In recent years the NL Central has become devoid of quality left-handed starting pitchers. The Pirates’ division foes employ so few southpaws that Pittsburgh faced a left-handed starter just 31 times last season. That number does not appear as if it will rise significantly in 2014. The only starting lefties of note that the Pirates will face in the NL Central are Tony Cingrani, Jaime Garcia, Travis Wood, and Chris Rusin.
The Pirates, however, do possess some left-handed pitching in their rotation. Last season Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez, and Jeff Locke combined to start 68 games. That represents 42% of the schedule. If Rodriguez can return to full health, or Locke can regain his first half form, chances are good the Pirates will send a southpaw to the hill even more often in 2014. The Bucs also have two key left-handed relievers in the bullpen. Tony Watson and Justin Wilson both pitched more than 70 innings in 2013. Neither Watson nor Wilson are LOOGYS either. They are both capable of multiple inning relief outings.
The amount of left-handed pitching available to manager Clint Hurdle gives the Pirates a huge advantage within the division. Only the Cubs had a higher winning percentage against LH starters than vs. RH starters. The Cardinals were especially susceptible against LH starters. Their win percentage against lefties was 200 points less than against righties.
|Team||Win % vs RH starters||Win % vs LH starters|
An even further advantage the Pirates gain from employing so many southpaws is environmental. PNC Park has the most difficult park factors in all of baseball for right handed hitters. So loading up a lineup of right-handed hitters when facing a lefty at PNC Park is less impactful than at other venues. To get an idea exactly how much PNC helps a left-handed pitcher we can look no further than the winningest pitcher in PNC Park history. With a total of 36 wins, the record belongs to our old friend Paul Maholm. In his career Maholm has put up a solid 3.75 ERA in 647 innings at PNC Park. In all other stadiums Maholm’s ERA is 4.68. That is almost a full run higher. If not for PNC Park Paul Maholm would not have had much of a career.
It is actually kind of surprising given how tailor-made PNC Park is for left-handed pitchers that the Pirates haven’t made greater efforts to procure more of them in the draft or international markets. The focus of the past several years has been on big projectable right-handed pitchers such as Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow. Regardless, the Pirates have enough left-handers on the pitching staff this year to exploit an obvious weakness with their division rivals.