The Best Professional Baseball Players Throw Right, Hit Left

(Reuters Health) – For baseball players, right-handed throwing and left-handed hitting may be the best combination for major league success, according to a new analysis of player data from 1871 to 2016.

The results, published in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, show that these players – among them, Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams – were significantly more likely to be .300 hitters and were also more likely to meet in the baseball hall. of glory.

This calls into question the appeal of a 1982 study, which claimed that left-handed lefties were the best hitters, perhaps because left-handed people’s brains are less likely to compartmentalize various functions.

The new data suggests learned behavior, not left-handed brain structure, is key to success, co-author David Mann of the Department of Human Movement Sciences at Vrije University in Amsterdam told Reuters Health by phone. .

“Maybe we’re teaching people to punch the wrong way,” he said. “When kids are younger, we should teach them to bat both ways,” and several factors may explain why left-handed hitters tend to be more successful at the game.

Mann said he’s found a similar trend in cricketers before, and the same factors may play a role in professional golfers.

So he and his colleagues turned to baseball to see if the effect could be seen there as well.

They confirmed that players who threw left and threw left were more likely to succeed than those who threw right and threw right.

But right-handers beating left turned out to be even more effective.

These players were 5.33 times more common in the major leagues than high school and high school teams, which turned out to be the best chance of getting on a pro team in the first place. In fact, young players who throw right and bat right had the lowest chance of making it to the majors.

Additionally, the odds of getting into the major leagues and being in the Hall of Fame were 9.92 times higher, and the odds of having a batting average of .299 or higher were 18.43 times higher. , for young right-handers who hit on the left.

Additionally, although right-handers who bat left represented only 11.8% of all major league players, they made up 19.9% ​​of all Hall of Famers and 31.6% of top hitters, further evidence of the trend.

“When you allow the fewest of those players, there seems to be a much bigger advantage for right-handers,” Mann said.

In contrast, left-handers who bat left accounted for 15.9% of players, 13.1% of Hall of Famers, and 21.0% of top hitters. Players who bat on the right and throw on the right accounted for 62.6% of major leaguers, 55.7% of Hall of Fame inductees and 44.3% of those with a career batting average of .299 or higher. .

The Mann team said several factors may be working.

Perhaps most important is that “players who throw with the right hand and bat with the left hand have an additional biomechanical advantage, with the dominant (throwing) hand being placed farther from the striking end of the bat. , providing a longer lever with which to hit the ball,” they said.

Other potential explanations for the trend: A left-handed hitter’s swing automatically swings the batter in the direction of first base (making it easier to lift off for the sack after contact), left-handed hitters start closer to first base , pitchers may have less experience throwing left-handers as they are less common, and right fielders may be slightly less skilled than other players.

“That doesn’t mean pro players have to change now,” Mann said. “It’s asking, ‘What’s the best way to teach players at the start?’ “

Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the man behind the Physics of Baseball website, told Reuters Health he would be more comfortable with the conclusion if the authors had found hard evidence to explain it. .

“If they had chosen a different metric like circuits, they might have come up with something different,” he said. “From a purely baseball perspective, I’m very skeptical of conclusions based on complicated statistical analysis.”

SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine, online October 25, 2017.

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