tigers were looking for a short-term back-of-the-rotation starter to fill in while we wait for Oliver, Turner or someone else to show that they’re ready. We wound up with Brad Penny, a righty. Our first major move of the offseason was to sign a premier reliever – but it wasn’t a lefty, it was Joaquin Benoit. That’s despite the fact that this year’s crop of lefty relievers was actually pretty deep – some of them were probably too expensive, but certainly not all. Will Ohman comes to mind.