Let’s be honest. People have a hard time using their non-dominant hands. They struggle to do simple things like eat with a fork and knife or write with a pencil. What makes it so awkward? Your brain has not built a strong line of communication with the muscles on your non-dominant side to control them with precision and accuracy, so that’s why we struggle. But let’s forget about tasks like eating and writing.
Imagine using your non-dominant eye, hand, and lead leg to try and hit a 90 mph fastball. The work it takes to be able to hit major league pitching is hard enough, much less doing it from both sides of the plate. Here, we explain the concept of switch-hitting in baseball and why being born ambidextrous is great but not necessary to become a professional-caliber switch hitter.
- Switch hitters in baseball are offensive players who can bat from either side of the plate, with some being able to switch sides during a single at-bat.
- The concept of switch-hitting is not new and has been documented back to 1871. Today, approximately 15% of all MLB players are switch-hitters.
- Switch-hitting gives players an advantage over pitchers by allowing them to be prepared to hit from either side of the plate.
- Mentally and physically, it takes lots of practice and swing repetitions to perfect the art of hitting from both sides of the plate.
- Some famous switch hitters include Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Francisco Lindor, Pete Rose, Chipper Jones, etc.
Definition of a switch hitter
A switch hitter in baseball is an offensive player who can bat from either side of the plate. Switch hitters can choose to bat on either side of the plate. Also, unlike ambidextrous pitchers, who can only switch hands between batters, hitters can switch sides of the plate during a single at-bat.
That being said, trying this during a game is not recommended. Rules state that while hitters can change sides of the plate during an at-bat, it can lead to confusion and hit batsmen.
The concept of “switch-hitting” is not new. The first player in MLB to do it in-game was Bob Ferguson of the New York Mutuals in 1871. Fast forward to today, and almost 15% of all MLB players are switch-hitters. That is a lot of progress, but on a 26-man roster, that usually means teams only have 2-3 switch hitters. Clearly, it is a rare skill that teams are still looking for.
Why do players switch hit? Simple, to give themselves advantages over pitchers. We have talked about the advantages of righty vs lefty matchups in hitting and pitching so having a switch hitter neutralizes that mismatch and gives the offense the advantage because no matter which pitcher is in the game, they are prepared to hit from either side of the plate and can choose to hit from the side that works better in the situation.
How switch-hitting works
The art of hitting starts with the eyes, moves to the brain, and then to the muscles in the body. Just because throwing or hitting from a certain side may feel more natural, it does not mean your brain and body cannot be trained to do the same thing from the other side. The key is repetition.
Your mind can train your body to hit from either side of the plate, but if it is your non-dominant side, then you need double the practice and repetitions to achieve the same results. Constant training and repetitive motion are what help the eye-brain-muscle connection get stronger and give hitters a better ability to see, react, and hit a baseball from both sides.
But hey, don’t take our word for it. Our friends at the Atlanta Braves got Hall of Famer Chipper Jones to talk about developing switch-hitting skills (young players, pay attention!):
Famous switch hitters
Throughout baseball history, there have been many switch hitters, but because of the difficulty of the game and the amount of work it takes to perfect one swing, much less two means that there have not been many who have had success on both sides of the plate. Below, in no particular order, we break down some of the best to hit from both sides:
1. Mickey Mantle
The Yankee legend is the only switch hitter to hit 50 home runs in a season (and he did it twice!) Not only that, he hit his 500th from the left side of the plate. Not bad for being right-hand dominant.
2. Eddie Murray
The man called Steady Eddie stands alongside Mantle as the only other switch hitter with over 500 career home runs, and he is also only one of two switch hitters in the 3,000-hit club. People recognize when you can hit for contact and power from both sides of the plate. Murray was the first ballot Hall of Famer. Like Mantle, he was also right-hand dominant and hit his 500th home run as a lefty:
3. Francisco Lindor
Arguably one of the most productive switch-hitters playing today, Lindor has already recorded three 30-home run seasons by age 25, which is more than all other switch-hitting shortstops in history… combined. Watch him hit three homers in one game while switching batting sides:
There are many other fantastic switch hitters in MLB history worth reading up on, like Pete Rose, Jorge Posada, Lance Berkman, Bobby Bonilla, and Carlos Beltran.
Strategic advantages of switch-hitting
By having switch-hitters in the lineup, managers do not have to worry about platoon substitutions as much. If the opposing team brings in a dangerous lefty pitcher, you don’t have to pull your switch hitter out of the lineup; they simply move to the right side of the plate to get a better view of the ball. That is the key.
Hitters can only hit what they can see. When a lefty hitter faces a lefty pitcher, they lose fractions of a second of not seeing the baseball because of the pitcher’s delivery. The same situation exists for right-handers.
Situations like this become important in critical games. When a baseball game is close in the late innings, managers will use any matchup advantage they can find to pull out a win. By having switch-hitters in the lineup, the advantage will almost always go to the batting team.
How to become a switch hitter
To train yourself to become a switch hitter, you need to dedicate extra time to practicing on your non-dominant side. MLB players swing the bat thousands and thousands of times from spring training to the end of the season. But if you are a switch hitter, that number should be doubled or even higher.
Many great players have given their perspectives on what it takes to become an effective hitter from both sides of the plate. While there are differences in each individual’s approach, the common theme is the same: lots and lots of practice and swing repetitions. Just listen to 4x All-Star Jose Ramirez of Cleveland:
How rare is a switch hitter in baseball?
Switch hitters are rare in baseball. In the 2022 MLB season, approximately 14% of all hitters were classified as switch hitters. This means each team averages three switch hitters in their lineup.
Who is the best switch hitter in baseball?
The best switch-hitter in baseball is a hotly debated argument because there are several ways that switch-hitting players can positively impact their team. However, there is only a short list that people consider.
For switch-hitting power hitters, arguments can be made for Mickey Mantle, Chipper Jones, or Eddie Murray. All three of them are in the Hall of Fame and are World Series champions.
For contact switch hitters, names like Pete Rose (all-time hits leader), Robbie Alomar (12-time All-Star and Hall of Famer), and Tim Raines (7-time All-Star and Hall of Famer) are constantly brought up as being some of the best switch hitters ever to play.
Here is one argument for Chipper Jones from the MLB Network:
Has a switch hitter ever won a batting title?
Yes, nine switch hitters have won the batting title in MLB history. Here is the list below:
Mickey Mantle – 1956: That year, Mantle hit .353 and was named MVP.
Pete Rose (3x) – 1968,1969, 1973: Rose is the first switch hitter to win it more than once. He also was named MVP in 1973.
Willie Wilson – 1982: Wilson hit .332 that year and is also the all-time leader in inside-the-park home runs.
Tim Raines – 1986: Raines hit .334 that season to win the batting title and came extremely close a few other times.
Willie McGee (2x) – 1985, 1990: McGee is the only switch hitter to win the batting title in both leagues. McGee hit .353 in ’85 and just edged out Hall of Famer Eddie Murray in 1990.
Terry Pendleton – 1991: Pendleton hit .319 that season and helped the Braves go from worst to first
Bernie Williams – 1998: Williams hit .339 that season and became the first Yankee to win the batting title since Don Mattingly.
Bill Mueller – 2003: Mueller had a breakout season in 2003 and hit .326 to win the title.
Chipper Jones – 2008: Jones became the oldest switch hitter in history to win the batting title at 36. He hit .364 that year, the highest season average for a switch hitter.
What happens if a switch pitcher faces a switch hitter?
If a switch pitcher faces a switch hitter, chaos ensues. There have only been a handful of ambidextrous pitchers in MLB, but it has happened before and confuses everyone, including switch hitters. Watch below and see for yourself:
Switch hitters are hard prospects to find, so for young players coming up hoping to get their shot, learning how to hit from both sides of the plate improves your odds. Remember, it does not matter which hand is most dominant for you; your mind and body can be trained to do the exact same thing with your non-dominant side. It just takes a lot of practice.
Some switch-hitters didn’t develop their skills until they reached the minor leagues, so it’s never too late to learn new things. However, all of them probably wish they had learned this skill much earlier.
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