Where Are the Latin Lefties?

OK, this is just a weird data anomaly that I cannot explain, and I would like to enlist your help. The response to the replacement-level question was great (I’m still digging through it all), so I thought I would try again.

In my post on Hispanics in the Major Leagues, I noticed that the percentage of Hispanic left-handed pitchers was about half that of non-Hispanics. I could not think of any explanation, and still cannot. So I thought I would check out batters as well. Surely, Hispanics would bat left-handed at a rate comparable to non-Hispanics? Wrong. Take a look at the distribution of lefties for both types of players:


Position Hispanic Non-Hispanic
Pitchers 15% 26%
Batters 14% 31%

What’s going on? Interestingly, Hispanic players are much more likely to be switch-hitters than non-Hispanics. And the added switch-hitters narrows the gap between batters who can bat lefty, although there are still fewer Hispanics batting left-handed.


Bats Hispanic Non-Hispanic
Left 14% 31%
Switch 18% 7%
Left or Switch 32% 38%

Maybe non-Hispanic switch-hitters are more likely to give up batting from the right side than Hispanics? This was my first thought, but the fact that the shortage of lefties occurs among pitchers as well leads me to think its something on the Hispanic side. In fact, due to the shortage of left-handed Hispanic pitchers, there are greater returns to becoming a switch-hitter if you are playing in Latin America (assuming the left-right ratio is the same as in MLB).

To quote Leftorium owner Ned Flanders, “As the tree said to the lumberjack, ‘I’m stumped.'” This has to be the most-hyphenated blog post in history.

Addendum: More discussion from Baseball Musings and Baseball Primer. Thanks to David Pinto and Repoz for the links!

7 Responses “Where Are the Latin Lefties?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting. What’s the lefty/righty proportion of hispanics vs. non-hispanics in the general population (outside of baseball)? That is, is handedness, in general, in Latin American countries similar to US-born people? Maybe there’s cultural differences that favor one or the other?

    Or, maybe the baseball factories that a large number of them go through push them into batting, pitching, and playing the same way. I’ve also read they usually tend to have lower OBP’s a result of being more “free swinging” at the plate and less likely to draw walks.

    It could be neither of these explain the difference, but something to consider.

    Cheers,
    TOM
    (tom@data-for-all.com)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve long noted the lack of Hispanic Lefties – my only thought is that a lack of gloves has forced players to throw right handed. That of course doesn’t account for the hitters, which I never noted.

    Maybe the hitters are better defined by position. More catchers, middle infielders bat right handed due to the need to throw with your right hand. If Hispanics are overweighted in these groups (I would think yes to the middle infielders and if there are more Molina brothers maybe catcher too) then this too could account for some of the difference.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It wasn’t that long ago in the U.S. that left-handed people were forced to write right-handed in school simply because that’s the way things were done. I wouldn’t be surprised if modern Dominican culture discourages left-handed-ness. That might help explain the predominance of Dominican switch-hitters. If you grow up forced to do everything right-handed, but you’re naturally a lefty, it’s relatively easy to become a switch-hitter.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Having grown up in Puerto Rico as a lefty, I can attest to the cultural bias against it. I learnt to throw and bat righty. The Japanese are similarly biased against lefties. Do they have the same profile as Hispanics in this regard?

    p.s. Another way to say “right” and “left” in Spanish is “diestra” and “siniestra” — i.e. “left” is “sinister”.

  5. Anonymous says:

    A few thoughts.

    There is some evidence on the web that left-handedness is less prevalent among Hispanics and Asians (9%) compared to white, black, and native american Americans (11%). I’m not sure how reliable these sources are, so I’ll check it out further.

    The bias of Hispanics towards RH-only positions may provide some explanation, but it doesn’t explain pitchers. When I break down position-players 27% of Hispanics are 2Bs and SSs, compared to 14% of non-Hispanics. But are there more RH Hispanics because Hispanics tend to play these positions OR are there more Hispanics at thes positions because they tend to be right-handed.

    I buy the cultural argument against left-handedness. That should decline over time. Also, the economic consideration of only RH gloves is a potential explanation.

  6. lisa gray says:

    hi jc!!!

    well, there’s a lot of lefties who are made to do stuff righty (like my daddy) because of culture prejudice, but even if you make then do things right handed, they STILL lefty and will do most anything they ain’t been directly taught lefty.

    but i wonder if they pitching and hitting righty cuz that’s the way their teachers teach them when they very young before they old enough to go to the academies.

    i don’t see why one group of humans should have not as many lefties. hispanics are a mixture of european caucasian, native american and african. and those 3 groups by themself have the usual 11% so it makes no sense that a mix wouldn’t.

    i have noticed in americans that there are a lot of ballplayers who bat/throw righty, but sign their name lefty (craig biggio) and bat/throw lefty but sign they name righty (barry bonds) or who throw left and bat right (jason lane) or throw righty and bat lefty ( mike lamb). none of these guys hispanic or have hispanic parents so i disbelieve there’s prejudice here. so maybe there’s other reasons we not thinkin about when it comes to which hand a ballplayer uses to throw. or maybe it has to do with which eye is dominant???

    lisa

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