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Maybe the White Sox should load up on lefties for last stand

The White Sox offense is fine against left-handed pitching, but that hasn't proven to be particularly useful

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Jones’ third appearance in as many games didn’t go as well as his first two, as he gave up the game-winning two-run homer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia in a 4-3 loss to Detroit Monday night. Still, Jones did get something out of it — a share of the league lead in games pitched by a reliever.

The appearances title probably would have been Zach Duke’s crown to lose if he were still in town. He racked up 53 games with the White Sox through July before they freed him to St. Louis, where he’s piled up 13 more appearances, and successful ones at that (0.75 ERA, 16 strikeouts against 15 baserunners over 12 innings). His 66 total appearances would have led either league by one game.

As such, Duke left a strange void in the American League, as there seems to be no prevalent go-to lefty for left-handed hitters.

Jones is tied with Texas’ Sam Dyson and Minnesota’s Ryan Pressly at 62 appearances, and both of them are right-handed. So are the nine next relievers behind him. You won’t find a lefty on the list until Zach Britton, who is 13th in the league with 56 appearances. He’s not in the same category, mostly because he’s a closer, and nobody really cares which arm he uses with the stuff he has. After him, there’s Texas lefty Jake Diekman (14th), who has also transcended LOOGYdom, while former Oakland situational lefty Marc Rzepczynski (15th) was traded to Washington.

There are good relievers who are left-handed — Andrew Miller (18th) is in the Britton category, while Justin Wilson (19th) isn’t in that grade, but also handles full innings. It isn’t until you get to Xavier Cedeno at No. 22 where you get a lefty who faces more lefties than righties.

I started wondering about the lopsidedness of the league while watching the White Sox play Seattle. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon basically neutered a team that was highly vulnerable to left-handed pitching. The Sox took 3 out of 4, and in rather convincing fashion ... and yet Seattle is the team that’s comfortably over .500.

Looking at the splits over this century, it looks like it’s great to be a left-handed hitter this season, as they’re facing a favorable matchup more frequently than they have over the last 10 years.

Year vs. RHP vs. LHP PA vs. LHP
2016 74.8 25.2 6150 (proj.)
2015 71.0 29.0 7890
2014 70.2 29.8 7795
2013 69.0 31.0 8721
2012 66.8 33.2 8675
2011 68.0 32.0 7932
2010 70.0 30.0 7342
2009 69.4 30.6 7921
2008 68.0 32.0 7904
2007 69.9 30.1 7079
2006 75.1 24.9 6179
2005 71.1 28.9 7077
2004 72.5 27.5 7236
2003 70.0 30.0 7612
2002 70.4 29.6 6645
2001 72.0 28.0 6242
2000 70.3 29.7 6462

Unfortunately, the White Sox have been on the wrong side of the scale this season. The White Sox have the fourth-best OPS against left-handed pitching this season, hitting .270/.330/.431 against southpaws. All those slash components are above the league average (.258/.323/.421). They’re over .500 when facing left-handed starters.

One problem: They’ve faced the fewest left-handed starters in the AL. They’re 16-13 in such games, and Kansas City is second with 32 lefties faced. The average AL team has faced 37 left-handed starters. The White Sox have 37 left-handed starters, and they can’t play themselves.

That means the White Sox have faced way more right-handed starters than other teams, and that’s why their third-worst offensive output against righties (.248/.311/.395) is way more indicative of their overall problems at the plate.

This is the second straight year that the White Sox haven’t seen many left-handed starters, and now there’s a big drop in lefty-on-lefty matchups as a whole. Some of that is attributable to teams being more content with platooning -- the White Sox get an even lower percentage of lefty-lefty matchups than the league because other teams will sit their decent left-handed bats against Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and/or Carlos Rodon.

But for the Sox, they don't have to worry about an AL Central foe rolling out multiple high-quality lefties, and it may be a down period for LOOGYs, too. Now, having just seen Seattle float above .500 with that glaring of a flaw, it makes me wonder how well the White Sox would fare if they built a lineup that treated left-handed pitching as an afterthought while rolling out a rotation led Sale, Quintana and Rodon with a catcher who can handle him. If the White Sox give their core one more go this offseason, maybe this is the direction to push toward.

(Admittedly, this could be a flawed concept. I’ve only given it a couple hours’ thought, as I was originally going to write about Tyler Saladino before the relief leaderboard led me another direction. Tell me why I’m wrong.)