Friday, February 28, 2014

Why are switch hitters rare?

Switch hitters are rare in baseball, especially at the youth level, 
since it takes extra work.

"My dad taught me to switch-hit. He and my grandfather, who was left-handed, pitched to me everyday after school in the back yard. I batted lefty against my dad and righty against my granddad."
Mickey Mantle, Hall of Fame switch hitter

Switch hitter vs Switch pitcher

One issue for a switch pitcher is what to do when facing a switch hitter – do you throw right or left-handed?  Fortunately,  this situation rarely happens since switch hitters are rare.

Switch pitcher Henry Knight practices switch hitting

List of switch pitchers who can switch hit  >>

“You know the tough thing about switch-hitting?” - Pete Rose, the all-time major league hits leader says. “Don’t practice the new way so much that you get out of the original way. There’s only one switch-hitter in the history of baseball that I know of that was a natural left-hand hitter, and his name was J.T. Snow …”  

“You’re going to bat left-handed two-thirds of the time.”
– Pete Rose

Learn what age to start switch hitting >>

Little League - 
There are only a handfull of regular switch hitters in the local Little League. Typically, these kids are natural right-handers who also learn to bat left-handed.  They are rarely ambidextrous and do most things right-handed - eat, write, and throw. Most of these players start hitting from both sides of the plate in tee ball.

Many kids try switch hitting when they are young, but give up after they keep striking out. Switch hitting isn't as easy as it looks. Kids aren't willing to spend the time needed to hit well from both sides of the plate. Hitting off a tee is boring to many young kids. Young hitters want instant success, so they stick with their dominant side.

High School -
The best hitters practice in the off-season to develop their skills. Popular sports like football, soccer and basketball compete for a kids practice time, making it less likely you will see many switch hitters in high school. 

Henry Knight batting left-handed
.. and right-handed

Most of the ambidextrous pitchers are also switch hitters, including Henry Knight who hits well from both sides of the plate. Knight tallied a .500 BA and .677 OBP during summer ball. He led the Columbia City Reds team with 20 walks and only 4 strikeouts in 27 games as a switch hitter.

Knight is a starting infielder and switch pitcher, who bats second in the order for Franklin HS in Seattle. He is a line drive hitter and skilled bunter – both right- and left-handed. Henry Knight hit .413 had a .525 OBP playing varsity as a sophomore  facing the best pitchers in the Seattle area. 

As a switch hitter, Knight put down 15 sac bunts in 2013. He practices bunting twice a week, getting in 50-100 reps (watch the video).

Switch hitting is very rare in high school.

In the Seattle Premiere League, there were only 3 switch hitters among the 175 players listed on eight 18U teams. Less than 2% of the top high school players in the Seattle area are switch hitters. 

The Baseball America list of 2014 High School Top 100 players features only 2 switch hitters.  That means that only 2% of the top HS players in the country are switch hitters. 69% bat right-handed, while 29% bat left-handed only.

Switch hitting is rare in college.

College -
After reviewing dozens of Division 1 college baseball rosters, I found that only 3% of players bat from both sides – that's about one switch hitter per team. Many teams don't have any switch hitters on the roster, while some of the top college teams have two or more switch hitters.

In the PAC12, 4% of batters were listed as switch hitters (2013 season). This excludes pitchers, since they use the DH in college. Switch hitters who play infield had a 0.281 BA which is close to the conference average. Kavin Keyes, a switch hitter for Oregon State, had a 0.306 BA compared with the team's 0.282 BA.

Kavin Keyes (Kize), a switch hitting infielder for the Oregon State Beavers is off to good start in 2014. Keyes posted a .515 BA in the first 9 games with a .529 OBP. After 21 games, Keyes was hitting .342, while the team averaged .287. In high school Keyes posted a .430+ BA over three years.

Cal All-American Andrew Knapp, a switch hitting catcher, posted a 0.350 BA which led the Bears in his junior year. Following the season, he was a 2013 second round selection of the Philadelphia Phillies. Knapp batted .500 at Granite Bay High School with 10 doubles, three triples and six home runs.

College switch hitters bat left-handed 70% of the time, due to the number of right-handed pitchers.

The 11 college teams in the PAC12 conference feature 29% LHP and 71% RHP, so switch hitters primarily bat left-handed – facing right-handed pitchers in games. (Note: University of Colorado does not have a baseball team)

UCLA had 3 LHP and 11 RHP on the 2013 roster. The Bruins won the 2013 College World Series with excellent pitching.

Switch hitting is becoming rare in the pros.

In 2010, 99 players on the 30 major league teams could switch hit. That's an average of 3 switch hitters per team – 3 times the average of college teams. The Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, Orioles, Mets, and Angels had six or more switch hitters. Apparently, switch hitters are valued in the major leagues.

In 2012, 75 players on major league rosters were listed as switch hitters. So switch hitters represent  10% of the 750 big league players (30 teams with 25 man roster).

In 2013, 61 players on MLB rosters were classified as switch hitters. So, about 8 percent of players on Major League teams are switch-hitters. If you look at position players only, then 13% are switch hitters, 54% right-handed and 33% left-handed hitters.

A few MLB teams have no switch hitters ...

Only Houston has more switch-hitting position players than Minnesota, as the Astros have five. Some teams — Miami, Milwaukee, the Mets and Yankees — have zero. Most have at least two, and several have three. But with four switch hitters on the roster, the Twins are a bit of a rarity. (

The general trend is for fewer switch hitters in the MLB every year.

Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, and Chipper Jones – were excellent switch hitters in the big leagues.

So the question is ...

Why are switch hitters rare?

You don’t see as many switch hitters, because coaches at younger levels are not patient, and players are not patient. In today’s society, no one likes to fail, so if a kid is not doing well at the left-side it’s easy to say, “well I’m a natural righty, I’ll just go back to that”. (Pac12 college hitting coach)

You will not see many switch hitters because it takes a lot of work to be good at hitting from both sides. Coaches often suggest that batters hit from the stronger side. During batting practice, most coaches throw the same number of pitches to all players, so a switch hitter only gets half the number of swings from each side. (Pony League coach)

Scouts say they don't see many amateur switch hitters, especially in high school. Most prospects, they presume, don't start switch-hitting until they turn professional. "The advantages to being a switch hitter are so well know," one scout said. "The biggest one is the breaking ball is spinning at you instead of away from you." (Chuck Carree, Star-News)

Why switch hit?
"The reason someone would switch hit is so they don’t have to face a slider. That is one of the biggest reasons. The slider will always come into the bat barrel if you’re facing a RHP as a LHB, or a LHP as a RHB." (College hitting coach)

Another reason is if the batter is struggling on one side, then they can switch to the other side to hit. Two all star players were able to get out of their slump hitting left-handed, by switching to the right side. 

Some young pitchers have a tough time throwing strikes with a left-handed hitter at the plate. In the local league, the lefty hitters get walked more often than the right-handed hitters.

Switch hitting has also helped players make the local All-star team. It gives coaches another option and players tend to stay in the game longer as a switch hitter. (Pony League All-stars coach)

Bunting Tip
Bunting can be easier by switching sides, depending on the pitcher and game situation. Bunting is a good way to begin switch hitting - it forces the player to track the ball all the way to the plate. Remember to practice bunting from both sides. Learn how to bunt


Suggested Reading

On the Origin of the Switch-Hitting Species

by Alex Speier | Baseball ProGUESTus  May 17, 2013
Evolution resulted in handedness rather than widespread ambidexterity because it is efficient. The brain trains one hand or one side of the body to execute a task and execute it well.

Repeating that process for the other hand? In many tasks, that would represent a waste.

“Once you start getting into tasks that can be done discreetly by one hand or the other, it makes sense to focus on the one hand and train your brain to interact with your arm in one specific manner. It just simplifies and increases the efficiency of doing that task,” said Dr. Neil Roach, a biological anthropologist at George Washington University. “If you just think about throwing, you have essentially the same arm controlled by the same brain on both sides. But your ability to throw incredibly quickly and do other things such as swing a bat with the same precision is really affected by your muscle memory.

Pennington is Baylor's lone switch-hitting pupil

By Nathan Humphreys,, March 22, 2013
Much like throwing a screwball or eating sunflower seeds without using your hands, switch-hitting is one of the more arcane skills in baseball. A dark art that counts alliterated mystics Frankie Frisch and Mickey Mantle among its masters.
Switch-hitting is an art form in today's game. Only about 8 percent of players currently on Major League Spring Training rosters are switch-hitters.
For those few who do hit from both sides of the plate, there are two key advantages. It minimizes the effectiveness of same-handed pitching matchups and it helps limit the effectiveness of nasty breaking balls. But it only works if everything is in sync. The difficulty of dialing in two different swings is one reason why the D-back's only switch-hitter, shortstop Cliff Pennington, describes switch-hitting as both a blessing and a curse.

Switch hitters becoming rare in H.S. baseball

By Kyle Odegard Special to AFN, April 6, 2013

Maybe it’s inaccurate to say Riley Unroe was born to be a switch-hitter, but the evidence was pretty clear by age 2.
There are videos of the Desert Ridge senior shortstop all those years back in the family basement, swinging his miniature bat both left- and right-handed.
Unroe has carried it on to present day, but is one of the rare East Valley high school baseball players who still hits from each side of the plate. According to Perfect Game, he is the only Division I-college committed senior from Arizona who is a switch-hitter.
The Mountain Pointe duo of Cole Tucker and Jake Alexander are two of the more high-profile juniors who do so, but that list is also small.
Through the first 17 games of the season Alexander was hitting .500 and Tucker was at .415.

Chipper Jones best switch-hitter of his era: 
batting higher than .300 with good power, braves slugger challenges pitchers from both sides of the plate.  
Jones, a natural right-hander, became much more than a left-handed slap hitter, one-step closer to first base. The left side is his power side, with more opposite field pop. He hits a homer every 16 at-bats left-handed, every 22 at-bats right-handed.
Read more

Baseball's 25 Best Switch-Hitters of All Time
by Dan Tylicki, Bleacher ReportMarch 2, 2012 
In baseball, switch-hitters are a rare breed. Being able to bat from both sides of the plate makes it a lot easier for managers to put a player in a lineup, and they don't have to worry about facing left-handed or right-handed pitchers on a given day.

This select group of players makes up some of the best in the game's history, people who are known as all-time greats first and great switch-hitters second. 

MLB Notebook: Beltran in rare switch-hitting air

By Roger Schlueter June 16, 2012
In baseball's entire history through 2011, there have been 58 individual player seasons in which a switch-hitter qualified for the batting title and posted an OPS+ of at least 150. To no one's surprise, Mickey Mantle claims the most significant number of these seasons, with 11.
Lance Berkman owns the second most (six), and Chipper Jones and Eddie Murray are tied for the third most, with five apiece. After those four titans of switch-hitting, a pair of somewhat underrated ballplayers -- Ken Singleton and Reggie Smith -- check in with four and three seasons, respectively. Right behind Smith is Carlos Beltran, who posted his first 150 OPS+ season in 2006, when he had a 150 with 41 homers and 18 steals.

The Golden Age of Switch Hitters

Posted by Charles Mon, 23 Apr 2012

Looking for patterns in the handedness of hitters led to a surprising discovery. Major League Baseball (MLB) hosted a decade of high employment of switch hitters. This decade coincided with a decade-long low period in the employment of right-handed hitters. Since 1948, when our data starts, about 30 percent of full time MLB players hit exclusively left handed. This fluctuates year to year insignificantly.The remaining 70 percent has fluctuated a great deal between switch hitters and right-handed hitters.
Read more


Switch Hitter - BR Bullpen
- list of the top switch hitters based on career stats

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