Hockey's Influence on Canadian Baseball Players

There's not much more that I want to say about last night's team Canada game except to say to Ernie Whitt if you ever manage in an elimination game again, act like it is an elimination game. Show some urgency. Pinch hit. Use your players. Go down fighting. I know Cito is likely your one of your managerial influences, but you don't have to copy that statue thing of his.

Anyway, when we were talking about all the left-handed batters on the Canadian team, I suggested that maybe more Canadians bat lefty because of the hockey influence, most of us pick up a hockey stick before we pick up a bat. And swinging a hockey stick lefty isn't as unusual as swinging a bat lefty. The same reasoning has been used to explain why there are more lefty golfers in Canada compared to the US. In the States less than 5% of golfer swing left, in Canada it is about 25%.

Well, Scott White of the Canadian Press did a story yesterday saying the same thing. But he makes a few points that I'd like to comment on:

...while the two sports would seem to have very little in common, Team Canada's baseball players cite some of their hockey DNA as the reason why the team has a disproportionate number of left-handed hitters.

It is interesting to see that the players believe hockey is why more of them hit left. Of course, there is a good question in there somewhere...'Why would more hockey players shoot left than people in other sports?' My first thought was, at least in my case, Bobby Orr shot left, of course I was going to shot left. When I was a kid every kid wanted to be number 4 because that was Bobby Orr.

But that explanation doesn't totally ring true because odds are I held a hockey stick before I was old enough to know who Bobby Orr was or any other player for that matter. Was it because of my dad? Not likely, my dad was from England and I really can't remember him holding a hockey stick. I think maybe shooting lefty in hockey isn't looked on as strange. More than half of hockey players shoot left. So there is no bias against shooting left. Unlike when I played ball, batting lefty people made a big deal about it "oh look a lefty". And there were questions, subtle suggestions that since I threw right I should bat right.

In golf the suggestion you shouldn't swing left is stronger, people outright tell you you should swing right. And it is worse in the States, I have a friend who was a left-handed golfer, but he took lessons in the US and they had him switch. And man, he is the wildest golfer you have ever seen. Not that I'm great golfer. But if I tried to swing right, I'm sure I'd break something.

So I think more hockey players shot left because there isn't anyone telling them they are wrong to do it.

Nine of the team's 15 positional players hit left. But what's even more unusual - some might even say freakish - is that almost all of those players throw right-handed.

Now I realize that maybe we are reading too much into the 9 of 15 batting left-handed. We use the term small sample size around here so much that I think we should shorten it to SSS, but this is clearly a small sample size. But it is what we've got. And I feel more Canadians bat left.

But that bit about batters that throw right but swing left being 'almost freakish' interested me. Let's quote again:

Generally, most left-handed hitters in baseball are truly left-handed, meaning they throw with their left hand. And most right-handed players - those who throw with their right hand - are also right-handed hitters.

Now I was going to try to get past him saying 'Generally, most', because I'm not a great writer. But come on, don't you have editors? You need two qualifiers for the sentence? On top of that, the statement is wrong.

I didn't think that rang true, maybe because I throw right but swing left and I don't think I'm 'freakish'. So I had to check it. I grabbed the first thing I could find that listed what side batters swing from and which hand they throw with and I counted. I used this year's Baseball Prospectus annual. It has a short profile on each major league player and major prospects for all teams. I counted the left-handed batters that throw left and the ones that throw right.

And no, 'generally, most' lefty batters don't throw left. I counted 99 left-handed batters that throw left and 144 that throw right. Let that be a lesson, if you make a statement in an article be sure you are right. Some anal person is going to check. By the way there are a handful of batters that throw left but bat right. Now those guys are freaks.

Anyway onward:

This Canadian righty-lefty phenomenon is more than a statistical anomaly - it gives Team Canada a competitive edge. That's because there are advantages to being a left-handed hitter in baseball.

The majority of pitchers in the game are right-handed, meaning left-handed hitters are not as susceptible to curve balls and other breaking pitches. A left-handed hitter also stands in the batter's box closest to first base, meaning he has to cover a shorter distance for an infield hit.

Well, I'd argue that line about it giving Team Canada a 'competitive edge'. It would if opposing managers are stupid, but I'm sure most teams in the WBC have some southpaw pitchers. In a short tournament a manager can run his lefty pitchers out against a team that is stronger from the left side. Last night is a great example.

Left-handed batters have a much harder time with lefty pitchers because the curve ball moves way from them and because they don't see as many lefty pitchers. Lefties have a much bigger platoon split than righties. Why? Well, like the man said there are more right-handed pitchers, so if you are a right-handed batter if you don't learn to hit them you won't be in baseball long. If you are a left-handed batter you can make a good living just being able to hit righties. Look at Matt Stairs.

And that bit about lefty batters being closer to first base would matter more if the lefty in question was a fast slap hitter. Matt Stairs and Justin Morneau aren't going to beat out a bunch of infield grounds even if you could arrange to have him start out half way up the first base line.

One more quote:

...former major-leaguer Mike Epstein says there's another reason why hitting left-handed is an advantage.

"I believe 77 per cent the population is right-eye dominant. As a hitter, it is advantageous to have your front eye - the one closest to the pitcher - to be your dominant eye. Therefore, left-handed hitters typically set up better in the vision department."

As Epstein explains, having the dominant eye facing the pitcher really helps a left-hander pick up off-speed pitchers.

"This is advantageous because now all breaking pitches are coming into the batter instead of away from them .This advantage also helps players pick up the ball easier from the pitcher since they don't have to turn the head as far to get their back eye in line."

First, though I don't have numbers but did he make up the stat about 77% of people being right eye dominate. I know I'm left eye dominant. And if his stat is right, is it possible that more lefty batters are in that 23% that are left eye dominate?

Also again most breaking balls come into a left-handed batter if it is a left-handed pitcher. But beyond that, is it my imagination or are most left-handed batters fast ball hitters? Matt Stairs, for example, is a fastball hitter. And if being right eye dominate is such a big deal, wouldn't lefties hit lefty pitching better, if that helps them pick up breaking balls better?

Anyway I was happy someone else thought that hockey was the reason why there was so many lefties on Team Canada. Too bad it didn't help us win. Maybe if they allowed us to fight?

 

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