Prince Fielder hit the 300th home run of his career last week, adding to what has already been a successful season so far for the left-handed hitter.
He isn’t the only leftie having a stellar 2015, however. The first three names atop the hits leaderboard through games played on July 3 are all southpaws.
Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon currently paces all of Major League Baseball with 115 hits. In second place, occupying the same position for the Cleveland Indians, is Jason Kipnis with 108 hits. Just one hit behind Kipnis you will find Fielder of the Texas Rangers.
One statistic reveals what’s enabling Fielder, Gordon and Kipnis to be successful in accumulating hits. It is their ability to “hit ’em where they ain’t.” Gordon leads all qualifying MLB hitters in batting average on balls in play at .406. Kipnis is just two spots down on that list at .388. Fielder ranks 11th at .367. These three players are taking different routes to similar results, however.
Gordon has been doing exactly what you would expect someone with his speed to be doing. He has been putting the ball in play and forcing opposing defenses to try to throw him out. Gordon’s percentage of ground balls, ground ball per fly ball rate and infield hit total all rank second in MLB. He is tied for the MLB lead with seven bunt hits. His speed enables him to do things like hit little league home runs in pitchers’ parks.
Paving Kipnis’ path to success is simple frequent contact and volume of pitches. He leads the bigs in doubles and has the fifth-highest batting average in MLB right now because he is making contact on 86 percent of his swings. Kipnis leads the majors in plate appearances, often giving him chances to make an impact in games.
Fielder has been scorching balls so far this season, leading to his .347 batting average so far this season, which is the third-best in the majors. His percentage of hard-hit balls rank him 24th in MLB in that category, at over 37 percent. The velocity of the ball coming off Fielder’s bat lends towards opposing defenders being unable to make a play to get him out.
An argument could be made that being left-handed gives this trio an advantage, as they see pitchers from the opposite side of the plate more often than right-handed hitters. Southpaws occupying all these spots isn’t that common in MLB history, however. The last time that three left-handed batters finished in the top three spots in hits for an entire season was 2010, when Ichiro Suzuki (now Gordon’s Miami teammate) was first with 214 hits. Robinson Cano came in second with 200 hits and Carlos Gonzalez was third with 197 hits that season.
All three of these individuals are having stellar seasons without a lot of protection around them in their lineups as well. None of the other regular position players for the Indians, Marlins, or Rangers are hitting over .300 this season. Cleveland ranks 18th in total runs scored to this point in the season, Miami 25th.
These three left-handed batters are having superb seasons at the plate, as they are all playing to their individual strengths. If they continue this level of productivity over the rest of the 2015 campaign, we may see southpaw sovereignty when it comes time to hand out individual awards for the season.