Twins switch-hitters

In baseball, a switch-hitter is a batter that bats either from the right side or the left side depending on if the pitcher is right or left-handed. Most curveballs break away from batters hitting from the same side as the opposing pitcher making such pitches often harder to hit than those from the other 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 for ever it seems and yet according to sources that I have researched, only about 6% of baseball batters have been switch-hitters. You have to wonder if switch-hitting is such an advantage, why haven’t more of baseball best hitters been switch-hitters? The best career batting average for a switch-hitter is .316 by Frankie Frisch and he currently ranks 71st all-time. Some of the best switch-hitters in our era have been  Chipper Jones at .306 and Pete Rose at .303. Detroit Tigers DH Victor Martinez has a career average of .302 making him the highest currently active switch-hitter. Switch-hitters have been around for a long time and there have been some pretty good ones over the years, in addition to the players I just mentioned, you have to add players like 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 for right to left or left to right during an at bat. The only rule that I can find that seemingly applies 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 batters box to the other as often as you want as long as you do it before the pitcher gets in 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.

Roy Smalley III

Roy Smalley III

In the Twins 53 years of existence the team has had 62 players that were switch-hitters but not all of them actually batted and we will touch more on that later. The Twins very first switch-hitter was actually a pitcher, Pedro Ramos. Ramos pitched and batted (1 for 4 with 2 RBI) in the Twins very first game when Ramos 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 however; that the Twins actually 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 only been one year, 1973 that they have not had a switch-hitter step into the batters box wearing a Twins uniform. 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 PerryDan 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 actually hit five home runs as a Twin.

Home runs from each side of the plate club

The Twins switch-hitter with the most home runs is Roy Smalley and 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” 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 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 career. Just for comparisons sake, Mickey Mantle did it on 10 occasions.

One oddity that seems to stand out to me is how few of the switch-hitters employed by the Twins over the years actually threw left-handed. 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, actually pitched in 3 games for the Twins and it gets even stranger.

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 here 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 but those numbers are not included here, I am only interested in their numbers as Minnesota Twins for this story.

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 0 .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

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