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View Full Version : Major League Baseball question: left-handed 2B, 3B, SS?


mhendo
08-01-2006, 01:00 AM
Since moving to the United States i've become a real baseball fan. I've also developed a love for playing softball, and i currently play in two leagues—a very casual intramural grad student league, and a somewhat more serious city-run league here in Baltimore.

Because both of these leagues are pretty casual, none of us really have assigned positions. I'm captain/organizer of my intramural team, and i like to play myself at shortstop or third base, partly because i enjoy it, and partly because i think i'm one of the best infielders on our team. In my city league team, i've played everywhere from outfield to all four infield positions.

One thing i came to realize, after playing for a while and also after watching Major League Baseball, is that, as a left-handed thrower, i'm really at a natural disadvantage playing second base, third base, or shortstop.

At third, if a ball is hit to my left and i make the play, the throw over to first is pretty straightforward. But if the ball is hit down the line, to my right, it's very hard to make the play and then get my body in the right position to make the long throw over to first.

At shortstop, if the ball is hit up the middle, being left-handed can actually be an advantage, because i can field the ball and throw to first on the run without having to swivel my body back to make the throw. But if the ball is hit to my right, "in the hole," it is again difficult to make the grab, turn, and throw in time to get the runner at first (or second).

And at second base, almost any play requires me to swivel my body through about 180 degrees in order to throw to first.

Basically, in all these fielding positions, a right-handed thrower is much more likely to be in a natural position to make the throw after fielding the ball.

Having slowly come to this realization over my first year or so in the US, i looked for left-handed throwers on MLB teams, and so far haven't found any in the positions that i mentioned. Also, while i haven't really discussed catchers, it strikes me that they are also better off being right-handed, as it makes the first base pick-off easier.

So, what i'm wondering is whether any Major League second basemen, shortstops, or third basemen have been left-handed throwers? Does the dominance of right-handers go all the way back to the start of the professional game, or has it evolved over time?

pseudotriton ruber ruber
08-01-2006, 03:58 AM
There's been an inning or a game with a lefthanded 2b, ss or 3b since 1900 (can't remember any specifically) but basically no. On the long backhanded throws, especially deep in the hole, that's where the extra quarter second you spend twists yourself around to get your balance costs you dearly. When the Mets briefly had Keith Hernandez with Dave Kingman at first, neither of whom could really play the OF I thought they might try Hernandez at 3b, an open position, but they dumped Kingman instead. It's a no-go.

Jeff Lichtman
08-01-2006, 04:08 AM
According to A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1566636779/sr=1-1/qid=1154422281/ref=pd_bbs_1/103-8445519-9379022?ie=UTF8&s=books) by Peter Morris, it was recognized even before professional baseball began in 1869 that left-handed throwers were at a disadvantage at second, third and short. However, it wasn't until the 1880s, when gloves came into widespread use, that the disadvantage was seen as important. Left-handed infielders other than first basemen were rare by the 1890s.

Left-handed catchers are a slightly different story. For a while after the emergence of the curveball in the 1870s it was thought advantageous to pair a left-handed catcher with a left-handed pitcher. This practice ended by the 20th century. The last left-handed catcher to have a significant career in the majors was Jack Clements, who was in the big leagues from 1884 to 1900.

A Game of Inches is a fine book, BTW. I've been reading it for the past several days - it seems to be well-researched and well-documented.

mhendo, may I ask where you are from originally?

Freddy the Pig
08-01-2006, 08:28 AM
So, what i'm wondering is whether any Major League second basemen, shortstops, or third basemen have been left-handed throwers?One of the last semi-serious attempts to play a lefty at 3B occurred in 1984, when the White Sox played Mike Squires for 13 games at 3B. (The Sox were managed by Tony LaRussa, currently with the Cardinals, who delights in doing things differently.)

Squires was a sure-handed fielder, and all went well most of the time. But then you'd get a hard-hit ground ball when you really needed a double play, and you wouldn't get the double-play because of the extra time Squires need to rotate his body. After a few such near-misses, nobody was anxious to repeat the experiment.

Squires also got into two blow-out games as a catcher in 1980.

mhendo
08-01-2006, 08:32 AM
Thanks for the replies, folks.

Jeff, that sounds like an interesting book. I'll have to check it out.

And i came to the US from Australia.

Standard Nathan
08-01-2006, 01:32 PM
Squires also got into two blow-out games as a catcher in 1980.

i wonder... where'd they get the left-handed catcher's mitt? do teams keep one around just in case, or had La Russa planned ahead and aquired one?

Jplacer
08-01-2006, 05:38 PM
Former left-handed Pittsburgh "great" Benny Distefano caught three games for the Pirates in 1989.

Cardinal
08-01-2006, 10:44 PM
Yeah, I think the small, not long-legged-loping, shorter armed, only-adequate-hitting lefthander has a real tough go in baseball. If only he could throw righty and be quick and nimble with fielding and adequate with the bat. Then he could play 2B or SS, or maybe even 3B.

If his reach is short, 1B is bad. If he's not been pitching since high school, that's probably out. If his top speed is not great, and his arm strength is only marginal, the outfield may be out. Some would weigh all factors and thing about right field, which I think gets the fewest batted balls, because so many righties pull the ball. OTOH, some teams pointedly put their strongest arm in right to cut off triples, so you have to consider that.

astorian
08-01-2006, 10:55 PM
The disadvantages facing a left-hander at second, third or shortstop are obvious.

The disadvantages facing a left-handed catcher aren't nearly as great. A left-hander COULD make a good catcher, and a few have (Dale Long was the most recent that I can recall). That very few lefties ARE catchers may have something to do with prejudice and tradition ("Everybody knows" lefties can't be catchers), but it also has to do with the fact that a lefty who has a good enough arm to be a catcher is likely to be made into a pitcher at an early age.

CaveMike
08-01-2006, 11:27 PM
Here is the master (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_303b.html) on left handed catchers.

And this (http://members.tripod.com/bb_catchers/catchers/catchleft.htm) is another interesting site that gives the following MLB stats:There have only been 33 left-handed throwing players who caught in at least 1 defensive inning. If you exclude the ten men who only caught in a single game, then you're talking about just 23 players. If you count only those guys who caught a 100 or more games in a career, you're down to exactly five left-handed throwing catchers. However, if you're only counting career catchers (minimum of 1,000 games caught), then you have exactly one and that is Jack Clements.

Least Original User Name Ever
08-02-2006, 12:45 AM
Baseball is steeped in a history that sometimes is illogical. Read Bill James Abstract. Baseball still does things that were decided a hundred years ago. Like sacrifice bunting a runner to second. I think it is a mistake. Giving up an out to move a runner . I believe it takes away ,to some degree, a chance for a bigger inning. The math has been done. It is not a good play.

MizGrand
08-02-2006, 05:06 AM
IMOHE with Girls Little League (yeah, there's an authority!) as a leftie myself I primarily played first base, pitcher and shortstop. Maybe it was 'cuz my mom was the coach! Oh, and my best friend, also a leftie, was my catcher when I pitched. We both were "All Stars" for several years.

But I was a darn good first baseman. And pitcher. Shortstop; not so much.

Oh, oh, and during one of said All Star games I played right field and had a hummer coming right above me that I knew I couldn't run for. I jumped up at just the right time and caught it! I also kicked out a HR the very first time switch-hitting left handed. Ahhh, the glory days of 25 years ago. OMG! A QUARTER OF A STINKIN' CENTURY AGO!

I'm not old.

Freddy the Pig
08-02-2006, 08:43 AM
i wonder... where'd they get the left-handed catcher's mitt? do teams keep one around just in case, or had La Russa planned ahead and aquired one?I imagine Squires had ordered one at some point in his career, as have the other southpaw occasional-catchers. The move wasn't completely spur-of-the-moment; they had discussed beforehand that Squires would be an emergency catcher and he must have practiced at least a little.

RickJay
08-02-2006, 08:56 AM
A left-hander COULD make a good catcher, and a few have (Dale Long was the most recent that I can recall).
Dale Long played two games at catcher in his whole career so I'm not sure we can say he was a "Good catcher."

That very few lefties ARE catchers may have something to do with prejudice and tradition ("Everybody knows" lefties can't be catchers), but it also has to do with the fact that a lefty who has a good enough arm to be a catcher is likely to be made into a pitcher at an early age.
I've heard a lot of half-assed explanations for why catchers can't be left handed and none of them ever made any sense to me. There are two popular ones:

1. Lefties' throws to second are blocked by righthanded hitters. (This is the argument repeated by the Perfect Master, who's as skeptical as I am.)

This is, frankly, stupid; righthanded catchers don't have that big a problem with lefthanded batters. If throwing around a same-side batter was that hard, baserunners would bolt for the next base on every pitch every single time a lefthanded batter was up. And after all, about 1/3rd of all at bats are taken by a lefthanded batter, so the marginal difference between a lefthander and a righthander would be a very slight throwing disadvantage 1/3rd of the time. It's just not a big deal.

2. Lefties's throws to second "tail" the wrong way.

As anyone who has played ball knows, a righthanded player's throw will tend to curve to the left; and lefthander's throws curve to the right. The more sidearm your motion, the more pronounced this effect is. The theory is therefore that since the infielder is receiving the runner from his left/the catcher's right, it's easier to catch a throw tailing in from that direction. It's a baloney excuse. Quite frankly I've played a lot of games at second base and as long as the catcher gets it in the vicinity of your glove you can catch it. The "tail" on a catcher's throw is not that great; it's a 120-foot throw or so and catchers tend to have very clean, overhand motions.

Catchers are all righthanders because, well, they always have been. There's no other real reason.

mhendo
08-02-2006, 09:02 AM
IMOHE with Girls Little League (yeah, there's an authority!) as a leftie myself I primarily played first base, pitcher and shortstop. Maybe it was 'cuz my mom was the coach! Oh, and my best friend, also a leftie, was my catcher when I pitched. We both were "All Stars" for several years. Yeah, as i said in the OP, despite being left-handed i've played (and continue to play) a variety of infield positions, including short and third base.

In a very amateur league like ours, it doesn't really make much difference, and because i have a pretty strong and accurate arm (for short, infield throws at least; my arm's not so accurate with longer, outfield throws) it's better for me to play there than most of the right-handers on our team.

But pro baseball involves big money, and utilizes the best of the best. If i miss the occasional play because of being left-handed, the consequences are trivial, but those occasional missed plays could, in pro ball, be the difference between an 80 win season and a 95 win season.

While the issue is moot now anyway, i was rather disappointed when i first discovered the dearth of left-handers in the Majors. I was sort of bummed by the idea that, had i grown up in the US, my only real chance at baseball stardom was as a pitcher or an outfielder.

Freddy the Pig
08-02-2006, 09:14 AM
I've heard a lot of half-assed explanations for why catchers can't be left handed and none of them ever made any sense to me.What about the objection that the left-handed catcher has the wrong angle toward third base, and has to rotate his body before making the throw, much like the left-handed infielder when throwing to first? Wouldn't a left-handed catcher have a problem with guys stealing third?

mhendo
08-02-2006, 09:21 AM
What about the objection that the left-handed catcher has the wrong angle toward third base, and has to rotate his body before making the throw, much like the left-handed infielder when throwing to first? Wouldn't a left-handed catcher have a problem with guys stealing third?Yeah, i was about to reiterate that question myself.

To tell you the truth, i had never even considered any potential problem with the throw to second, and i think that RickJay did a good job of casting doubt on that as a problem anyway.

It was the throw to third that i was thinking about in the OP. After all, to throw to third, a right-handed ctacher can make a single movement across his body, while a left-handed catcher has to spin to his right before throwing. Also, it seems that the right-hander could get more power on his throw.

Now, a little while ago i saw Pudge Rodriguez make a pick-off play to FIRST base, and the speed with which he got his body around was amazing. Still, though, i'm will to bet that he's faster going to third than to first, and it seems to me that being able to catch a runner stealing third is more important, overall, than the much less frequent pick-off at first.

RickJay
08-02-2006, 07:44 PM
What about the objection that the left-handed catcher has the wrong angle toward third base, and has to rotate his body before making the throw, much like the left-handed infielder when throwing to first? Wouldn't a left-handed catcher have a problem with guys stealing third?
This would be a disadvantage...

... but a lefthanded catcher would then have a corresponding advantage in threatening a runner at FIRST base with a pickoff throw, forcing the runner to be more cautious and shorten his walking after-pitch lead. Since you get most of your runners at first base, that strikes me as being a significant advantage, which would more than make up for the disadvantage in throwing to third.

A lefthanded catcher would also have a significant advantage in making the throw to first after fielding a bunt or a squibbed ground ball, since he would not have to turn to make the throw to first (essentially the mirror of the advantage that a righthanded infielder has in making the throw to first.)

CaveMike
08-02-2006, 08:50 PM
What about the objection that the left-handed catcher has the wrong angle toward third base, and has to rotate his body before making the throw, much like the left-handed infielder when throwing to first? Wouldn't a left-handed catcher have a problem with guys stealing third?One of the links above argues that there really aren't that many put-outs for stealing third:The average major league team attempted 14.6 steals of third base during the 1998 season - - one every 11 games. Success rate of throwing out runners at third by a catcher was around 21% (3.07 caught out of 14.6 attempts). The success rate in 1998 at first base was around 40%. Right-handed catchers appeared to have little problem with the pickoffs at first base, the equivalent of a lefthander's throw to third.

Cardinal
08-02-2006, 09:38 PM
If Tony Pena could be tolerated sitting flat on his butt when there were no runners, I would think that someone with a good bat and a good left arm could get some minor league managers to let him try to work it out. If he kept succeeding, I'd think someone at the MLB would give him a genuine shot. Of course, the first time he throws one away, someone will be thinking about how lefthanders just don't work as catchers.

Obeseus
08-04-2006, 07:04 PM
There is another problem with lefthanded catchers that has nothing to do with his throwing. It's harder to set himself up for a throw from right field, making it easier for a runner to bowl him over. It's a potential injury hazard, but perhaps not frequent enough to worry about.

astorian
08-04-2006, 11:38 PM
One other thing: even if there's absolutely NO compelling reason that lefties couldn't be good catchers (and I haven't seen a compelling reason yet), it's been so long since anybody has seen a lefty catcher that:

1) Youth league coaches assume it just isn't/can't be done, and don't even think about putting lefties behind the plate.

2) In all likelihood, nobody bothers manufacturing catcher's mitts for lefties... so even a 10 year old lefty who WANTED to be a catcher probably couldn't find a suitable glove at his local sporting goods store.

Jeff Lichtman
08-05-2006, 12:35 AM
In all likelihood, nobody bothers manufacturing catcher's mitts for lefties...

No problem - just take a right-handed catcher's mitt and turn it inside-out.

Standard Nathan
08-05-2006, 12:55 AM
1) Youth league coaches assume it just isn't/can't be done, and don't even think about putting lefties behind the plate.

2) In all likelihood, nobody bothers manufacturing catcher's mitts for lefties... so even a 10 year old lefty who WANTED to be a catcher probably couldn't find a suitable glove at his local sporting goods store.
I remember seeing a lefty catcher in the Little League World Series. but, he'll no doubt be steered in a different direction if anybody comes to think he could be a pro.

easy e
08-05-2006, 02:37 AM
Bill James claims there aren't many leftie catchers because lefties with strong throwing arms are usually turned into pitchers.