Pittsburgh Pirates: Breaking Down the Reverse Splits of Ji Hwan Bae

Jun 4, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Ji Hwan Bae (3) hits
Jun 4, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Ji Hwan Bae (3) hits / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 season is nearly 40% complete for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Thus far, Ji Hwan Bae has been a reverse splits hitter for the Bucs.

Playing the platoon game with hitters has become common place across baseball in recent seasons. Just look at the Pittsburgh Pirates for example. When they face a left-handed pitcher, you can all but guarantee that Rodolfo Castro and Mark Mathias will find their way into the starting lineup while Tucupita Marcano will get a day down.

Well, there is one Pirate regular who has reverse splits and in a big way this season. That player is Ji Hwan Bae. Although he is a left-handed hitter, Bae has hit left-handed pitching much better than right-handed pitching. Due to this, Bae should always be in the lineup against a lefty.

Bae’s overall offense numbers this season are nothing special. Hitting for a .275/.329/.363 slash line with a 92 wRC+ and an isolated slugging (ISO) of .088, Bae has been a slightly below league average hitter with nearly zero power.

Strangely enough, however, most of Bae’s struggles have come against right-handed pitching.

Against righties, Bae is hitting for just a .252/.308/.369 slash line. He has a wRC+ of 86, a .117 ISO, 22.3% strikeout rate, and a 5.8% walk rate against right-handed pitching. Against righties he has just a 19.5% line-drive rate and a 17.6% hard-hit rate.

Looking at Bae’s numbers against lefties is when things really start to get strange. Overall, his numbers are much strong. Bae owns a .327/.377/.347 slash line and a 105 wRC+ against lefties. Although his power (.020 ISO) is lower and strikeout rate (29.1%) is greater against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching, his 7.3% walk rate is a near 2% uptick from what he does against righties.

His line-drive rate against lefties jumps nearly 13% to 32.1%, however, his hard-hit rate drops to 11.4%. A likely driving force behind his success against lefties is that he does a better job of using all fields. Bae pulls the ball 30.6% of the time against righties while he goes the opposite field at just a 32.9% clip. Against left-handed pitching, his pull rate drops slightly to 28.6% and he hits the ball to the opposite field 42.9% of the time. As for hitting the ball to center field, he does that at a 36.5% clip against righties and a 28.6% clip against lefties.

Ultimately, Bae’s success against lefties probably should not come as a huge surprise. While he has just 8 plate appearances against lefties during his cup of coffee in the majors last August, he did hit over .300 against lefties in the minor leagues last season.

Even if his power numbers are not as strong as they are against right-handed pitching, if Bae continues to show a good eye at the plate and work to use all fields more, he will continue to find success against left-handed pitching. This could lead to Bae continuing to be a rare reverse splits hitter.  

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