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  • Twins Switch-Hitters

    The history of Twins switch-hitters goes back to the first game the Twins played, but it was the last guy you would expect.

    In baseball, a switch-hitter is a batter who can bat from the right side or the left side, depending on whether the pitcher is right- or left-handed. Most curveballs break away from batters hitting from the same side as the opposing pitcher, so they're often harder to hit than those from the opposite side. History tells us that most right-handed batters hit better against lefty pitchers and left-handed batters hit better against right handers. This so-called platoon benefit is why managers use pinch-hitters and LOOGY's and why some players want to become switch-hitters.

    Switch-hitting at its best

    Switch-hitters have been around forever, it seems; yet according to sources that I have researched, only about 6% of baseball batters have been switch-hitters. You have to wonder why, if switch-hitting is such an advantage, haven't more of baseball's best hitters been switch-hitters?

    The best career batting average for a switch-hitter is .316 by Frankie Frisch, who currently ranks 71st in batting average all-time. Some of the best switch-hitters of our time are Chipper Jones, who hit .306 and Pete Rose who hit .303. Detroit Tigers DH Victor Martinez has a career average of .302 making him the highest active switch-hitter. In addition to the players I just mentioned, you have to add Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Roberto Alomar, Bernie Williams, George Davis, Lance Berkman, Tim Raines and Chili Davis to the list of switch-hitting greats.

    Switch-hitting and the rules
    A question often asked is "Can a batter switch from right to left or left to right during an at-bat?" The rule that seems to apply is 6.06(b) which states that "A batter is out for illegal action when he steps from one batter’s box to the other while the pitcher is in position ready to pitch." Based on that, it appears you can switch from one batter's box to the other as often as you want so long as you do it before the pitcher gets in to his pitching position.

    Twins switch-hitting history
    The Twins currently have four switch-hitters on their 25 man playing roster, C Ryan Doumit, SS Pedro Florimon, OF Aaron Hicks, and utility man Eduardo Escobar.

    In the Twins' 53 years of existence they have had 62 players who were switch-hitters but not all of them actually batted and we will touch more on that later. The Twins first switch-hitter was a pitcher, Pedro Ramos. Ramos pitched and batted (1 for 4 with 2 RBI) in the Twins very first game when he and the Twins shut out the New York Yankees 6-0 on April 11, 1961 at Yankee Stadium. The first Twins switch-hitting position player to appear in a game was SS Marty Martinez when he had an at-bat against the Yankees at Met Stadium on May 30, 1962 in game 2 of a doubleheader. Martinez actually appeared in 3 earlier games as a Twins but was used strictly as a pinch-runner by manager Sam Mele.

    It wasn't until 1976 that the Twins had a regular position player switch-hitting and that year they had two, rookie catcher Butch Wynegar and SS Roy Smalley. The Twins are playing their 53rd season and there has been only one year, 1973, that they have not had a switch-hitter step into the batters box. On the other hand, they had nine switch-hitters (Cristian Guzman was the only starter) at one time or another on their 1999 team that finished 63-97.

    Twins switch-hitting pitchers
    Looking at the Twins 62 switch-hitters, eleven of them were pitchers and claimed to be switch-hitters but only Pedro Ramos, Jim Perry, Dan Serafini, JC Romero, and Joe Mays actually set foot in the batters box. The other six, Stan Perzanowski, Darrell Jackson, Pete Filson, Jason Ryan, Pat Neshek, and Eric Hacker were switch-hitters only on the back of their baseball cards because they never batted in a Twins game. Jim Perry hit five home runs as a Twin.

    "Home Runs from Each Side of the Plate In One Game" Club
    The Twins switch-hitter with the most home runs is Roy Smalley. He hit 163 career home runs and 110 of them were when he was a Minnesota Twin.

    The "home runs from each side of the plate in one game" club is relatively exclusive but three of the members were Twins. Roy Smalley accomplished that rare feat twice, once against the Boston Red Sox at the Metrodome on May 30, 1986 and once earlier in his career as a New York Yankee in 1982. Chili Davis became the second Twin to join the club when he did it against the Royals on October 2, 1992. Ryan Doumit became the third Twin to do so when he too joined the exclusive fraternity against the Royals on July 22, 2012. Chili Davis hit a home run from each side of the plate 11 times in his illustrious 19 year playing career. Just for comparison's sake, Mickey Mantle did it on 10 occasions.

    Leaning Right
    One oddity that seems to stand out is how few of the switch-hitters employed by the Twins over the years were left-handed throwers. If you exclude the 11 switch-hitting pitchers from the list you are left with 51 switch-hitters and only one of the 51 threw left-handed; the other fifty were right-handed. Kind of strange. The lone left-handed position player was John Moses. But keep in mind that John Moses, an outfielder by trade, pitched in 3 games for the Twins.

    Twins best switch-hitters
    So let's take a look at the Twins top switch-hitters. There is no good way to rank them so I will list all the Twins switch-hitters that have 1,000 or more plate appearances in a Twins uniform. The chart also shows positions played, games played, home runs and batting average. All the numbers on this chart are their Twins career numbers. Many of these players played for other teams too, but those numbers are not included here. For this story I am only interested in their numbers as Minnesota Twins.
    Name Positions PA Games HR AVG
    1 Roy Smalley 6,5,3 4676 1148 110 .262
    2 Cristian Guzman 6 3538 841 39 .266
    3 Butch Wynegar 2,5 3188 794 37 .254
    4 Nick Punto 5,4,6,8,3 2707 747 12 .248
    5 Gene Larkin 3.9.5.4 2670 758 32 .266
    6 Denny Hocking 4,6,8,5,3 2455 876 25 .252
    7 Al Newman 6,4,5,8 1876 618 .231
    8 Alexi Casilla 4,6,5,8 1764 515 11 .250
    9 Chili Davis DH,9,3 1163 291 41 .282
    10 Luis Castillo 4 1036 227 3 .299
    11 Matt Walbeck 2 1008 275 8 .230

    There are some interesting numbers and players on this chart. About half the players were starters and half were utility players. It is no surprise that Smalley is the leader in home runs or that Chili Davis is second on the list. The real surprise is that Christian Guzman ranks third on the list.
    This article was originally published in blog: Twins Switch-Hitters started by jjswol
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      That's good observation/research. Has there ever been a case where a player stopped switch hitting as a pro and found greater success or vice versa? Think I remember reading the twins weren't always sold on Hicks as a switch hitter as he was coming up.
    1. ThejacKmp's Avatar
      ThejacKmp -
      This article would be helped by (A) breaking down how switch hitters did as righties and as lefties (B) taking OBP into consideration and (C) taking plate appearances into consideration. Chili Davis (and not Roy Smalley) has the most home runs when you consider he batted 25% as often as Smalley.
    1. Gene Larkin Fan Club's Avatar
      Gene Larkin Fan Club -
      I think Gene Larkin deserves a little bump on the list for clutch hitting...but then again, I might be biased.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      I posted on the article that the author failed to list Rich Becker, who came to the majors as a lefthanded throwing switch hitter. He was pretty brutal as a righthanded hitter and abandoned switch hitting after a few years. Becker had his best years as a Twin and a switch hitter.
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