- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
There was little reason to expect Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee to hit even one home run in Wednesday's day game against the St. Louis Cardinals, let alone smack three of them! In 218 at-bats since May 20, McGehee had managed to hit one home run, and that had come as a pinch hitter off Arizona Diamondbacks reliever (now minor leaguer) Sam Demel. In other words, McGehee hadn't homered as a starter in two and a half months.
Then he lit up right-hander Edwin Jackson for three of them Wednesday, and against a pitcher who had allowed eight home runs all season in 20 starts. Hey, sometimes I feel good about players starting to get hot and I recommend them as fantasy free-agent pickups. McGehee wasn't one of those fellows. He and his .607 OPS truly looked done. He was, in fact, arguably one of the worst players in baseball this season, considering his lack of power, .285 on-base percentage and miserable defense.
OK, now I'm just being mean, and McGehee did make an error in Wednesday's game, but the fantasy owners who had him active won't mind. McGehee was the ninth third baseman off the board in ESPN average live drafts, a ninth-round pick, but angered so many owners -- and legitimately -- that he was down to 42.2 percent ownership in ESPN standard leagues entering Wednesday, despite coming off a 104-RBI season. But what caught my eye when analyzing McGehee's stats -- and concluding this was one really great game, and not a Dan Uggla kind of magical season turnaround -- was his work against left-handed pitching.
You see, McGehee bats right-handed. Last season he batted .316 off southpaw pitchers with a .589 slugging percentage (eight home runs), and a .947 OPS that ranked 13th among all hitters with at least 150 plate appearances against lefties. McGehee was average against right-handers. This season he's been below average against right-handers, but has eight home runs. He hasn't homered off a lefty. In fact, McGehee doesn't have an extra-base hit off a lefty this year. Last year he had 26. Surely this has contributed to his overall struggles.
I can't say McGehee will all of a sudden start hitting lefties or righties, though he has raised his batting average 19 points in 17 games. Baby steps. We have a decent sample size, and players don't always return to the mean. The Brewers are scheduled to face awful Houston Astros lefty J.A. Happ on Friday night and I don't expect McGehee to do anything special. If you had him active Wednesday, perhaps you haven't been paying attention. If you can sell high off a three-homer game, pay attention because now is the time to act.
Meanwhile, while researching McGehee's failure to hit left-handed pitching, I encountered more statistics that were, frankly, tough to believe on the sad side, and might explain some players' struggles. And if you know me, you know there's an Adam Dunn reference coming up soon.
Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit Tigers: He bats right-handed ... and he leads all hitters in strikeouts against southpaws. The next 10 players in strikeouts against lefties all hit left-handed. Jackson was an obvious regression candidate this season, and it's come to fruition. He's got to do something about all those whiffs, against all pitching.
Dan Uggla, 2B, Atlanta Braves: I shouldn't be surprised at his futility against lefties, because he has had trouble in the past (in 2009, he hit .208 against LHP). But Uggla has only three home runs against lefties this season, and 20 off right-handers. He's currently hitting 60 points better against righties. You shouldn't sit him at all anymore, but if you must, certainly not against right-handers.
Carl Crawford, OF, Boston Red Sox: I would, however, sit Crawford against southpaws in daily leagues. He's never hit them particularly well. I guess Terry Francona refuses to acknowledge it, but even Mike Aviles is a better choice. Crawford is hitting .139 against lefties.
David DeJesus, OF, Oakland Athletics: This lefty hitter has somewhat held his own against the southpaws in his career, hitting .264, but with no power. This year, best I can tell, DeJesus joins McGehee as the only players with 80 or more at-bats off lefties -- there are 176 players in this group -- and no extra-base hits (.136 batting average). You shouldn't be playing DeJesus in the first place; why the Athletics do against C.J. Wilson and Jason Vargas, I'll never know.
Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals: This is an odd one, because like McGehee, Werth has done some damage against the lefties in recent seasons. Not this season. Werth is hitting .167 against them. I can't tell you why. I wouldn't sit Werth against lefties, though, because he does have some power and this feels like a player due for some statistical correction the rest of the way.
Adam Dunn, 1B, Chicago White Sox: Here we shall end the blog entry, fittingly. Mr. Dunn is hitting .039 against left-handed pitching, with three singles in 77 at-bats. Honestly, Ozzie, do this fellow a favor and don't play him against lefties. It's the right thing to do.