The Left-Handed Matchup Doesn't Exist in the CPBL

In 2017, the CPBL's left-handed hitting elite are crushing left-handed pitching.
Photos: The Oliver Photo

Every professional baseball team feels the need to have at least some left-handed pitching. It is almost impossible to find a rotation and a bullpen without at least a couple of southpaws. Left-handed pitchers (LHP) add a different element to a rotation and can be used in relief effectively in certain situations throughout the course of a ball game. But what if I were to tell you that perhaps, without enough quality LHP in Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), there seems to be no benefit of playing the so-called “matchup”, or even rostering lefties just for the sake of having left-handed arms?

Firstly, what is the “matchup”? It's safe to say that same-sided matchups—lefty on lefty and righty on righty—are statistically more favorable to the pitcher as their movement starts at the batter and goes into, or out of, the zone as opposed to starting off the plate and coming back into the zone in opposite-handed matchups. Whatever theory you believe to be correct as to why this situation holds true, and there are plenty, one thing is pretty constant: MLB statistics prove this point. Just look at the data collected over a 13-year span from 2004 to 2016 on same- and opposite-side splits.

MLB batting average and slugging % over the last 13 years.

The most successful matchup a manager can create is a LHP vs. a LHH. Of course, the overall talent of the hitter and the pitcher is a major factor in the outcome, but having a southpaw against a southpaw is a situation almost every professional manager would feel is in the pitcher’s favor.

However, the CPBL is not the MLB and its diversity in talent, especially in the LHP department, is quite evident. So, are local coaches and general managers opting for lefties just for the sake of having a left-handed arm in the rotation or bullpen? Are they carrying less talented pitchers just because of the perceived matchup that possibly doesn't correlate to the CPBL? Perhaps. Or maybe the left-handed hitting (LHH) talent is just that good.

The CPBL league batting average is .285 and the OPS. 794

As you can clearly see, lefties are getting hit hard and often, but most alarming is how successful LHHs are vs. the LHPs.  Out of every left-handed pitcher in the league (minimum 10 G or 10 IP), only two have noticeably better numbers versus left-handed hitting. Even the best left-handed pitcher in the league, Lamigo’s Darin Downs, has even numbers on his splits. It seems some teams may be sacrificing better right-handed pitching talent just because they believe in the adage of matchups. At least one manager in the CPBL is catching on to this theory.

“I think it's a combination of stuff,” Chinatrust Brothers’ first-year manager Cory Snyder replied when asked if the trend in same-handed matchups in the CPBL is due to a lack of quality left-handed pitching or more talented left-handed hitters. “The left-handed hitters are very good but I think when lefties [pitchers] get on there, they're a little scared out there. They're missing their locations and their pitch selection isn't good. That's why we are going to start the second half with no lefties. I sent them all down. I'm tired of lefties going out there and they have no chance. They either walk them or get smoked and throw the ball down the middle.”

Left-handed batters are the beneficiaries of these favorable circumstances. Hitting sub-par LHP and getting to face the best pitchers on the other side of the plate are inflating their overall numbers. Taking a look atop the CPBL offensive leaderboard, you notice a repeating pattern: left-handed hitters are dominating Taiwanese baseball. Wang Po Jung, Chen Chieh-Hsien, Chiang Chih-Hsien, Lin Yi-Chuan, and Chang Cheng-Wei are all lefties and leading the league in batting average (Su Chih-Chieh is there too but doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify). Chen Chun-Hsiu, Lin Hung-Yu, or Peng Cheng-Min are the only right-handers to push the other top guys, but there really isn't even a chance. The top LHHs are just on another level.

Vs. RHP and LHP splits from the top hitters in the CPBL. The AVG rank is the players batting average rank as of the all-star break. 

It seems a combination of talented left-handed hitters and a lack of quality left-handed pitchers in Taiwan has skewed what was thought to be statistical proof that same-sided matchups favor the pitcher. Since Taiwanese teams can't hold onto their top-end LHPs (be it through MLB signings or other leagues paying more for their services), perhaps they need to reevaluate their blueprints when assembling their rosters because, in the CPBL, left-handed hitters are dominating their left-handed pitching matchup.