Detroit — It may matter more later in the season, like in June and July when they play the White Sox 10 times, but one of the mysteries of this Tigers team through a quarter of the season has been its inability to hit left-handed pitching.
The Tigers feature a potent assemblage of right-handed hitters — Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Nick Castellanos, Victor Martinez (switch hitter). By all right, they should feast on left-handed pitching.
“I don’t have an answer for why we’re not hitting lefties,” manager Brad Ausmus said before the game Friday. “If you look at our right-handed hitters who play on a regular basis, they’ve hit lefties better than righties over their career, over the last three years or whatever your sample is.
“So in my mind, it should correct itself. Hopefully it corrects itself before it becomes more of a palpable issue.”
Like when they start playing the White Sox, who have three left-handed starters in their rotation — Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon.
The Tigers are 1-6 in games started by left-handers — losing to C.C. Sabathia, Dallas Keuchel, Jon Niese, Rich Hill, Cole Hamels and Martin Perez. They beat Wei Yin Chen in Miami in the season opener.
They are hitting .233 against all left-handed pitching (11th in the American League) with a low .355 slugging percentage and a .656 OPS. The 35 runs they’ve produced off lefties ranks 12th in the American League.
“It is what it is, man,” said Castellanos, who is hitting .172 against lefties, more than 100 points below his career average (.276). “There’s no answer for it. It just happens. The next lefty we face we could score 25 runs in three innings and then everything changes.”
The next lefty they face will be former Tiger Drew Smyly Saturday, and he’s holding right-handed hitters to a chilly .195 batting average and .546 OPS.
“I just don’t think we’ve faced too many lefties,” said J.D. Martinez, who is hitting .345 against them. “It’s just the law of averages. You don’t face them that often and they’re going to have the upper hand until you get used to them. The more you consistently see them, the more you’re going to get off them.”
J.D. Martinez and Kinsler (.429) are the only regular right-handed hitters who are hitting well off left-handers thus far. Cabrera, a career .317 hitter off lefties, is hitting .233 against them this season. Victor Martinez, .306 lifetime, is hitting .250 off lefties. Upton, .270 career, is hitting .189.
Jose Iglesias, .298 off lefties in his career, is at .222 this season. And James McCann, .282 career, is hitting .071.
“It’s just been the way it’s worked out,” Castellanos said. “I don’t think there’s anything weird about it at all. It’s just baseball.”
“It will change,” J.D. Martinez said.
Castellanos might have the best approach to the issue.
“You are talking to a player to whom percentages don’t exist,” he said. “Because no matter what happens in the past, it doesn’t affect today’s game.”