What Is The Point Of Switch-Hitting When One Cannot Switch-Hit?

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.

Jun 12, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (39) on deck to bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Aug 13, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino (18) hits a two run RBI single in the 11th inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. Boston defeated Toronto 4-2 in 11 innings. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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. 

Should Saltalamacchia and Nava Bat Left-Handed All The Time?

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Topics: Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Shane Victorino

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  • John Cate

    Salty has always been a poor hitter batting right-handed. Someone should have told him years ago to give up switch-hitting and just bat left-handed against all pitchers. His platoon differential couldn’t possibly be any worse than his lack of skill hitting from the right side.

    There have been players in recent memory who were just like this, and became better hitters after they abandoned an ill-advised attempt to switch-hit in the majors. J.T. Snow nearly lost his career until someone advised him just to hit from his natural (lefty) side, and it saved his career. Mariano Duncan actually did scuffle his way back down to AAA, and then the Reds got him and ordered him to only bat right-handed. He made it back to the bigs, and played nine more years.

  • Walt Coogan

    … good piece.

  • Rick M.

    With a Victorino I can see situational options. With a runner on first I’d rather see him bat LH since that hole is open and his speed gives him an extra few steps from the left side. Might apply to others depending upon pitchers, spray charts and personal preferences.

    I believe Eddie Murray once stated it was vision with him. He could simply see the ball better by switching and if he went RH/RH and LH/LH he could not pick up the ball as well. I know that is a real issue with some batters – especially RH – to switch up.

    I was a huge fan of Mickey Mantle and two of the longest home runs ever hit were by Mantle. His famous 565′ foot drive was RH and his one that missed by a few feet of leaving the stadium was LH. Prodigious power from both sides.

    Good article, Connor.

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