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Left Out: Handedness and the Hall of Fame.

Handedness historically has been of importance to how the game of baseball is played. For example, professional baseball has long alternated players at the same position of varying handedness in order to gain a competitive advantage. That advantage--the platoon effect--is in play when batters hit better when facing pitchers who throw with the opposite hand of the batter's side preference. (1) This practice dates to at least 1886 when Chicago White Stockings manager Adrian Anson used the platoon effect to maximize the effectiveness of his batters. (2)

One study found 13.5% of baseball players threw left-handed while 30.3% batted with a left-sided preference. (3) The overall percentage of left-handedness for men in the general population is just 11.6%. (4) Left-handed throwing fielders who batted with a left-sided preference were found to hit more home runs, had higher slugging percentages, but also had more strikeouts than did right-handed throwing fielders who batted with a left-sided preference. (5) The study's authors theorized that performance differences were due to hand dominance or hand specialization in the batters' swings.

In contrast, John Walsh proposed in The Hardball Times that performance differences in baseball based on throwing hand are largely due to positional bias. (6) Right-handed fielders dominate four positions in baseball: catcher, second base, shortstop, and third base. This positional bias exists because these positions favor a right-handed thrower. The other positions in baseball, which include first base and the outfield positions, do not favor a player by throwing hand. Therefore, according to Walsh, weak-hitting players who throw right-handed but are exceptional defenders have opportunities to play positions that weak-hitting left-handed throwers are not afforded. As a result of positional bias, the overabundance of weak-hitting right-handed throwers may skew performance data and, as a result, make it appear that left-sided batters perform better overall than right-sided batters.

We can see this positional bias demonstrated in the records of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Only eight players admitted to Cooperstown threw left, batted left, and played catcher, second base, shortstop, or third base. For all eight of these players, first base or outfield were their primary positions. The most recent player in that list, Lou Gehrig, was only listed at shortstop for one game in 1934 to keep his consecutive-games-played record intact and was removed before ever taking the field. (7) Prior to Gehrig, left-hander Jim Bottomley, a career first baseman, appeared in one game at second base in 1924. (8) That appearance lasted only one inning. (9)

Examining the handedness of position players in the Hall of Fame supports Walsh's finding that positional bias, rather than intrinsic abilities associated with handedness, is largely responsible for the observed differences between right-handed and left-handed players.

Jon C. Nachtigal, PhD and John C. Barnes, PhD

Notes

(1.) Bradbury, John Charles, and Douglas J. Drinen. "Pigou at the Plate." Journal of Sports Economics, no. 2 (September 2007): 211-24.

(2.) Nawrocki, Tom. "Captain Anson's Platoon." The National Pastime, no. 15 (1995): 34-37.

(3.) Grondin, Simon, Yves Guiard, Richard B. Ivry, and Stan Koren. "Manual Laterality and Hitting Performance in Major League Baseball." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 25, no. 3 (1999): 747-54.

(4.) McManus, Chris. Right Hand, Left Hand: The Origins of Asymmetry in Brains, Bodies, Atoms and Cultures. London: Phoenix, 2004.

(5.) Grondin, et.al. "Manual Laterality."

(6.) Walsh, John. "The Advantage of Batting Left-Handed." The Hardball Times, November 7, 2007. https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/the-advantage-of-batting-left-handed.

(7.) "Biography--The Official Licensing Website of Lou Gehrig." Lou Gehrig. Accessed August 25, 2019. https://www.lougehrig.com/biography.

(8.) "Jim Bottomley Stats" Baseball-Reference. Accessed November 23, 2018. https://www.baseballreference.eom/players/b/bottoji01.shtml.

(9.) The 1924 STL N Regular Season Fielding Log for Jim Bottomley. Retrosheet. Accessed September 9, 2019. https://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1924/Mbottjl010031924.htm.

(10.) All player stats from Baseball-Reference.com.

Caption: Dan Brouthers

Caption: Lou Gehrig is the most recent of eight left-handed players in the Hall of Fame listed as playing catcher, second base, shortstop, or third base for at least one game--and he didn't actually appear in the field in the game where he was listed as shortstop.
Appearances for left-sided batters and throwers
in the Hall of Fame who played Catcher/Second
Base/Shortstop/Third Base (10)

Name             Bats   Throws     Years

Jake Beckley     Left    Left    1888-1907
Jim Bottomley    Left    Left    1922-1937
Dan Brouthers    Left    Left    1879-1904
Jesse Burkett    Left    Left    1890-1905
Lou Gehrig       Left    Left    1923-1939
Willie Keeler    Left    Left    1892-1910
Edd Roush        Left    Left    1913-1931
George Sisler    Left    Left    1915-1930

                  Appearances    Appearances
Name             at C/2B/SS/3B    at IB/OF

Jake Beckley           1            2,389
Jim Bottomley          1            1,885
Dan Brouthers          2            1,671
Jesse Burkett          3            2,054
Lou Gehrig             1            2,146
Willie Keeler         65            2,039
Edd Roush              1            1,863
George Sisler          5            2,009
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Author:Nachtigal, Jon C.; Barnes, John C.
Publication:The Baseball Research Journal
Date:Sep 22, 2019
Words:809
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