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When switch hitting becomes a detriment

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Switch hitting is generally lauded around MLB, but some players simply are not strong enough from both sides of the dish.

Patrick Smith

Currently there are 66 major league players listed as switch hitters on active 40-man rosters. Of those 66, only 31 players accumulated 300 total plate appearances. Some players show a distinct preference for one side, even to the point where they may decide to forgo switch hitting.

A player's platoon splits can be measured against his own OPS+ by using tOPS+, or against the league OPS+ represented by sOPS+. Sometimes gaining a platoon advantage is not really gaining an advantage at all if the player can hit better from the same side as the handedness of the pitcher.

Partway through the 2013 regular season, Shane Victorino gave up switch hitting and exclusively batted right handed regardless of the opposing pitcher. With a slower bat speed and continued futility hitting from the left side of the dish, he chose to concentrate on hitting right handed pitching and garnered positive results in a limited sample. His 2012 numbers from the left hand side clearly demonstrate it would be worth considering a change and forgoing the perceived platoon advantage. The further away from 0 the tOPS+ and sOPS+, the larger the discrepancy between both sides of the plate. It's clear to see that when compared to his own OPS+, and to the league OPS+ stats, Victorino was not an effective left-handed hitter.

Player PA LH Avg LH OBP LH SLG LH tOPS+ LH sOPS+ RH AVG RH OBP RH SLG RH tOPS+ RH sOPS+ tOPS+ Delta sOPS+ Delta
Shane Victorino 2012 658 .229 .296 .333 79 69 .323 .388 .518 156 140 77 71

Similar to Victorino, Pablo Sandoval has been struggling from one side of the plate, but unlike the Flyin' Hawaiian, Sandoval has chosen not to give up switch hitting. On Saturday night, Panda came up in two big spots against Royals southpaws Danny Duffy and Brandon Finnegan. Both times he mashed singles batting right handed. In his latter plate appearance in the sixth inning, his RBI single broke the game open for the Giants. Despite his success on baseball's biggest stage, Sandoval would be a prime candidate to give up batting from both sides of the plate. From the right hand side, he has hit 48% worse than his total numbers and 46% worse than the league.

Sandoval is not the only switch hitter who bats poorly from the right side of the plate. Despite hitting 31% over league average from the left-hand side, Neil Walker is about league average from the right-hand side, but 17% lower compared to his own OPS+.

It is also easy to see why Daniel Nava plays against only righty starters despite being listed as a switch hitter. His 13 tOPS+ and 11 sOPS+ as a right handed hitter are miserable.

Switch Hitters with a preference for batting left handed

Player PA LH Avg LH OBP LH SLG LH tOPS+ LH sOPS+ RH AVG RH OBP RH SLG RH tOPS+ RH sOPS+ tOPS+ Delta sOPS+ Delta
Neil Walker 557 .269 .339 .491 104 131 .280 .353 .374 83 101 21 30
Pablo Sandoval 627 .317 .363 .461 123 131 .199 .244 .319 52 54 71 77
Yasmani Grandal 443 .241 .329 .452 113 118 .162 .323 .189 46 46 67 72
Carlos Beltran 449 .254 .331 .446 121 117 .196 .242 .322 60 54 61 63
Daniel Nava 408 .293 .372 .397 118 117 .159 .209 .190 13 11 105 106
Coco Crisp 529 .259 .362 .372 110 108 .227 .287 .353 83 75 27 33
Erick Aybar 642 .289 .335 .392 108 104 .248 .281 .342 78 71 30 33
Jed Lowrie 553 .261 .340 .374 111 101 .228 281 .317 77 65 34 36
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 435 .221 .333 .272 107 99 .216 .271 .330 76 65 31 34
Robbie Grossman 422 .239 .350 .353 110 99 .216 .293 .273 69 57 41 42
Nick Swisher 401 .224 .279 .378 115 83 .168 .274 .208 61 36 54 47
Alberto Callaspo 451 .239 .306 .315 114 76 .196 .268 .250 79 44 35 32

Conversely, there are a number of players who perhaps should give up switch hitting to concentrate on improving from the right hand side of the plate. Emilio Bonifacio excels as a right handed hitter, posting a 194 tOPS+ and 162 sOPS+. Similar to Sandoval but with the opposite handedness preference, Bonifacio's 66 tOPS+ and 52 sOPS+ from the left hand side make one wonder if he should not just bat right handed against all pitchers. Would he really be 48% worse than the rest of the league if he were to give up his platoon advantage?

Danny Espinosa, Arismendy Alcantara, and Eduardo Escobar face similar challenges in not being able to hit well from the left side of the dish.

Victor Martinez shows a preference for batting right-handed but is strong enough from both sides that it would not make sense for him to make an adjustment.

Player PA LH Avg LH OBP LH SLG LH tOPS+ LH sOPS+ RH AVG RH OBP RH SLG RH tOPS+ RH sOPS+ tOPS+ Delta sOPS+ Delta
Emilio Bonifacio 426 .221 .266 .272 66 52 .365 .411 .548 194 162 128 110
Danny Espinosa 351 .183 .241 .291 68 49 .301 .374 .485 170 135 102 86
Arismendy Alcantara 300 .190 .215 .350 80 56 .244 .344 .410 147 107 67 51
Eduardo Escobar 465 .252 .296 .358 82 84 .328 .358 .519 142 138 60 54
Ben Zobrist 648 .247 .338 .364 88 98 .340 .399 .703 133 140 45 42
Dexter Fowler 500 .260 .361 .376 90 108 .327 .419 .467 129 144 39 36
Victor Martinez 631 .323 .402 .522 91 158 .371 .430 .522 128 203 37 45
Everth Cabrera 377 .226 .266 .285 93 56 .253 .292 .349 124 76 31 20
Carlos Santana 660 .212 .351 .407 92 113 .271 .351 .407 118 137 26 24

This is not meant to imply there is no value in switch hitting. Hitter versatility makes it easier for managers to prepare a lineup without compromising later innings when the opposition calls for a specialist. Players including Chase Headley, Billy Hamilton, Dioner Navarro, and Asdrubal Cabrera switch hit consistently from both sides and are closely aligned to their own OPS+ regardless of the platoon side. While Hamilton and Cabrera do not knock the cover off the ball from either side, if they gave up the platoon advantage, it would certainly be detrimental to them.

A negative number indicates more success from the right hand side, and a positive number indicates a lefty preference.

Neutral Switch Hitters

Player PA LH Avg LH OBP LH SLG LH tOPS+ LH sOPS+ RH AVG RH OBP RH SLG RH tOPS+ RH sOPS+ tOPS+ Delta sOPS+ Delta
Chase Headley 526 .240 .320 .370 97 94 .248 .341 .380 106 99 -9 -5
Billy Hamilton 611 .246 .291 .350 98 80 .264 .297 .371 106 83 -8 -3
Dioner Navarro 520 .272 .315 .393 99 98 .280 .324 .402 104 99 -5 -1
Asdrubal Cabrera 602 .236 .316 .381 101 96 .250 .288 .401 97 87 4 9
Jose Reyes 655 .289 .327 .404 101 105 .281 .326 .383 96 95 5 10
Mark Teixera 502 .213 .304 .413 101 100 .220 .333 .358 96 91 5 9
Melky Cabrera 621 .310 .355 .462 102 128 .276 .337 .447 94 114 8 14
Danny Santana 424 .326 .359 .482 104 135 .301 .338 .447 90 114 14 21
Jimmy Rollins 602 .246 .326 .407 104 105 .237 .318 .362 90 87 14 18

While this data set only includes one year's worth of plate appearances, there are red flags for players who are well below league average in OPS+ even when they seemingly have the platoon advantage. If a stabilization point is reached, and the numbers do not improve, a player may increase production batting from only one side of the plate.

Whether it is a player's ego, or part of the routine, it is rare that a player abandons switch hitting. Shane Victorino is more the exception than the rule. In last year's American League Championship Series, he hit from only the right-hand side, and ended up belting a series clinching grand slam off Tigers righty reliever Jose Veras. Perhaps some of today's switch hitters should take note.

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All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference

Steven Martano is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.