Friday, July 25, 2014

Why are switch hitters rare?

Henry Knight switch hitting in the Mickey Mantle state tournament.
(composite photo by Tim Knight)
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
(source: usatoday.com)


Learn what age to start switch hitting >>
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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.

In 2013, 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.

Henry 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. Knight hit .413 and posted a .525 OBP playing varsity as a sophomore.

During his junior year, Knight tallied a 10-game hitting streak with a .526 BA and .640 OBP  facing the best high school pitchers in the Seattle area. 

In the summer of 2014, Knight continued on a hitting streak, with a .571 BA and .667 OBP at mid-season – using a wood bat.


Switch hitting is very rare in high school.

In the Seattle Premiere League, there were only 4 switch hitters among the 178 players listed on eight 18U teams. So, only 2% of the top high school players in the Seattle area are switch hitters. 71% bat right-handed, while 27% bat left-handed only.

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 was off to very good start in 2014. Keyes posted a .515 BA in the first 9 games with a .529 OBP. At the end of the season, Keyes was hitting .329, while the team averaged .274. 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.

MLB 

In 2014, 12 of 315 players selected in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft where listed as switch hitters. Apparently, only 4% of drafted players can switch hit.

Switch hitters are still valued in the pros:

In 2013, 61 players on MLB rosters were classified as switch hitters. So, about 8% 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.

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 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.

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. (foxsportsnorth.com)

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

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Switch Hitting News Articles >>

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