Switch-Hitters, Sometimes.

TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 16: Shane Victorino #8 of the Philadelphia Phillies takes a foul ball off his foot against the Toronto Blue Jays during MLB action at The Rogers Centre June 16, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

Shane Victorino has had a conspicuously bogus time in the left-handed batter's box this season. Halfway through 2012, the Flyin' Hawaiian has been limited to a miserable .264 wOBA against right-handers while curiously posting a robust .415 wOBA against southpaws. Should this trend continue into the second half, Victorino's 2012 would rank among the worst platoon splits by a switch-hitter since bat-handedness was recorded. This dramatic disconnect has had some fans wondering why the switch-hitter doesn't just try hitting from his strong side all the time?

Every now and then fans will entertain this notion, yet it never seems to be taken seriously. I remember this same question was asked by beat reporters on the north side of Chicago when Milton Bradley was struggling for the Cubs in 2009. I recall a visibly annoyed Lou Pinella in the press room shrugging off the suggestion as though it was utterly ridiculous. But with Bradley's wOBA against left-handers just .279 that season, I didn't think it was so much of an unreasonable proposition.

Unfortunately, there isn't much precedent for a switch-hitter giving up one side of the plate-- at least not in the major leagues. Undeterred, I queried the retrosheet files to find switch-hitters that had at least 100 PA from both sides of the plate, as well as 100 PA vs same-handed pitchers over the course of their careers.

First Last as RHB v RHP PA as RHB v RHP wOBA* as LHB v RHP PA as LHB v RHP wOBA* Diff vRHP
Mariano Duncan 2364 .287 884 .246 .041
Tito Fuentes 720 .241 3552 .282 -.041
Sandy Alomar Sr
103 .190 3187 .253 -.060
Jose Oquendo 144 .237 2312 .292 -.055
Chuck Carr 231 .235 1090 .297 -.063
Bob Meacham 211 .312 781 .261 .051
Steve Jeltz 207 .217 1261 .261 -.043
Juan Bell 292 .287 339 .239 .049
Nook Logan 169 .264 479 .256 .008
Luis Terrero 171 .315 192 .277 -.038
Ray Olmedo 181 .255 168 .266 -.012
Bruce Ruffin 120 .078 108 .161 -.084
First Last as LHB v LHP PA as LHB v LHP wOBA as RHB v LHP PA as RHB v LHP wOBA Diff vs LHP
J.T. Snow 685 .324 834 .264

.060

Reggie Jefferson 164 .263 227 .274 -.011
Rich Becker 192 .222 221 .220 .002
Orlando Merced 733 .328 172 .245 .084

It's not the most impressive group of ballplayers you'll ever see, for sure. Most of these players seem to represent the iconic replacement level player of their day. A cursory glance of some of their career WAR totals affirms this: Carr 3.7, Jefferson 3.4, Meacham 3.3, Logan 2.7, Bell -0.1, Jeltz -1.1, Terrero -1.0, Olmedo -1.7.

For the most part, the practice of switch-hitting and then un-switch-hitting seems reserved for quad-A lifers, glove-only types, fringe utility-players, or general disappointments of one kind or another that were willing to try anything to keep their careers alive. It's a desperate act, perhaps, reserved only for when your back is against the wall. Consider that Bruce Ruffin made the list and he wasn't even a position player. He simply spent 11 years in the National League as a pitcher.

Mariano Duncan has the largest sample size of the group with at least 800 PA's from both sides of the plate against right-handed pitching. If we take a closer look at his career, we see that there was a deliberate off-season decision made early in his career to end his run as a switch-hitter.

Mariano Duncan

Year as RHB v RHP PA as RHB v RHP wOBA as LHB v RHP PA as LHB v RHP wOBA
1985 0 NULL 433 .254
1986 0 NULL 261 .250
1987 0 NULL 190 .222
1989 168 .244 0 NULL
1990 298 .271 0 NULL
1991 205 .253 0 NULL
1992 365 .282 0 NULL
1993 340 .308 0 NULL
1994 255 .284 0 NULL
1995 158 .301 0 NULL
1996 326 .346 0 NULL
1997 249 .256 0 NULL

Duncan opted to cease switch-hitting after being sent down to the minors for the 1988 season. After batting just .233/ .285/ .324 in his first 3 seasons, it appears something needed to change. Duncan returned in 1989 as a strictly right-handed hitter and the decision ultimately seemed to pay off, though not immediately. It took nearly four seasons for Duncan to show substantial improvement against right-handers, but, even then, no one was exactly celebrating his new and improved .282 wOBA vs RHP as a 29 year-old.

J.T Snow, however, saw much more of an immediate improvement as a non-switch-hitter. After just one season, Snow had increased his wOBA against lefties to a respectable league-average rate of .330-- a far cry from the dismal sub-.250 wOBA's he had previously suffered batting from the right side.

J.T. Snow

Year as LHB v LHP PA as LHB v LHP wOBA as RHB v LHP PA as RHB v LHP wOBA
1992 0 NULL 3 .000
1993 0 NULL 105 .275
1994 0 NULL 94 .284
1995 0 NULL 187 .321
1996 0 NULL 202 .232
1997 0 NULL 161 .248
1998 3 .413 82 .221
1999 193 .291 0 NULL
2000 151 .330 0 NULL
2001 57 .350 0 NULL
2002 110 .371 0 NULL
2003 65 .314 0 NULL
2004 58 .352 0 NULL
2005 40 .248 0 NULL
2006 8 .405 0 NULL

Ultimately Snow improved over 60 wOBA points against left-handers for his career, with a peak of .371 in 2002. The switch contributed to a jump in overall production for Snow, seeing his wRC+ of just 100 from 92-98 leap to 109 after 1999. This is noteworthy because J.T. is one of the few players to kick the habit so late into his career. In 1999 Snow was 31, the same age as Victorino is now, when he began strictly batting from the left side. It is also interesting, with Snow being one of the more recent examples, that we can still track down some of the conversation involving all the tactical considerations of making such a dramatic change in one's game.

Tito Fuentes was the only other player to return a decent sample size, but, unlike Duncan and Snow, Tito bravely decided to begin switch-hitting after spending his first few seasons anchored to one side of the plate.

Tito Fuentes

Year as RHB v RHP PA as RHB v RHP wOBA as LHB v RHP PA as LHB v RHP wOBA
1965 33 .168 0 NULL
1966 407 .269 0 NULL
1967 273 .207 0 NULL
1969 0 NULL 155 .299
1970 0 NULL 382 .305
1971 0 NULL 513 .279
1972 0 NULL 456 .270
1973 0 NULL 507 .300
1974 0 NULL 310 .259
1975 3 .600 421 .266
1976 4 .000 386 .256
1977 0 NULL 391 .317
1978 0 NULL 31 .110

Of the remaining players of note: Sandy Alomar (the original) experimented with the righty vs righty strategy in his first 3 seasons then committed to using the platoon advantage exclusively. Ultimately this decision paid off in the form of +.060 increase in wOBA, though Alomar never breached .300 in a single season as an LHB.

Jose Oquendo, like Duncan and Fuentes, changed his ways after a demotion the minor leagues in the early days of his career. Oquendo was just 20 years-old when he forfeited switch-hitting. By 22 he had taken it up again and the results the second time around were encouraging. He would even hit for a wOBA as high as .347 from the left side in 1989.

Orlando Merced gave up the right side of the plate as a 26 year-old-- a bit later into his career than the others. His results from that point on vs lefties were impressive compared to his first few seasons, though still no better than league-average at .330.

[*In the interest of timeliness and not burning a hole in my laptop the wOBA numbers in the first table were generated using the original non-season-specific weights used in The Book, all other weights used are specific to the run environment of the season in question].

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