If the Blue Jays are smart, they will stack their lineup with right-handed hitters against David Phelps tonight. Huh? Phelps is a righty, so shouldn’t he pitch better against right-handers?
This season Phelps actually has a reverse platoon split with a higher OPS allowed to righties than lefties. It’s not just a small split either: left-handers have a .590 OPS against him and right-handers have a .897 OPS versus him this season.
His .590 OPS vs lefties ranks in the top 10 among AL right-handed pitchers; and his .897 OPS vs righties is one of the five worst among AL right-handers (min. 100 batters faced).
His numbers against same-sided batters have declined in each season since his debut, a bad trend for a pitcher trying to stay in the major-league rotation.
We are less than halfway through the season, so the large reverse split may be a case of a small sample size, but it’s still worth investigating his decline in effectiveness against right-handed batters.
One issue is his decreasing whiff rate against righties over the last three seasons. In 2012 he got right-handers to miss on 20 percent of their swings, but that rate has declined to just 15 percent this season.
He really gets into trouble when he leaves a pitch up in the zone. Righties have a .435/.500/.717 line on pitches belt-high or above this season, compared to .250/.305/.395 on pitches located in the lower half of the zone.
The longball has also been a problem, with four homers allowed to the 134 right-handed batters he has faced this season. In nearly the same sample size, Phelps has given up just one home run to the 124 lefties he has seen this year.
They have combined for 35 homers and 70 extra-base hits, and also have no problem against same-sided pitchers, with both ranking in the top 15 among right-handed batters in OPS vs right-handed pitchers.
Phelps has had success in the past against Bautista and Encarnacion in a limited sample. The duo is just 2-for-15 with six strikeouts against him, though Bautista did go yard on a Phelps hanging curveball in their only matchup this season on April 5.
Phelps’ strategy has been to keep the ball down and away from the two sluggers and he’ll need to continue to do that if he is going to have any chance of getting them out. Bautista and Encarnacion are a combined 10-for-73 (.137) with two extra-base hits in at-bats ending in a pitch low and outside this season.