Last year, 1,284 different players either had a plate appearance as a hitter or recorded an out as a pitcher. If you're reading this, the odds are good that you know of hundreds of them. Seven hundred? Eight? You tell me. But you know a lot of them. You don't know all of them, of course. There will always be a few young players who slip through the cracks, or a few veteran relievers who managed to claw their way to the majors in their 30s and disappeared just as quickly.
In addition to the players you flat miss, though, there are also players you can't keep track of. You think you know them. And you have most of the particulars right. But you might be unsure about one of the crucial details related to the player. How old or young he is, for example. If he's a switch-hitter or not. If he was grown in a Petri dish in Minnesota, or if he just doesn't strike anyone out. You might think Marco Scutaro is Italian, even.
Today's topic will be the pitchers who constantly trick you into thinking they're left-handed when they're right-handed, and vice versa. Right now, somewhere in the world, Chris Resop is pitching, and he might as well be rolling the ball to the plate like a five-year-old bowler for all you know. (I've seen Resop pitching in person at least twice. He's probably still a right-hander. Probably. Unless he's left-handed.)
My top five left-handers-who-are-actually-right-handers and right-handers-who-are-actually-left-handers:
5. Jason Hammel
I've watched at least nine out of every 10 Giants games over the last five years, so I've probably seen Hammel pitch at least seven or eight games against the Giants alone. Yet when doing research on Hammel last year when the Orioles were actually good, I had to refresh the page to make sure it loaded right. A right-hander? Wait …
Two months later, I was doing a search on FanGraphs by average fastball velocity, and near the top of the list was the same soft-tossing lefty. So not only is Hammel deceptively right-handed, but he throws a hard fastball. This means he's also a Jeremy Guthrie All-Star, which is a pitcher who throws much harder than you think. But that's a post for another time.
There will be a lot of onomastics for some of these picks, searching for what goes into the perfect left-handed name. For Hammel, though, it probably wasn't the name. It was most likely his presence as "that guy" on the Rockies, a team that's always trying new things. They had the sinker-baller phase, the premium-free-agent phase … they probably had a left-handed phase, too. Hammel was probably part of it. He's at #5 now because I'm pretty used to him as a right-handed fastballer. But for a while, he was at the top of the charts.
4. Gavin Floyd/John Danks
A special twofer. These are both left-handed names, short and punchy. Matt Moore is a left-handed name, for example. Gets in, gets out. Two syllables. Randy Choate is quite possibly the left-handiest name in baseball today. Has there ever been a right-handed Randy in professional baseball? Not once.
But there's no finely tuned algorithm when it comes to left-handed names. It's more like a Jacobellis v. Ohio rule of thumb; you know a left-handed name when you see it, and you know that both Floyd and Danks have one. But you also probably know that one of those two is a right-hander. Is it Gavin Floyd? Probably not. His first name is Gavin, and his last name on the back of a Sox uniform makes you think of Floyd Bannister. Floyd is almost certainly a lefty.
Yet John Danks is also a perfect lefty name. It passes the two syllable test, and you seem to remember that he's actually left handed. He was really good for a while; he could be really good again this year. Or was it Floyd who was really good for a while, and Danks with the impressively consistent, impressively dull five-year run of ERAs between 3.84 and 4.37? Which one is left-handed?
I'm not telling.You can probably make a drinking game out of this. A horrible, horrible drinking game.
3. Lucas Harrell
Maybe about once every month or so, I'm on the 2012 Astros page on Baseball Reference because I'm drunk and maudlin, wondering about the meaning of it all. And almost every time, I think to myself, "Say, Lucas Harrell had a pretty okay year." I'll click on his page, check on his stats, and think, "Say, Lucas Harrell had a pretty okay year." And there it is, in all its pretty okayness: 106 ERA+, 3.76, .500 record, 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and 3.6 walks per nine. Not bad.
And if you're a fan of Baseball Reference's WAR, it had Harrell at about three wins last year. Pretty danged good.
It's the career path that screams lefty, though. He wasn't much in the minors, found himself on a bad team in his late-20s, and had a career year of sorts. Not bad. And that kind of breakout combined with not bad is usually a lefty. That whole Astros team is all lefties, you know. Erik Bedard, Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, Philip Humber … all lefties. Yep. But Harrell is their leader, even though he's not a lefty. He grew up among them and learned their ways, like Mowgli in The Jungle Book.
2. Mike Leake
This is the inspiration for this idea, though it took me a year to feel comfortable with it. Last year, I wrote an article about three college lefties with similar backgrounds. It was a swell idea. And then when I checked the comments, an ungrateful reader was enough of an ass to point out that Leake was right-handed. Well, I never.
Leake was a first-rounder who didn't spend a day in the minors. I knew he wasn't exactly a fireballer, so what kind of pitcher would you think is? A fast-tracked off-speed specialist straight out of college? Left-hander. It took me a year to realize that he was the one who screwed up, not me.
1. Wade Davis
Easily #1. I've had to make flash cards to remember Davis was a righty. But I have a good defense for this one. A partial list of Wade-related players in baseball over the last two decades:
Wade Boggs. Matt Stairs's middle name is "Wade." Ed Wade was probably a left-handed GM.
It all fits. The Yankees' Cory Wade is a righty, but you can bet that if his name were Wade Cory, he would be left-handed and pitching 34 innings in 80 appearances every year. And like Danks and Floyd up there, Davis had a teammate for a while that existed only to mess with you. Jake McGee sounds like a lefty, and he's a pretty good one. But when Davis and McGee were both Rays prospects getting cups of coffee in the majors … forget it.
Yet Davis is most assuredly a right-hander. So Davis tops the list. The real number one, though? He's not on here because I have no idea that the guy pitches with the hand he does. Over 1,000 different players will appear in a major-league game this year. Some of them are confusing.
Just know that it's their fault, not yours.