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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Finding Switch-Hitters Who Should Stop Switch-Hitting

According to the authors of The Book, it takes around 600 plate appearances against left-handed pitching for the platoon split of a switch-hitter to stabilize. Even with a 1,000-plate appearance minimum, many of the players above haven’t reached that threshold yet.

This isn’t the first time this question has been asked. Back in 2014, Ben Lindbergh investigated this same question for Baseball Prospectus. In that article, he used a heavy regression model to calculate the estimated performance of a switch-hitter who decided to go one way. Using his method, four players appear to be good candidates to stop switch-hitting: Ozzie Albies, Ian Happ, Tommy Edman, and Ketel Marte.

Using a regression model to estimate performance is a blunt way of approaching the problem, though at the time, Lindbergh didn’t have access to the kind of granular batted ball data we do today (Statcast was one year away from implementation). For Mullins, I examined the handedness splits of some of his underlying metrics, and it quickly became clear that his batted-ball and plate discipline peripherals as a right-handed hitter were extremely poor. That alone should have convinced him to drop swinging from the right side, even if his peripherals as a left-handed batter weren’t much to sneeze at.

To dig further into the list of switch hitters above, I pulled handedness splits for those same key underlying metrics to see if any of them are potential candidates to make such a drastic change. Once I had the peripheral splits, I calculated z-scores based on the league standard deviation for each metric. The sum of those z-scores should tell us which batters under or over perform from one side of the plate in particular.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 11, 2022 at 02:24 PM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
Tags: cedric mullins, ozzie albies, switch-hitting, yoan moncada

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1. JJ1986 Posted: January 11, 2022 at 02:52 PM (#6060645)
I knew Albies was bad at it, but didn't realize how much he stood out.
2. SoSH U at work Posted: January 11, 2022 at 03:37 PM (#6060654)
None should stop. We need more switch hitters, not fewer.
3. The Duke Posted: January 11, 2022 at 07:58 PM (#6060698)
Tommy Edman should cease immediately. He’s a powerful right handed hitter and a slap hitter from the left side. Plus the cardinals have a power hitting left handed hitter coming up as a rookie at second so they can platoon them
4. Walt Davis Posted: January 11, 2022 at 09:24 PM (#6060712)
Maybe this was addressed and I missed it but ... for guys like Happ, Moncada, etc. who struggle against LHP, I would think the starting comparison point is LHB vs LHP overall splits. They are atrocious. The MLB average LvL wOBA is 289, a wRC+ of 80. Happ's 301 and Moncada's 306 might be "terrible" but they are much better than the average LHB and therefore probably better than what we should expect them to do if they changed to full-time LHB. None of the switch-hitters in the table come close to being as bad vs LHP as the average LHB.

The same is largely true for the other side. In 2021, RHB v RHP had a wOBA of 308 and only Edman, Mondesi and Leury Garcia were below that although a few others are close.

I know Ian Happ's 233/312/382 is not really what you want in the lineup but the average LvL was 228/301/355 in 2021. Fair enough, 2021 was a tough year ... but Happ was still at 213/301/352 which was league average.

Which makes me wonder how those z-scores were calculated. Happ is terrible relative to the average RHB v LHP ... but that doesn't mean he should give up switch-hitting, it means the Cubs should find a better RHB to platoon him with than himself. I suspect we have confused two different questions: "should Happ be in the lineup vs LHP?" vs "can Happ hit LHP better from the right or left side?" Anyway, I see no reason to think that Happ or Moncada will hit LHP better from the left side than they do from the right.

Just a reminder ... almost nobody (maybe Ruth, maybe Williams, maybe Bonds) hit RHP better than Jim Thome -- career 292/426/608. Versus LHP he was pretty uninteresting -- 238/340/427, a 270 point OPS difference. HoFer Jim Thome hit LHP about as well as the average RHB hit the average RHP. That's actually pretty good of course but it's not HoF-worthy.
5. Mr. Hotfoot Jackson (gef, talking mongoose) Posted: January 11, 2022 at 10:04 PM (#6060718)
None should stop. We need more switch hitters, not fewer.

What a strange way to spell "knuckleballers."
6. bookbook Posted: January 14, 2022 at 12:16 PM (#6061070)
I suspect that more than half of all switch hitters, as many as 3/4, would have been better overall hitters if they had grown up hitting exclusively from their stronger side. They would be better against both sides just through repetition and perfection of one swing, instead of two. Once the player is 25 or older, for most it’s probably too late.
7. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: January 14, 2022 at 12:54 PM (#6061076)
Rajai Davis began his minor league career as a switch hitter, but became a full-time right-handed hitter in 2004 (according to his BR Bullpen bio). He won minor-league batting titles in both 2003 and 2004, so it wasn't that he was struggling with getting hits - maybe it was he just didn't have any power from the left-hand side.

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