In baseball, a double switch is a savvy managerial tactic that involves making two simultaneous substitutions to optimize the lineup and fielding configuration. Explore the strategy behind the double switch, a move that showcases the chess-like complexity of America’s favorite pastime.
- The double switch is a strategy used by managers during a game to move the relief pitcher to a place in the batting order where they are less likely to have to bat.
- The term “double switch” refers to two different kinds of substitutions happening at the same time. First, the manager makes a pitching change, and the starter, or reliever, is replaced with a defensive player. Next, a defensive player in the field is substituted for a relief pitcher.
- How does it work? The new players enter the game and immediately switch places; the relief pitcher will change places with the defensive player who was substituted for the previous pitcher. When this happens, the new pitcher and new defensive player will also swap positions in the lineup.
Learning the double switch in baseball may feel like trying to follow along with Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First?” Managers have used the double switch since it was first documented in the 1962 World Series. Some historians claim maybe even before that.
The main purpose of a double switch is to move around the batting order to avoid pitchers having to hit. Why is that? Simple: the median batting average for pitchers in 2021 was .103.
What is a double switch in baseball?
The double switch in baseball is a strategy used by managers during a game to move the relief pitcher to a place in the batting order where they are less likely to have to bat. It is a strategy that was used frequently in the National League. The reason it was only in the National League is that, for years, there was no designated hitter. So, executing the double switch ensures the pitchers have fewer at-bats.
How does a double switch work?
The term “double switch” refers to two different kinds of substitutions happening at the same time. First, the manager makes a pitching change, and the starter, or reliever, is replaced with a defensive player. Next, a defensive player in the field is substituted for a relief pitcher.
However, these substitutions are immediately switched once they enter the game. The relief pitcher will change places with the defensive player who was substituted for the previous pitcher. When this happens, the new pitcher and new defensive player will also swap positions in the lineup.
This move is intended to help the team’s offense. For example, if the last person to make an out in the previous inning is substituted during a double switch, and a new pitcher enters the game, the pitcher takes that spot in the batting order and will have eight hitters in front of them, reducing the likelihood that they must bat.
If any of that sounds confusing, watch the video below of a double switch between the Mets and Astros during a regular-season game. Even the Astros players were not sure what was going on.
Why do double switches occur?
The most common reason managers will make a double switch is to prevent a pitcher from having to come up to bat in the following inning. Based on the current game situation, the manager must decide whether it is more valuable to have a better hitter in the lineup next inning or to keep an effective pitcher.
If the pitcher is being replaced for performance or fatigue, some managers will make a double switch anyway. When this happens, it is usually toward the end of the game, making it even less likely that a pitcher will have to go up to bat.
What is an example of a baseball double switch?
The following is an example of what a double switch looks like in a game:
- The manager calls timeout for a double substitution.
- The starting pitcher currently in the game and the current first baseman are removed from the game.
- On the lineup card, a new first baseman replaces the starting pitcher.
- Also, on the lineup card, a relief pitcher replaces the first baseman that came out of the game.
- These substitutions include where each new player will bat in the lineup, so if the first baseman made the last out in the previous inning, the relief pitcher would not be due up for another eight hitters.
- Once the new players are substituted in, they switch positions, and the relief pitcher takes the mound while the new first baseman takes his regular spot at first base.
How does the DH affect the double switch?
Because the primary purpose of the double switch was to prevent pitchers from having to hit, having a designated hitter removes the need for almost all double switches. There are still occasions where a double switch will happen, such as with injuries, game delays, and substitutions that include one designated hitter for another.
How is the double switch different from a traditional substitution?
A double switch changes the batting order mid-game, but a regular substitution will not. When one player is substituted for another, they assume the position in the field as well as the position in the lineup. With the double switch, if the previous pitcher were due up the next inning, the new pitcher would not have to bat in their place as their position in the lineup has changed.
What is the benefit of a double switch in baseball?
The main benefit of a double switch is being able to modify where the pitcher bats in the lineup if there is no designated hitter. Every at-bat becomes critical if a game is close at the end. Because pitchers are traditionally and statistically bad hitters, managers will try to avoid them having to hit by executing a double switch.
What makes the double switch difficult for managers to implement?
There are a few reasons it can be difficult for a manager to decide to implement a double switch. The first main issue is that the defensive player coming off the field is out for the rest of the game and cannot return. If this is a valuable defender, then it could put the team at a disadvantage.
Second, if a team’s best hitter is in the position in the lineup that the relief pitcher will be taking over, then having to switch out a player like that could also be a risky move. In either case, the number of available bench players for the game is impacted, which could be dangerous if the game goes to extra innings.
If that was not enough, the opposing team also closely monitors double switches. In the video below, watch Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts argue about a double switch attempted by the Minnesota Twins.
Can you double-switch a DH (designated hitter)?
No, the designated hitter position cannot be part of a double switch. The DH position is locked into the batting order when the manager submits the lineup card for the game. That is not to say a designated hitter cannot come out of the game; they can be replaced with another player who will only fill the designated hitter role.
In a game of strategy and superstition, managers must try to find the upper hand in every single aspect of the game. They want their best possible pitcher in at the right times and the best possible hitter at bat every single inning. Nowhere in the strategy (or history) books does it say that relying on a pitcher to hit in a critical game situation is a best practice.
So, to pull off the strategy of always having the best possible pitching and hitting matchups for their team, managers developed and employed the double switch for decades. With the current MLB rules regarding the DF changing in 2023, the double switch may become a thing of the past. But no one can deny that when executed correctly, it is a brilliant strategic move.
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