A look at the MLB free agent left-handed hitter pool

[et_pb_section fb_built=”1″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_row _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”]

Rick Hahn, Kenny Williams, and Tony La Russa are at the drawing board to figure out how their 2021 lineup can be more balanced. After non-tendering Nomar Mazara earlier this week for his failure to fill such a gap, the White Sox currently carry three left-handed bats in their 2021 projected lineup: Yoán Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, and Leury García. All three are switch-hitters, and none had his best 2020 against right-handed pitching:

  • Grandal: .218/.338/.406
  • Moncada: .226/.308/.396
  • García: 235/.291/.373

As a team, the White Sox ranked 11th in Major League Baseball last season with a 106 wRC+ against righties. That’s a pretty impressive outcome considering the struggles at the plate from their left-handed hitters. This roster gap may not be particularly glaring. Still, suppose the White Sox front office can bring in another proven left-handed run producer. It very well could make one of the best offenses in 2020 even more dangerous in 2021. 

There are two openings for the White Sox to add left-handed bats: designated hitter and right field. Setting aside handedness for a moment, the best right-field option is George Springer. He’s Plan A, but there’s a lot of smoke surrounding Springer with serious interest from the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets. A bidding war would increase Springer’s price, and the White Sox haven’t fared well winning over these free-agent targets. It’s a possibility Springer signs with the White Sox, but it’s a long shot. 

Fortunately, the lesser options all hit from the preferred side of the plate, and the number of possibilities increased after the non-tender deadline. Let’s take a deep dive into the left-handed hitter free agent pool to find backup solutions if signing Springer doesn’t work out. 

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_image src=”https://soxmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/wRC-2016-to-2020.png” title_text=”wRC-2016-to-2020″ force_fullwidth=”on” _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”]

In 2016, Michael Brantley and Kyle Schwarber missed significant time due to injuries. You might remember the heroic effort on Schwarber’s part returning from a torn ACL to help the Cubs win the World Series. David Dahl missed the 2017 season due to a stress reaction in his rib that caused back problems. All three bounced back from their injuries and posted impressive results in 2018 and 2019. 

Joc Pederson had his worst season since 2016. His playing time was drastically cut after the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts. Pederson wasn’t alone in his 2020 struggles. Schwarber had an awful season, and Dahl posted a 10 wRC+ while fighting his forever war against injuries. Eddie Rosario has enjoyed comparative calm, hovering above league average since 2017.

The graph also has the White Sox team wRC+ for their designated hitters and right fielders, just in case you needed a reminder of how bad it’s been.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” header_font=”Alfa Slab One||||||||” header_font_size=”34px” animation_style=”fold” hover_enabled=”0″ sticky_enabled=”0″]

Michael Brantley

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image src=”https://soxmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/chart-5.png” title_text=”chart-5″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” scroll_fade_enable=”on”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”]

POSITIVES:

  • Consistent
  • Low strikeout rate (Career 10.8 K%)
  • Very good career numbers with runners on base (.318/.466/.847)

NEGATIVES

  • Age (turns 34 in May)
  • Limited defensive flexibility (LF or DH only)
  • Numbers against LHP are getting worse

I had Michael Brantley as a primary target in my offseason plan. Despite only hitting more than 20 home runs twice in his 11-season career, Brantley still can be a vital cog in any team’s lineup. Brantley focuses more on maintaining a high batting average with a .350+ OBP. Even better, Brantley seems to excel with runners in scoring position, boasting a career slash line of .319/.391/.461. 

Brantley’s concerns are of the standard variety. He’ll turn 34 next season, and he wouldn’t be a good option for the White Sox in right field. Perhaps Brantley could be a better option in left field than Eloy Jiménez. Brantley would more than likely spend most of the time as the primary designated hitter wherever he signs. For his career, Brantley does see a dip against left-handed pitchers, hitting just .275/.331/.373, and he was even worse in 2020 at .231/.273/.365. That’s something to be mindful of moving forward.  

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” header_font=”Alfa Slab One||||||||” header_font_size=”34px” animation_style=”fold”]

Joc Pederson

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_image src=”https://soxmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/chart-6.png” title_text=”chart-6″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” animation_style=”slide” scroll_fade_enable=”on”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”]

POSITIVES

  • Crushes fastballs (avg. exit velocity of 94.9 mph)
  • Has 30+ home run power
  • Can play right field

NEGATIVES

  • Terrible against changeups (wOBA .138 against in ‘20)
  • Walk rate diminishing since 2018
  • Should not face LHP (career .191/.266/.310 vs. LHP)

Joc Pederson knows what he can smash. In 45 plate appearances that ended with a four-seam fastball, Pederson had 11 hits, six of those being home runs. Since 2015, Pederson has an average exit velocity of 94+ mph against four-seamers. It makes one wonder why pitchers ever throw a fastball in the zone against Pederson. 

In 2020, the rate of fastballs seen for Pederson dropped considerably, and opposing pitchers started feeding him more changeups and breaking pitches. That’s why Pederson’s wRC+ dropped below 100 for the first time since 2016. Left-handed pitchers eat up Pederson, and quickly it looks like the former LA Dodger is a one-trick pony offensively. 

One benefit Pederson offers is the ability to cover multiple positions, and that includes right field. He’ll probably never be a Gold Glove winner in that corner, but he can hold his own while batting in the lower third of the White Sox lineup, doing what he does best: see fastball, mash fastball. 

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” header_font=”Alfa Slab One||||||||” header_font_size=”34px” animation_style=”fold”]

Eddie Rosario

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image src=”https://soxmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/chart-7.png” title_text=”chart-7″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” animation_style=”fold”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”]

POSITIVES

  • Four straight seasons of 100+ wRC+
  • Low groundball rate against RHP (career 35.9% GB rate)
  • Handles offspeed pitches very well vs. RHP (2020: .361 AVG / .722 SLG)

NEGATIVES

  • Despite good career numbers against LHP, Rosario struggled in 2020 (.236/.263/.273)
  • Bad career walk-rate (4.7%)
  • Below league average exit velocity since 2015 (MLB avg: 88.3 mph/ Rosario: 87.9 mph)

Eddie Rosario had an 11.4 fWAR in six seasons with the Minnesota Twins spanning 697 games. Despite that level of production, the Twins didn’t think it justified a $12 million arbitration projection, and they let him go. Their new plan is to have one of their top prospects in Alex Krilloff take over left field in 2021. 

Rosario had a breakout season in 2019 by hitting 32 home runs, but he’d proven his power in previous season, hitting 27 in 2017 and 24 in 2018. He hit 13 homers over 57 games this past season, or 37 over a 162-game pace. He finds a way to put the ball in the seats. 

This home run production is a bit mind-boggling because Rosario has below-average exit velocity and hard-hit rates. Unlike Pederson, Rosario is excellent against changeups from RHP, hitting .361 with four home runs in 40 PAs during the 2020 season. Since 2018, Rosario has more success hitting changeups than fastballs. 

Despite a career-high 8.2 BB% in 2020, Rosario just doesn’t take the free pass often. If the White Sox were hoping to increase their walk rate in 2021, Rosario won’t help with that metric. 

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” header_font=”Alfa Slab One||||||||” header_font_size=”34px” animation_style=”fold”]

Jackie Bradley Jr.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image src=”https://soxmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/chart-11.png” title_text=”chart-11″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” animation_style=”flip”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”]

POSITIVES

  • Elite defender
  • Good career walk-rate (9.3% BB)
  • Bounce-back 2020 campaign

NEGATIVES

  • Below average bat 2017 – 2019
  • Can only handle fastballs vs. RHP
  • Career 55.5% groundball rate vs. LHP

Jackie Bradley Jr. had a sneaky good 2020 campaign. It was just 55 games, but Bradley hit .283/.364/.450 with a 10.6% BB rate. Maybe it’ll serve as a springboard for Bradley to regain his 2016 form that saw him finish as a 5.3 fWAR player. 

Dig into the numbers, and there are red flags in Bradley’s performance this past season. He did most of his damage against four-seam fastballs, hitting .440 with a .680 slugging percentage. Both are significant increases over his 2019 season, when he only hit .211 and slugged .463 against fastballs. 

Then it gets ugly. Bradley hit .105 against breaking pitches and .158 against offspeed. Like many players on this list, Bradley appears only to be able to handle fastballs. As we saw with his 2019 numbers, if he doesn’t hit that pitch, Bradley isn’t hitting much of anything. 

While the bat is scary, his glove is his calling card, playing a plus center field. He’s also a solid baserunner and is patient enough to take his walks. It’s just a bottom-of-the-order bat and a potential Gold Glove profile. If the White Sox want to improve defensively, Bradley would be the guy. But if they’re trying to fare better against righties, Bradley hasn’t been as dependable. 

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” header_font=”Alfa Slab One||||||||” header_font_size=”34px” animation_style=”fold”]

Kyle Schwarber

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image src=”https://soxmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/chart-9.png” title_text=”chart-9″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” animation_style=”slide”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”]

POSITIVES

  • Big time power (Career hard hit rate 46%)
  • Takes his walks (Career 13% BB)
  • Career .514 SLG vs. RHP

NEGATIVES

  • Defensive liability
  • Should not face LHP (career .197/.301/.348)
  • Has trouble with breaking pitches from RHP

Kyle Schwarber had a brutal hitting slump he could not shake in 2020. After hitting 38 home runs in 2019 with a .250/.339/.531 slash line and 120 wRC+, Schwarber could only muster a .188/.308/.393 output in 2020. It was his worst season in the majors by far. 

There is no question about Schwarber’s power. He has the ability to hit 40 homers, and even his struggles feature impressive hard-hit rates. There are two red flags when it comes to Schwarber’s game at the plate. 

First, Schwarber shouldn’t face left-handed pitching. In 2019, Schwarber showed some promise in making a turnaround against southpaws with a .229 average and slugging .450. One season later, 2019 looks like the outlier. Schwarber has a terrible time making contact against lefties. When he does, it’s not strong (avg. exit velocity <90 mph). 

Second, Schwarber has trouble against sliders from righties. In 2017, 2018 and 2020, Schwarber hit below .200 on such pitchers. Again, 2019 is the outlier, as he hit .220 on the pitch but slugged .560. Compounding the problem, Schwarber is getting worse against right-handed curveballs since 2017.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image src=”https://soxmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/chart-8.png” title_text=”chart-8″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” hover_enabled=”0″ sticky_enabled=”0″]

Schwarber’s power is undoubtedly attractive, and he could be an excellent primary designated hitter option for many teams. But returning to form requires Schwarber to find better success against breaking pitches from righties.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” header_font=”Alfa Slab One||||||||” header_font_size=”34px” animation_style=”fold”]

David Dahl

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image src=”https://soxmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/chart-10.png” title_text=”chart-10″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default” animation_style=”flip”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”]

POSITIVES

  • He’s young (turns 27 in April)
  • Plays all three outfield positions
  • 2019 All-Star

NEGATIVES

  • Injury history
  • High K% / Low BB%
  • Significant drop off in offensive production away from Coors Field (.248/.302/.420)

A top-50 prospect in 2016, Dahl appeared to shed the injury bug and finally capitalize on his potential in 2019. He made the All-Star team thanks to a strong first half, iduringwhich he hit .308/.352/.530 with 12 home runs and 51 RBI. After a number of false starts, Dahl finally looked like the fixture the Rockies envisioned.

But it wasn’t to be. He only mustered 20 games in the second half of 2019, and only appeared in 24 games in 2020. This past season was so bad for Dahl, he didn’t hit a home run, and his slash line was a woeful .183/.222/.247.

I still think Dahl deserves a chance to recapture that 2019 first-half magic, at least if he ever has a clean bill of health. Dahl was better against lefties than righties in 2019, hitting .319/.357/.543 against southpaws after a .234/.258/.438 line the year before. The Rockies played Dahl in all three outfield positions, which is a bonus for any team looking to plug in roster gaps.

It all comes back to the injury history, and which team can be patient enough, deep enough or rebuilding enough to invest in Dahl regaining his 2019 form.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][et_pb_divider _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”][/et_pb_divider][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.4″ _module_preset=”default”]

As hitting coach Frank Menechino recently said, the White Sox 2021 goal is “World Series or bust.” If money weren’t an issue from ownership, the clear choice in finding a difference-maker would be George Springer.

If the White Sox miss out on another high-value free-agent target, there isn’t a right answer to which of these left-handed hitters would be best for the White Sox. They all come with their strengths and weaknesses, and thanks to the grotesque performance by White Sox right fielders and designated hitters over the past five seasons, all of these players could provide an offensive boost even with their faults. It’s a low bar for any incoming player to clear.

(Photo by All-Pro Reels)

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]
Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Josh Nelson
Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson is the host and producer of the Sox Machine Podcast. For show suggestions, guest appearances, and sponsorship opportunities, you can reach him via email at josh@soxmachine.com.

Articles: 916
10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
NorthSideSouthSider

Good stuff Josh. I still don’t know which one I prefer. If these players are going to be had at bargain prices, I like the idea of adding two of them to figure into the RF/DH/LF mix. They will need someone to hold ABs at DH until Vaughn is ready. If they can add 2 of them, I think Brantley is my preference as the first option.

Oddvark

Thanks for putting this together. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the switch-hitting Mel Rojas Jr. We can’t make direct statistical comparisons given the different level of pitching competition in the KBO, but he has been impressive there. Plus, he is a natural right fielder and shouldn’t command a high-priced/long-term contract. I think he could be considered in the list of left-handed hitting plan B options.

Interestingly, many of the players on this list have experience playing on World Series-winning teams: Joc Pederson, JBJ, and Kyle Schwarder. And Michael Brantley played in the 2019 WS (and was on the Indians, but injured, in 2016). Given our “World Series or bust” aspirations, that experience should be a plus, especially given the youth and extremely limited playoff experience for the rest of the team.

One other “pro” for David Dahl is that, if signed on a one-year deal, he would still be arbitration eligible for 2022. Since none of the options are perfect fits, that added flexibility should be worth something.

Joliet Orange Sox

For me, this entire decision comes down to cost and what move is made as the Plan A move.

For example, Dahl as a backup on a one-year cheap deal is a very appealing idea to me but Dahl as Plan A for significant money is out of the question in my mind.

I think every player on this list is like that more or less. (I chose Dahl as the example to state because he’s got the most intriguing upside based on age, talent, and control but is also the player on this list most likely to not see a major league pitch next year.)

asinwreck

Given what’s been going on in Philadelphia this year, I wonder how a call to John Middleton asking about a trade for Bryce Harper might be received.

Joliet Orange Sox

Sounds too good to be true but so did Len Kasper a week ago!

asinwreck

Looks like they’re open to dealing Wheeler.

CarolinaSoxFan

I guess stupid money only goes so far.

denny

I’d rather have Adam Engle as W Sox mostly everyday RF than ANY of the above except Springer. The need is for a strong defensive RF. And handedness shouldn’t so heavily apply here. Springer bats righty and he’s #1 on everybody’s list. Switch-hitters Grandal, Moncada, and Garcia make up a third of the lineup. You’re not going to take out Abreu, Anderson, Robert, or Eloy because they bat right. If there’s a need for a LH bat, it may be off the bench in a game situation. Go for the best available (Springer) and don’t worry about bat being LH or RH. All the others above can play elsewhere, IMHO. Might as well have Mazara back as those guys.

shaggy65

I’d be interested in seeing Mazara included in the analysis for comparison. What would the top chart look like with him on it?

I’d still be fine bringing Nomar back on a cheap deal as long as we spend serious money on DH and/or starting pitcher.

denny

I just think Mazara’s “terrible” 2020 isn’t a whole lot worse than a lot of the listed options provide. Truth is, I don’t want any of them (save Springer). But Shaggy, I also don’t want them spending money on a full-time DH (see: Encarnacion, Dunn, et al.) On a team where last year a Grandal-McCann-Collins rotation was considered before signing EE, where a guy like Eloy profiles as a DH, where 2021 talks are of a possible Abreu-Vaughn DH/1B, I think lineup flexibility is important and a full-time DH limits that flexibility. W Sox have had too many seasons where they have a lineup with 3 or 4 players best suited as DH, but play the field because they have a fulltime DH.Want a LH batting, solid RF? Make an offer to Giants for Mike Yaz.