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The secret behind David Ortiz hitting lefties

05.08.12 at 11:30 am ET
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So, Monday night he did it again. Two more hits against a left-hander, including the fifth homer of the season vs. a southpaw.

David Ortiz is now hitting .432 against left-handed pitching this season, with a 1.340 OPS. For those keeping score at home, that’s far and away the best numbers for a left-handed hitter against lefty pitching in 2012, and third-best of all major leaguers (behind only right-handed hitting Matt Kemp and Derek Jeter).

So how is he doing it? Let Ortiz explain.

“It was just about making sense of it, going back to being patient,” he said. “Lefties were getting me out, but it wasn’t them getting me out, it was me getting myself out. I was chasing pitches you just don’t hit. The difference between that time and now is that I’m not chasing those pitches. I’m waiting for pitches that are more hittable because that’s what pitchers normally think. They try and get you to chase bad pitches because they know you’re capable of hitting strikes. So if I have a guy who is capable of hitting strikes, but he also will chase bad pitches, I’m going to give him bad pitches to chase. Now he chases those bad pitches then I have to throw him a strike. That’s the difference.”

He’s right. And his two hits against Kansas City lefty Jonathan Sanchez Monday support the theory. He saw three pitches in the strike zone with Sanchez pitching, and one ended up in the right-center field seats, while the other was lined into center for a single. The third? He took it for a strike even though Pitch FX suggests it wasn’t actually in the zone.

For Ortiz, this has been the theme all season against left-handers — swing at pitches in the strike zone and don’t chase.

He’s hitting .433 with an OPS of 1.400 and four home runs on balls in the strike zone delivered by lefty pitchers this season (with Jeter hitting a remarkable .786 on balls in zone vs. left-handers). Just 27 percent of his swings have been at pitches out of the zone, and when he has found himself swinging at potential balls, they have been pitches he can handle (hitting .429 on bad balls against lefties, compared to the .111 clip he had two seasons ago).

Two years ago when Ortiz swung at a pitch outside the strike zone, he flat-out missed it 50 percent of the time. This year he has swung and missed on just six of the 66 pitches he has seen out of the zone from left-handers.

“Lefties throw the ball over the plate just like any other pitcher,” said Ortiz, who hit .270 against lefties from 2003-08, before struggling to a .217 clip in ’10-11 . Last year he bounced back with a .329 average.”They just have a different angle and I’ve tried to figure it out. They’re tough. But they’re pitchers just like everyone else. I’ve hit lefties before. I struggled with lefties for a couple of years, but if you look at my numbers before that, there was one year I had 18 homers against lefties (’06). So me hitting against lefties right now isn’t just like me doing it the last couple of years.”

(Information from BaseballAnalytics.org was used in this report.)

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