The first time I witnessed Boston Red Sox outfielder and switch-hitter Shane Victorino step up to the plate against a right-handed pitcher, I cringed. Negative thoughts, doubts, and questions swirled through my head.
This is stupid.
He’s going to be an easy out.
What’s the point of being a switch-hitter if you’re going to do that?
Switch hitters are some of the game’s most valuable players. Most average to above-average Major League hitters are regulated to platoon splits, with most managers trying to avoid the curveball or slider breaking away from the hitter, going with lefty-laden lineups against right-handed pitching and vice-versa.
Switch-hitters are particularly valuable in the late-innings of ball games, not allowing managers to play the matchups with their bullpens. Victorino obviously knows that; he worked hard his whole life to become a switch hitter at the Major League level — a very difficult task — and has been doing it his entire 10-year MLB career.
Victorino laced a single up the middle on a slider breaking away from him, nearly taking off the pitcher’s head.
I later learned that Victorino started batting right-handed because of a left hamstring injury that didn’t allow him to push off and rotate on his back leg while batting from the left side.
But he looked very good in that at-bat, and even later on throughout the game, finishing with three hits. He looked comfortable even against the right-handed breaking balls. It made me wonder, should he hit from the right side all the time?
Sure enough, the platoon splits were there from the beginning. Victorino has a mere .268 batting average as a left-handed hitter, but as a right-hander, he boasts a scintillating .302 batting average. He also has more power from the right side, his slugging percentage .100 points higher in his career.
That’s why in August — in 116 at-bats — Victorino had one of the best months of his career from a slugging standpoint. The Flyin’ Hawaiian smashed seven HR, drove in 22 and had an OPS near 1.000. Because of the weakness in his hamstring, all those at-bats came from — you guessed it — the right side of the plate.
So why stop now? I was admittedly skeptical at first, but if you hit right-handed pitching better from the right side, why even mess around and hinder yourself by batting left-handed?
I don’t know if anyone is in Victorino’s ear about becoming a full-time right-handed hitter and ditching switch-hitting, but I hope they are because the guy will become a lot more valuable as a result.