The Red Sox have one player (Shane Victorino) who has given it up, one player toying with giving it up (Daniel Nava), and one player (Pablo Sandoval) who should give it up on a team that employs as its hitting coach Chili Davis, one of the most consistent switch-hitters (.276/.820 OPS lefthanded, .270/.790 OPS righthanded) in his day.
Is switch-hitting becoming antiquated?
“There are some guys around, but I think what I see is the decline in power,” said Davis. “I don’t see too many switch-hitters — except guys who are veterans, like [Carlos] Beltran, [Mark] Teixeira . . . I don’t see too many of those types coming into the game right now.”
Texas Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan thinks that “first of all it’s not that easy. Secondly, most of the time one guy is better from one side of the plate than the other. It’s rare that you see switch-hitters who have even numbers. The Eddie Murrays and Mickey Mantles aren’t around much anymore.”
But why? Magadan reasons that there are a lot of lefthanded pitchers who have reverse splits. They’re better against righthanded hitters than they are against lefthanders.
One example is Scott Kazmir (lefties hitting .220, righties .212), but Magadan said he’s even seeing it from hard-throwing lefty relievers.
“Certainly being a switch-hitter has its advantages, but if you don’t hit well from one side of the plate, what’s the point?” Magadan said.
Davis, however, is happy that Nava, who stopped switch-hitting this spring, is back at it.
“Seeing a slider from a lefty on my left side is not something I want to do,” said Davis. “You see the [Charlie] Furbushes and [Oliver] Perezes and most of them are out of the bullpen. Then you have a starter like [James] Paxton in Seattle throwing 97 and he can buckle you with a curveball. It’s hard to stay in there at 97 miles per hour.”
Victorino stopped switch-hitting because he felt hitting from the left side was hurting his legs. His career splits are decent from both sides — .265/.726 OPS lefthanded, .304/.878 OPS righthanded. Victorino is a natural righthanded hitter.
“Will I ever go back? Who knows?” said Victorino. “I feel comfortable concentrating on one side of the plate and not having to devote the time to practice hitting both sides. I’m not that uncomfortable hitting against righthanded pitchers. It’s different, but you get used to it.”
Certainly among the best active switch-hitters is Victor Martinez, who has always been slightly better righthanded. There had been talk before Martinez went on disabled list last week that he might abandon lefthanded, where he was hitting .141 (12 for 85), and hit exclusively righthanded (.462, 12 for 26). But over Martinez’s career he’s been very similar to former Braves star Chipper Jones (.304 righthanded, .303 lefthanded) with strong numbers from both sides — .303/.830 OPS in 4,268 plate appearances from the left side, .307/.867 OPS in 1,990 plate appearances from the right side.
The Yankees employ two high-profile switch-hitters in Beltran and Teixeira. Beltran has been amazingly consistent from both sides. From the left side, he’s hit .279/.841 OPS in 6,998 plate appearances, and from the right .281/853 OPS in 2,545 plate appearances. Teixeira is a natural righthanded hitter and he’s had better stats from that side — .293/.914 OPS compared with .264/.869 OPS from the left side. He’s hit 272 of his 376 homers lefthanded in 5,061 plate appearances.
Other players have more dramatic splits. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, currently on the DL after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season, is .248/.709 OPS lefthanded, .280./.830 OPS righthanded. Sandoval’s career splits are .306/.856 lefthanded and .260/.683 righthanded. But lately, his righthanded swing has gotten worse. In 2014 with the Giants, he hit .317/.824 lefthanded and .199/.563 righthanded.
This season has been even worse, as Sandoval has only two hits in 43 righthanded plate appearances, while hitting .361/1.003 lefthanded.
“Pablo is different because he’s ambidextrous,” Davis said. “He can throw righthanded or lefthanded, so he doesn’t have one dominant arm. But you have two different approaches when you’re a switch-hitter. You have to maintain both sides because it’s two different approaches. You’re not the same from both sides. Regardless of how much you want to make it identical, it’s impossible.”
Sandoval has remained steadfast that he doesn’t want to give it up. General manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell have backed him in trying to work it out. Both have said they would never force anyone to stop switch-hitting, that it would have to be the decision of the player.
That’s the decision former first baseman J.T. Snow made early in his career. After 1,492 plate appearances hitting righthanded (.227/.651), he started hitting lefthanded all the time. He finished his career .279/.823 lefthanded.
Magadan felt Jason Varitek stayed with switch-hitting too long over the last few years of his career. Now the Red Sox have young catcher Blake Swihart, who in the minors could hit almost equally well from both sides.
“I’m naturally righthanded and I have more power righthanded, but I have more consistent power lefthanded,” Swihart explained. Swihart has the workload Varitek once did — preparing for the game at hand defensively, and then working on hitting both ways. Not easy for a catcher.
Who knows who may be the next to ditch switch-hitting?
Melky Cabrera (.291 left/.271 right) is still good at it. Coco Crisp (.272 left/.259 right) has stuck with it. Reds speedster Billy Hamilton, obviously faster out of the box lefthanded, is a better righthanded hitter.
Other prominent switch-hitters include Chase Headley, Jose Reyes, Erick Aybar, Ben Zobrist, Kendrys Morales, Jimmy Rollins, Nick Swisher, Angel Pagan, Jed Lowrie, Carlos Santana, and Asdrubal Cabrera.
But it isn’t what it used to be.
GRADE A TALENT
Disappointing teams could be first to sell
The Athletics could provide the trade deadline goodie bag if their current play continues. Certainly, along with the Red Sox, Pirates, Padres, and Marlins, the A’s are one of the more disappointing teams in baseball.
In fact, two special assistants to GMs we spoke to see the A’s, Phillies, Brewers, Rockies, and Reds as providing contenders with the most attractive players closer to the deadline.
The prize off the A’s roster would be Scott Kazmir, who could enhance the rotation of multiple contenders. Among those who would be interested include the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals, Rays, and Giants.
Kazmir makes $13 million and is a free agent at the end of the season, a cheaper alternative to Cole Hamels. But there are many more possible targets, including Sean Doolittle, Tyler Clippard, Stephen Vogt, Josh Reddick, Billy Butler, and Coco Crisp (if healthy).
Reddick could be a sought-after lefthanded bat, and he is also a very good outfielder. Vogt is having an excellent offensive year and rakes against righthanders (1.064 OPS). Butler would provide a strong righthanded bat, and while primarily a DH, he can play first.
Of course, underachieving teams such as the Red Sox and Pirates could also be in sell mode by the deadline if they don’t pick it up. The Sox have the expiring contracts of Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino that could be moved, not to mention Allen Craig, who has been banished to Pawtucket. The Pirates could probably draw interest on A.J. Burnett.
The Blue Jays have a terrific offense but aren’t pitching well enough. If they don’t pursue Hamels and can’t stop the bleeding, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey would be out there for anyone needing middle-to-back-of-rotation starters.
Others players who may be available:
Phillies — Jonathan Papelbon, Aaron Harang, Ben Revere (already linked to the Angels), Chase Utley (who would have to relinquish his 10-5 rights), and Ryan Howard (the Phillies have said they will assume most of the $60 million remaining on his contract).
Brewers — Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Broxton, and Francisco Rodriguez.
Reds — Johnny Cueto (attractive free agent-to-be with only a $10 million price tag this season), Mike Leake, Jay Bruce, Burke Badenhop, Marlon Byrd, Jason Marquis (horrible season so far), and Aroldis Chapman (a long shot to be dealt, but a nice haul of prospects could get him).
Marlins — Steve Cishek, Dan Haren, Mat Latos, Michael Morse, Mike Dunn, and Martin Prado.
Braves — Johnny Gomes, A.J Pierzynski, and Jason Grilli.
Rockies — Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jorge De La Rosa, Rafael Betancourt, John Axford, Boone Logan, Kyle Kendrick, and Justin Morneau.
Apropos of nothing
1. Prince Fielder hasn’t missed a beat after a nearly one-year layoff. The reason? “He’s using all fields,” said Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan. “It’s really hard to shift on him now.”
2. Scouts who have worked the Angels’ system feel there’s not much in the cupboard.
3. Team Marketing Report rated the 10 most expensive ballparks in Major League Baseball. Fenway was No. 1 with a Fan Cost Index (which includes four tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular hot dogs, two programs, two of the least expensive adjustable hats, and parking for one car at the ballpark) of a whopping $350.78. Fenway had the highest average ticket price at $52.35 and the highest beer cost per ounce — 65 cents. Nos. 2-10 were Yankee Stadium ($337.20), Wrigley Field ($304.64), Citizens Bank Park ($258.18), AT&T Park ($239.51), Busch Stadium ($233.86), CitiField ($229.68), Nationals Park ($227.96), Marlins Park ($221.02), and Comerica Park ($219.88).
4. Pretty impressive that Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has 10 career walkoff homers. The all-time list: Jim Thome, 13; Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Stan Musial, 12; David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Tony Perez, 11.
5. The love for Adrian Gonzalez at the time (and I must admit I was an advocate) cost the Red Sox Adrian Beltre (they let him go as a free agent when they went after Gonzalez) and Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo was the last All-Star player the Red Sox developed, and he doesn’t even play for them. So, they need someone among Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, and Rusney Castillo (though he was not developed by the Red Sox) to become an All-Star.
Updates on nine
1. Mike Maddux, pitching coach, Rangers — Maddux feels the time is right for him to consider a managing job. He was a hot commodity for a while, but he didn’t want to uproot his family at the time and turned down or took himself out of consideration for job opportunities. But as his children have gotten older, he’s now in position to take a job if he’s interviewed again. When the Rangers fired Ron Washington, they didn’t consider Maddux and hired Jeff Banister instead.
2. Rubby De La Rosa, RHP, Diamondbacks — De La Rosa has come into his own with the Diamondbacks with a 4-2 record, 4.08 ERA, and an impressive 1.113 WHIP. The Diamondbacks have no regrets about dealing lefthander Wade Miley to the Red Sox for De La Rosa and Allen Webster, though Webster has been a disaster. He’s on the DL with shoulder fatigue after two minor league starts in which he allowed 15 runs in seven innings. Miley has turned things around in his last four starts, and is 3-4 overall with a 5.10 ERA with 1.441 WHIP.
3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies — Most executives we’ve discussed Tulowitzki with feel the Rockies are bluffing about not dealing him and that there is a market for him even with the $113 million owed to him over the next six years. “There has to be a subsidy on the salary,” said one National League GM. “But I think they’ll be able to move him. Too good of a player to be out there without someone taking him.” Could that team be the Mariners? It would take some convincing of ownership to take on the money, but the underachieving Mariners need stability at shortstop and in their lineup. Tulowitzki with Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager is pretty formidable, and using Brad Miller as a super-utilityman makes sense.
4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Reno — His hitting woes have continued in Triple A for the Diamondbacks. After being released by the Marlins following an .069 start (2 for 29), he started 3 for 16 with a home run for Reno. The Diamondbacks were hoping they could get him straightened out and elevate him to the big leagues.
5. Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers — Indications are that Martinez should be able to return from his disabled list stint because of soreness in his surgically repaired knee as soon as he’s eligible.
6. Ron Washington, special assistant, Athletics — One of the best infield instructors in the business, Washington, the longtime manager of the Rangers who resigned after admitting to adultery, returned to baseball with the A’s. It appears to be a forerunner of Washington’s relaunch into managing, perhaps as early as next season. Washington made it to the World Series twice in Texas and lost both times, but he is highly regarded and will likely be in the mix for jobs going forward.
7. Dan Jennings, manager, Marlins — If you shop for the groceries you ought to be able to manage them. And that’s what Jennings is doing. In football, this happens all the time. While Jennings has no managerial experience, he does have a scouting and player evaluation background. Don’t be surprised if this experiment lasts only through this season. Marlins coach Brett Butler deserves a chance to manage.
8. Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants — Lincecum has a 2.08 ERA in eight starts, and manager Bruce Bochy said he’s pitching with “confidence and swagger,” more so in San Francisco (in three road starts, his ERA is 4.02). The turnaround is startling. In Lincecum’s first eight starts last season, he had a 4.78 ERA and a WHIP of 1.569. In eight starts this season, his WHIP is 1.217. The two-time Cy Young winner has learned to pitch with less velocity. Great story if he keeps it up.
9. Ervin Santana, RHP, Twins — Santana is working out in Fort Myers at the Twins’ facility in preparation to return after he serves his 80-game suspension for testing positive for the steroid stanozolol. He’s been throwing bullpens and will start facing live batters this week.
From the Bill Chuck files — “From the start of the 2014 season through the 38 games before he was fired by the Marlins, Mike Redmond was 93-107 (.465). Over the same span, John Farrell with Boston was 89-111 (.445) . . . Happy birthday, Brad Penny (37) and Bartolo Colon (42).