Switching to 2022: Modern Revival or Dying Baseball Art?

Per Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

Hitting the switch is sexy.

There’s just something in seeing the term “switch-hitter” in the scouting report that makes the player profile even more tempting. It’s not just about maintaining a lasting water advantage or giving the team more list flexibility; it’s also the extraordinary coordination needed to perform one of the hardest things in the sport – hitting a baseball – using both sides of the body.

Admittedly, it is clearly not as difficult or rare as change-throwing (call on Pat Venditte and Jurrangelo Cijntje), but hitting the switch is still an underappreciated feat of physical dexterity, especially when done successfully at the highest level of sport. After all, all of us ordinary people have been trying to do things with our weak side, and that’s almost always embarrassing, stupid, and embarrassing.

But the best athletes in the world do this for a reason, and hitting the switch is one of the many amazing displays of physical fitness that we have accepted as standard practice in the game we love.

Hitting the switches is almost as old as baseball itself. The first striker was Bob Ferguson, who played for the New York Mutuals in 1871, which is generally considered the first year of organized professional baseball. Admittedly, a bit of fun, Ferguson shifted the shot not for water purposes, but depending on the situation in the game and how he felt at the time.

However, for whatever reason, he was the first to use this strategy. Historians suggest that switching he didn’t catch on quickly at the time, in part because no one wanted to emulate Ferguson, who was not particularly popular.

Nonetheless, it didn’t take long before teams began to realize the value of facing the throw of the opposite hand, and more and more players began to give a kick with the switch. At the turn of the century, about 10% of the league’s qualified strikers hit in both directions.

Over the next half century, the popularity of switching fluctuated. The stars of the switch variant came and went, including Hall of Famere by Max Carey, Dave Bancroft, Frankie Frisch and Red Schoendienst. In the black leagues, legendary rapper Cool Papa Bell and cult catcher Biz Mackey were in themselves stars who changed.

By the late 1940s, the number of established baseball strikers had declined significantly.

Then, in 1951, a 19-year-old from Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle made his debut for the New York Yankees. That season, only three players who switched to strokes qualified for the title – or 4% of all qualified strikers – equaling the lowest total in 70 years. But Mantle took over the league in a stunning way, destroying pitchers on both sides of the board unlike any other hitter the game has ever seen. By the time The Mick retired in 1968, the switch was, not surprisingly, on the rise again.

The next generation brought catcher from Ted Simmons Hall of Fame and the hit king himself, Pete Rose. Eddie Murray’s 504 runs follow – 362 on the left, 142 on the right. And while better known for his second-world defense, Ozzie Smith has benefited significantly from switching on the road to 2,460 major league goals in his career.

In fact, from 1985 to ’87. St. The Louis Cardinals had five players they regularly brought into their lineup, the most of any team in MLB history: Smith, Vince Coleman, Tom Herr, Willie McGee and Terry Pendleton. Two other Cooperstown-related players, Tim Raines and Roberto Alomar, were also starring at the time. By the late ’80s, hitter replacements accounted for nearly a quarter of MLB’s qualified hitters.

Then Bernie Williams, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Chipper Jones carried the art of switching into the 21st century. Mark Teixeira and Jimmy Rollins went on to show that switches can come in all styles, shapes and sizes. José Ramírez has become the gold standard among today’s strikers.

OK, thank you for following my short history lesson. Why did you, you might ask, even want to write about switching switches?

Well, switching could be at the turn of this century. It seemingly reached a plateau in 2008, when 9% of skilled strikers changed the hit, before peaking at 18% in 2018 and then returning to 13% in 2021, roughly the rate we’ve seen so far in 2022 (12.5%). More importantly, 2021 brought an outbreak of two players representing very different options for the future of the transfer: Baltimore Orioles midfielder Cedric Mullins and Tampa Bay Rays shortliner Wander Franco.

Before the 2021 season, Mullins decided to give up hitting the switch and hitting only his natural left side. During the younger grades and in the early stages of his career in the major leagues, Mullins recorded far better numbers by hitting with his left hand.

All this is not so unusual. Switchers often have a preferred side, but the enduring advantage of water is worth the relative struggle on the one hand – and it’s still better to face throwing with the same hand. So, give up switch-hitting in favor of facing throwing with the same hand for the first time in years at the highest level of the sport? That’s brave.

Well, gambling paid off in an epic way. Mullins played his first All-Star game and was a beacon in an otherwise dark season for Baltimore. Oddly enough, as he faced the Southerners on the same side for the first time in years, Mullins got off pretty nicely. His .788 OPS against left-handed pitchers was 15th among left-handed strikers (minimum 100 board appearances) and a better result than those traditional left-handers such as Freddie Freeman, Rafael Devers and Joey Votto.

Like many MLB strikers, Mullins is starting relatively slowly in 2022, at least by the high standards he set last year. His .762 OPS isn’t quite as charming as last year’s .878, but when you realize he’s good for 125 OPS + (comfortably above the league average), you realize that his start wasn’t as disappointing after all.

Mullins ’ambitious decision – and the subsequent breakthrough – led me to think: can we see other players switching in today’s game rejecting their weaker side in hopes of greater overall success?

There is no shortage switch-hitters with extremely extreme splits who could hypothetically benefit from this move. Ozzie Albies, Ketel Marte and Dylan Carlson are spectacular right-handers, but just OK on the left. Others, such as Ian Happ and Yoán Moncada, are solid left-handers but are struggling to score on the right. Almost all of these players are about the same age or younger than the Mullins, so you’d think it’s not too late for them to try to rely entirely on their own strengths.

However, it is unfair to suggest that a player who has switched should give up practice solely on the basis of his splits. It is easy to point out how well it went for Mullins, but it is hardly a solution with many precedents. Just a few switches have ever given up momentum in both directions in the middle of their careers, and neither of them has seen instant positive results to the extent that Mullins has done so.

Still, I’m curious to see if Mullins ’gambit will inspire other players to try – and if we’ll see fewer strikers because of it.

On the other hand, the amazing debut of Rays rookie Franca last season suggests we could enter a new golden age of switching. Franco, the nephew of 12-year-old MLB veteran (and substitute striker, of course) Eric Aybar, has been a fan practically from a young age, and his arrival at the major league level did not disappoint. He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year selection, despite playing just 70 games and then signing a monumental, An extension of $ 182 million before he turns 21.

It seems that so far this season Franco has not received a letter that hitting should be extra hard in 2022 – especially if you are somehow still the youngest player in the league. Instead, he absolutely raked on both sides of the board and was one of the most productive switches in baseball, along with Ramirez, Happ, Francisco Lindor, Josh Bell and Tommy Edman.

And there are many more on the road who have switched. Since Franco received a $ 3.8 million bonus as the best player in the international class in 2017, several other players also signed big bonuses.

In fact, the two biggest bonuses in the 2019 class – both more than $ 5 million – went to strikers, Yankees outside player Jason Dominguez and Athletics shortman Robert Puason. Dominguez took a particular perspective (and a trading card) the world by storm.

Moreover, the two best players this year’s international signing course – Washington Nationals outfielder Cristian Vaquero ($ 4.9 million bonus) and Yankees, Roderick Arias ($ 4 million bonus) – are replaced, and Vaquero becomes only recently, after primarily training for teams using his left-handed swing.

The class after that? It includes another movement in Felnin Celesten, which is he is expected to sign with the Mariners.

As for the home side, the 2022 MLB draft is also full of strikers. Two of the best strikers in colleges bat on both sides: Cal Poly short-lived Brooks Lee and LSU outfielder Jacob Berry. Lee could be in the mix that will be No. 1 in the Orioles overall. Among the players in the prep positions, infielder Tucker Toman of Hammond High School in South Carolina is another player who could pass in the first round in July. (Interestingly, Arizona catcher Daniel Susac, who is also an elite student baton, arrived on campus as a player who moved into the game but recently focused on hitting right-handers. Maybe that’s the point in the Mullins category?)

Finally, not to forget, the biggest odds in baseball to enter the 2022 season was Adley Rutschman of Baltimore, a catcher with elite offensive potential who was No. 1 in the 2019 draft. His debut in MLB should come soon.

Like I said, there are many more switches on the way.

So what will it be? Will Franco’s ascension re-empower the art of hitting switches like Mantle did 70 years ago? Or will Mullins ’choice to go to his strong side convince others that maybe switching isn’t the right way to go?

I certainly hope that this is the first, and that the switch will experience a revival, not become a lost art.

Jordan Shusterman is half @CespedesBBQ and baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He lives in DC, but is a big Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching KBO, which means he doesn’t sleep much. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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