It has been a popular discussion over the past year or so with switch hitters who are much stronger from one side of the plate as opposed to the other, especially with Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. The question for these guys, especially after the success Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino had last season when he exclusively hit right handed due to a nagging hamstring injury, is whether or not they should ditch their poor side and stick to just one side of the plate.
Wieters is often regarded as one of the top candidates to ditch switch hitting because of the drastic difference in his numbers from the left side of the plate vs the right side. MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential recently touched on this subject, which did stir our thoughts into writing this article, but despite their vast knowledge of baseball statistics, they often forget to mention certain things that cannot be measured with numbers.
To give them credit, they did mention that when a guy's numbers obviously support dropping one side of the plate that there is likely a good reason the player hasn't made the change, which is correct.
Before we get to those unmeasurable aspects, let's take a look at Wieters' numbers and support the case that he should think about ditching the left side of the plate.
In 2013, the splits for Wieters were extremely drastic and had many fans clamoring for a change during the season. Wieters hit .214 with 11 homers, 52 RBI, 19 doubles and boasted a .270 on base percentage in 401 plate appearances from the left side of the plate, whereas he hit .282 with 11 homers, 27 RBI, 10 doubles and sported a .326 OBP in 178 plate appearances from the right side. There's no arguing that those splits are pretty drastic right? He produced just as many homers, a little over half the RBI, and a much higher average from the right side in 223 fewer at bats than he had from the left side.
Wait, is it just a one year thing? Absolutely not. For his career, Wieters has hit .244 with 55 home runs, 80 doubles, 228 RBI and boasted a .309 on base percentage in 1,855 plate appearances from the left side of the plate, as opposed to the right side where he has hit .281 with 32 home runs, 41 doubles, 100 RBI and sported a .344 OBP. Again that is quite a discrepancy, and believe it or not, Wieters has seven career MLB plate appearances as a right handed hitter against a right handed pitcher and he is 2-6 with a walk in those plate appearances.
So why hasn't Wieters made the move? The stats certainly support a move, but for those of us that have played baseball, coached, or even scouted know that there are some aspects that go into switch hitting that just cannot be measured.
With the overwhelming lack of the screwball in the big leagues, the only pitches that hitters see go away from them when they are facing a pitcher of the opposite hand is a two-seam fastball, a good change-up and some varieties of sinkers (that would include the fork ball). What does that mean? Well it's simple, hitters who are facing a pitcher of the opposite hand are not having to face curveballs, or more importantly, sliders that break away from them.
It is said that the invention of the slider saved baseball because it helped pitchers equalize the game. If you are unaware, the slider is a devastating breaking pitch that gives the appearance of a fastball, but at the last second snaps off the table and breaks hard. In Wieters case, he has been a switch hitter for the majority of his baseball life, so it is hard to fathom how long it has really been since he faced a slider or curveball that has broke away from him. If you think that is an easy adjustment to make, you are severely misinformed. For all we know, the main reason Wieters made the change to become a switch hitter could simply be because he could not pick up the spin of the ball when facing a right handed pitcher from the right side of the plate.
The numbers back-up the idea that Wieters should consider making the change to become a right handed hitter exclusively, and guys in the past have succeeded in making a switch, in fact J.T. Snow made the switch to become exclusively a left handed hitter at the age of 31 and performed very well, and as we mentioned earlier, Victorino had some success last year. At the end of the day, there has to be a reason why Wieters has not made the change and that could simply be because he does not want to face a slider from someone like Jose Fernandez.
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