Switch-hitting is a valuable asset to one’s repertoire if used correctly. It allows a hitter to have relatively equal splits and towards the end of games can have a massive effect on the opposing manager’s bullpen management. However, it is becoming a recent trend to have guys that technically can switch-hit, but actually are tremendously better from one side of the plate than the other. Specifically on the Red Sox, guys like Daniel Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have significantly contributed to the team’s struggles against left-handed pitching by swinging the bat much better from the left side than the right.
Both players are substantially better against righties and, despite being switch-hitters, are actually liabilities against lefties. To look at some cold hard facts, Nava is slashing .305/.399/.453 with 8 home runs against righties and just .245/.302/.351 with 2 home runs against lefties. Saltalamacchia is slashing .290/.348/.519 with 9 home runs against righties and just .207/.305/.283 with 1 home run against lefties. With both Nava and Saltalamacchia, those are the splits of a righty-mashing platoon player, not an everyday player like both are.
After seeing this trend for roughly three years for both players and keeping in mind that both players not improved much, if at all, against lefties (Nava from a career .635 OPS to a .653 this season and Saltalamacchia from a career .591 OPS to a .589 this season), one has to wonder if it’s time for a change. How much worse could these players really do if they batted from the left side of the plate full-time?
It is strange that the only times that I have ever seen switch-hitters not bat from the opposite side of the pitcher is against knuckleballers or with Shane Victorino. After hurting his hamstring a week or so ago, Victorino started batting from the right side of the plate much of the time, including against right-handed pitching. Victorino also batted a bit from the right side last season when he was going through severe struggles against right-handed pitching while he tore up left-handers from the right side of the plate.
In his career as a right-hander vs right-handers, Victorino has a .239/.327/.391 slash line, good for a .718 OPS and 100 WRC+, making him exactly league average in runs created. Victorino has been better from the right side than the left, and as a smart player, he made adjustments. Throughout his career batting right vs right against left vs right, Victorino actually has the higher WRC+ as a right-handed batter against righties (100) than as a left-handed batter against righties (93).
Now, it is impossible to say whether Victorino would be better off as a full time righty, given small sample size. However, the key is that he actually made the adjustment and it worked for him. Victorino’s splits (career .266/.328/.398 as a lefty vs righties and career .300/.370/.501 as a righty vs lefties) have never been as extreme as Saltalamacchia’s or Nava’s so it is hard to say whether being a full-time left-handed batter would actually work for them.
However, what they’ve got going now certainly is not working. Some players might just not be cut out to be switch-hitters, even if they technically can do it. It would be interesting to see hitting coach Victor Rodriguez work with these players and maybe try some in-game experiments to see exactly how much of, if any, an advantage it might provide.