The Cubs may be short these days on professional centerfielders and recent World Championship banners, but the Wrigley Boys are positively drowning in lefthanded pitching candidates. In fact, with five southpaws in line to make the big league roster (see Arizona Phil’s post from early Thursday), it’s difficult to even recognize them as the Cubs.
Assuming Ted Lilly and Rich Hill each make 30 starts this season—a big stretch for young Hill; Lilly has hit 30 in three of the last four years—the duo would become the first pair of lefties to do so since Dick Ellsworth and Kenny Holtzman way back in 1966.
For a little historical perspective, last season, led by Hill and Sean Marshall, lefthanders accounted for just over 31% of all Cubs IP. That’s the highest total since 1986, when the 70-90 Cubs relied on six lefties for 31.2% of their total IP.
(For the record, the “Southpaw Six” were Steve Trout (161 IP), Jamie Moyer (87), Ray Fontenot (56), Guy Hoffman (84), Frank DiPino (40), and Drew Hall (23.7). I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that’s the first time Guy Hoffman’s name has ever been mentioned at The Cub Reporter. Congrats, Guy!)
As for the Class of ’07, if Lilly, Scott Eyre, Neal Cotts and Will Ohman all match their recent seasonal averages and Hill accounts for, say, 180 IP, the fivesome will throw about 534 innings, which would probably translate to about 38% of the Cubs’ pitching load. Over the last 20 years, Cub LHPs have averaged only about 19% of the team’s IP per season.
You get the idea—this is pretty different stuff. But is it good different or just different different?
Two things make me think the Cubs’ sudden listing to the port side is not necessarily a positive development.
#1: Aside from Adam Dunn, the biggest thumpers Cub pitchers will face in the NL Central are righthanded or switch hitters—Pujols, Berkman, Rolen, Bay, and of course, new Astro, Carlos Lee, who has long terrorized Cub pitchers and anyone sitting in Wrigley’s leftfield bleachers.
#2: As chronicled in the 2007 Bill James Handbook, over the last three years, Wrigley Field has been among the NL’s friendliest parks to righthanded home run hitters, just behind Cincy’s Great American Ballpark and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Of the five Cub lefties mentioned throughout this piece, only Hill has shown a reverse platoon advantage, and after such a short time in the bigs, it’s impossible to know if that will sustain itself.
As someone who grew up thinking it must have been against the rules for the Cubs to have more than one or two decent lefties in a season, I am fascinated by the prospect of the Cubs breaking camp with five lefthanded pitchers.
What I’m not sure is if it will be the right decision.