There’s always been something a little different about switch hitters. From Mickey Mantle to Pete Rose to Roberto Alomar: The ability to hit from both sides of the plate is a gift that has defined some of the game’s greatest players. But did this ability actually help them become great?
On the surface, the ability to hit from both sides of the plate can be seen as a gift or a curse. On the one hand, it’s hard enough to hit a baseball from either side of the plate, so it’s reasonable to think that having two batting swings instead of one could limit a player’s ceiling. On the other hand, lefties and righties have historically hit better against pitchers of the opposite handiness — an advantage that switch hitters have on every at-bat.
Which is the case: Do switch hitters have an inherent advantage over regular hitters? Or is their upside limited? Let’s find out.
Switch Hitters Last Season
Per our Trends tool, last year there were 84 DraftKings switch hitters who combined to appear in 5,272 games:
Note that this sample doesn’t factor out any scrubs. Still, the initial takeaways are intriguing:
- On a points-per-game basis, right- and left-handed hitters have outscored switch hitters.
- Right- and left-handed hitters have experienced higher ownership.
- Switch hitters have enjoyed the group’s highest Consistency Rating.
Now we’ll see if those takeaways hold up when we factor in batter splits against lefties and righties.
Splits vs. Left- & Right-Handed Pitchers
Switch hitters have historically had a high floor but not a high ceiling it comes to Plus/Minus value based on the handedness of pitchers:
As expected, right-handed hitters have thrived against lefties, and left-handed hitters have balled out against righties. Similarly, righties have underperformed against righties, and lefties have been abominable against lefties. Switch hitters have been in the middle. They haven’t had the opposite-hand success of righties and lefties, but they’ve been much better than righties and lefties in same-hand matchups, and their Consistency Ratings have been solid. Switch hitters have essentially been the Frank Gore of MLB DFS: Consistent with a stable floor but without upside.
In our recent study on lineup order we identified the five spots at the top of the order as the most valuable spots for DFS. With that in mind, let’s see how the top hitters in the lineup have performed over the past three seasons, based on handedness:
What we see here is similar to what we saw before. Switch hitters have surprisingly been the most consistent hitters against righties, but they still haven’t provided top-tier value against pitchers of either handedness.
Switch Hitters vs. Bullpens
Of course, the ability to have mostly agnostic splits against righties and lefties is a big advantage in itself, as switch hitters are less likely than hitters of single-handedness to be pulled late in a game or to face a strongly disadvantageous matchup with a bullpen pitcher. Per FanGraphs, switch hitters have averaged a higher on-base percentage and isolated power than left-handed hitters in high-leverage situations.
But is improved performance in the last third of a game really worth sacrificing upside for the first two-thirds? Let’s take a look at switch hitters’ splits compared to those of righties and lefties for a few key stats, but this time let’s consider only players with at least 50 plate appearances against both right- and left-handed pitchers since 2014:
Switch hitters splits are eerily similar for every stat. They’ve posted a slightly better ISO against righties over the past three seasons, but their ISO differential is still just .o1. A look at the differentials of each handedness demonstrates how consistent switch hitters have been:
That right there is basically the national flag of switch-hittery.
Switch hitters have undoubtedly been the most consistent hitters against pitchers of either handiness. Still, in an era of platoons based on handedness, the consistency of switch hitters might mean less than it once did, especially given their relative lack of upside against pitchers of the opposite handedness.
This information leads us to a few DFS takeaways:
- Historically, there’s been a lot of value in rostering hitters facing pitchers of opposite handedness. In comparison to these opposite-hand batters, switch hitters have almost comparable consistency but less overall value.
- Switch hitters offer umatched consistency and floor when one factors in the possibility of a bullpen matchup. For this reason, filling out your roster with switch hitters could offer extra security, as they’ll likely be free from any negative splits in their potential at-bats against the opposition’s bullpen.
- Of course, not all switch hitters are created equal. Many of them tend to have a dominant side. Arguably, a switch hitter projected to hit on the beneficial side of his splits is incredibly valuable, as he has both upside in the early innings and security in the later innings.
Within our Player Models we provide wOBA and ISO differentials for each player based on the handedness of the opposing pitcher. When you’re constructing rosters with our Lineup Builder, consider rostering switch hitters with the upside of beneficial matchups and the security of late-game consistency.
And, of course, be sure to do your own switch-hitting research with the FantasyLabs Tools.