So the Los Angeles Dodgers finally did land a starting pitcher after all, and it seems like a reasonable catch: Scott Kazmir for three years, $48 million. If anybody has the money, it's the Dodgers, and they needed to find somebody to take up the slack left by departed ace Zack Greinke. Kazmir is a quality lefty and ... wait a minute, so is Clayton Kershaw, and everybody else in the Dodgers' likely Opening Day rotation. Are we really going to see an all-lefty rotation?
First, let's recognize Kazmir is more than pretty good. He's coming off a remarkable three-year run after resurrecting his fortunes by working with pitching guru Ron Wolforth, making 92 starts, 49 of them quality starts while pitching in the higher-scoring American League. In that time he posted a 3.54 ERA (3.61 FIP). He brought his strikeout rate back up to 21.8 percent across those three seasons, which is really good for a starter and back toward the range he was in during his phenom days as a young gun with the Rays. He's capable of fooling lots of people with his stuff. His lone stint on the DL since his comeback wasn't an arm injury, so he has proven he's durable.
In short, Kazmir is a great signing ... but he's left-handed in a rotation that might be entirely left-handed now, at least initially. In a division populated by right-handed power, from the Giants' power duo of Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, or Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock in Arizona, or Nolan Arenado in Colorado, you might start to worry or wonder.
Keep in mind a couple of factors, though. First, lefties generally do pretty well against everyone. Lefties have held hitters to a lower OPS in three of the last four season. You might worry about opponents loading up on left-mashing goons to stack their lineups against your wall of leftydom on the mound, but in the age of the 12-man pitching staff, it's harder to squeeze that kind of spare part onto a roster.
And while Chase Field and Coors Field aren't fun places to visit for any pitcher, an all-lefty rotation would still have the benefit of calling pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium home. Per the latest Bill James Handbook, over the last three years Dodger Stadium indexes at 92 for scoring, 13th in the league. For home runs off right-handed bats, it's relatively neutral, indexing at 101, so Kazmir and the other Dodgers lefties generally don't have to sweat seeing too many mistakes leaving the park.
Still, five lefties ... has anybody done that? The highest number of starts made by left-handed starters for a single team in a single season was the 1983 Yankees (with 127 of 162); they won 91 games but finished in third place in the AL East before the wild card. The 1975 Chicago White Sox are the only other team to have more than 120 southpaw starts in Baseball-Reference.com's database, as skipper Chuck Tanner rode a front three of Jim Kaat, Wilbur Wood and Claude Osteen.
However, in the era of the five (or so)-man rotation, we've seen some very left-leaning rotations. The 2015 White Sox are tied for third all-time (as far as Baseball-Reference goes) with 116 lefty turns, and they had another 113 southpaw starts in 2013. The 2004 Royals got two-thirds of their starts from lefties (108); they also lost 104 games. The 2003 A's, on the other hand, won 96 games and a division title while getting 105 starts from left-handers.
So you can lean pretty heavily to the left and have success. It's unusual, but not necessarily a predictor of success or failure beyond the abilities of the guys in question. However, there's an additional consideration to mull: defense. Left-handed pitching automatically causes a few more balls getting hit to the left side, with 37.5 percent of all balls in play going left over the last three years against 33.7 percent of left-bearing batted ball vs. righties. That gets more pronounced when you get to balls hit on the ground: 43.3 percent of all ground balls in play against lefties have gone to the left side the last three seasons against 34.7 percent when righties pitched.
With one exception, the Dodgers' five lefties have allowed ground balls to the left side near that average (from Hyun-Jin Ryu at 45.7 percent to Brett Anderson at 42.7). The exception? Kershaw at 52.3 percent. In itself, that isn't a bad thing -- Madison Bumgarner is at 54.3 percent over that same time, after all. But the big difference is Bumgarner has Brandon Crawford behind him on that side of the infield. The Dodgers' lefties don't.
Does that matter? Only as much as you believe that Corey Seager is going to be an effective MLB shortstop. If Seager lives down to some scouting reports that he doesn't cover enough ground and that he's too big to stick at short instead, you can see how this could get ugly. At 6 feet 4, Seager is as big as Cal Ripken -- the only man that tall to play more than 100 games at shortstop in baseball history.
Mitigating the risk on defense are the high K rates of most of the Dodgers' lefties; Kershaw (30.3 percent K rate from 2013 to 2015), Kazmir (21.7), Alex Wood (21.2) and Ryu (20.7) are all above-average. More K's mean fewer balls in play, and fewer chances for Seager. On the other hand, Seager is considered a sharp guy, so maybe we'll get to see a Ripken-style adaptation, armed with scouting reports, data, and a whole lot more shifting from a Dodgers team skippered by Dave Roberts than we saw from Don Mattingly (the Dodgers ranked 10th in shifts in the NL in 2015).
.@Dodgers This is blatant handism and I'm filing a hostile workplace grievance— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) December 30, 2015
Taking all of that into consideration, is this the sort of experiment they wanted to conduct? Will this be the five-fisted southpaws of doom, or of destiny? As noted above, no team has gotten 80 percent of their starts from lefties in the era of divisional play. I wouldn't bank on the Dodgers becoming the first. It remains to be seen if this is where the Dodgers will really end up as far as their actual rotation on Opening Day, let alone once right-handed Brandon McCarthy comes back from Tommy John surgery at some point during the season.
It assumes the Dodgers wouldn't flip a lefty -- probably Wood -- for somebody else's righty. It assumes Anderson delivers consecutive healthy seasons for the first time since 2008-2009. It assumes Ryu is ready to roll on Opening Day after missing all of 2015 because of shoulder surgery. And it assumes righty Mike Bolsinger doesn’t spoil this party by pitching his way into the picture after posting a 3.62 ERA (and 3.91 FIP) in 21 starts in 2015.
In isolation, signing Kazmir works for the Dodgers. He was the best starting pitcher left on the market after they struggled through an ugly offseason of not getting their man -- Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, all right-handed, front-of-the-rotation starters. Even without the "too many lefties" issue or the challenge of sorting out whether Seager can play short, signing Kazmir makes sense, even though it creates this unusual, perhaps even unprecedented, situation.
In the big picture, none of the left-leaning rotations we mentioned are famous for their postseason success. And or the budget they’re spending in L.A. -- more than $290 million on last season's 40-man roster -- anything less than a division title and a pennant might seem like failure. They're already walking the road less traveled by going this far to the left in their rotation, but we'll see if leaning left means blazing a trail into October.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.