Exposure to hockey gives Canadian baseball players a natural advantage, study

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There are far fewer left-handed people in the world than right-handed. In sports, the ability to play from the left side affords athletes natural advantages over their counterparts. In baseball, players who bat left-handed but throw right-handed (being natural righties) are known as sinister right-handers. By hitting as a lefty, they perform better than other right-handers unable to make the switch. Research indicates that sinister right-handers are more likely to have a career batting averages (BA) of .299 or higher.

A recent study by Denver Brown et al.,”Sinister right-handedness provides Canadian born Major League Baseball players with an offensive advantage: A further test of the hockey influence on batting hypothesis”, reviewed whether Canadians — who tend to have early exposure to hockey, something that fosters sinister right-handedness (theory first proposed by J. Cairney et al.) — tend to have higher BA than other groups. Past research showed that Canadians have contributed more left handed batters that American, Dominican, or SE Asian players. What made the data more interesting was the fact that Canadian lefties were 60% more likely to throw righty.

JM McLean and FM Ciurczak studied being left-handed contributed to increased skill performance in professional baseball. They were able to demonstrate that left-handed players (hitting and throwing left) were more likely to play in the majorleagues and among professional players and were three-times more likely to have career averages above .299.

Subsequent studies reinforced the idea that lefties performed better. Grondin et al. studied data from Major League Baseball from 1871 to 1993. Their research showed that the advantage also extended to power numbers like home runs (HR) and slugging percentage (SLG).

DL Mann, F Loffing, and P Allen re-analyzed McLean and Ciurzak’s data. They found that the biggest advantage in batting was not for dominant left-handed players, but for sinister right-handers. Their analysis showed that those players were more than seven-times more likely to play in the majors relative to the proportion of other combinations of throwing and batting handedness.

Brown et al.’s recent analysis took into consideration on-base plus slugging adjusted for ballparks (OPS+) and Runs Batted In (RBI). They used baseballreference.com for data regarding country of birth, handedness preference for batting and throwing, offensive performance for each player. According to their calculations, 41.8% of Canadian players are sinister right-handers. Southeast Asian players came second with 31.4% of players being sinister right-handers. The U.S. and Latin America came in a distant third and fourth, 19.0% and 5.1% respectively.

Their findings suggested that there was still more nuance to be teased out regarding players who were pure lefties and those that were sinister right-handers:

“Results from the present study provide evidence that offensive performance advantages are not specific to sinister right-handers or dominant left-handers, but rather position players who bat left-handed, irrespective of throwing hand dominance.”

The study went on to stress that the advantages of batting-lefty extended beyond pure BA into power numbers like SLG and HR and the ability to get on base (OPS, OPS+). The advantages of being sinister right-handers ended up not being significantly greater than simply batting left-handed.

Previous studies have shown that most left-handed batters are right hand dominant (except USA born players). However, being born in Canada was shown to produce more sinister right-handers, hence exploiting the advantages of batting lefty.

The authors conclude, “Given that hockey has been almost synonymous with Canada since the inception of the psort, it is plausible that early hockey exposure is much more common in Canada compared to other countries included in our analysis. In this respect, statistics suggest Canadians are more likely to shoot left handed, which in turn increases the likelihood of naturally adopting a left laterality batting preference.”

So the moral of the story? Lefties do it better.

IMAGE CREDIT: Creative Commons

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