Hitting a baseball is a very difficult task. Switch hitting is an even harder task to accomplish. Two different swings to tune up, change, and try to grow. When done well it eliminates some of the difficulties that come when facing same handed pitchers. Orioles’ outfielder Cedric Mullins was a switch hitter, but ditched that prior to the 2021 season to become a lefty only swinger. His dominant hand. It resulted in Mullins becoming an All-Star and Silver Slugger.
That opens up a thought experiment; are there any Detroit Tigers, specifically prospects that could benefit from a similar decision?
This is all completely theoretical. Inspired by a Fangraphs post by Jake Mailhot where he gave a statistical glance at some MLB hitters who might benefit from such a move. There’s more access to stats at that level, and two Tigers tied for ninth. Both Jeimer Candelario and Robbie Grossman checked in with a .022 wOBA differential between their work on either side of the plate. In other words, nothing major to report on the Detroit front.
There were other factors for Mullins to ascend to All-Star status than just ditching his righty swing. At a quick glance, the O’s outfielder wound up with more power and a higher average. This was a guy on the brink of irrelevance, so a 30/30 season was a welcome sight for him. He hit .277 against southpaws batting left handed in 2021, compared to .171 in 2020. For comparison he hit over .300 as a lefty against righties. Sample sizes may vary.
It’s extremely difficult to pick up hitting against same-handed pitchers as a professional. Those who embark on the journey as a switch hitter typically start young, and have done that their whole lives. Seeing breaking balls that break away from you for the first time against professional-level arms is not an easy thing to deal with. Give Mullins a ton of credit there. That is one reason among others why this strategy isn’t deployed more often among struggling switch hitters. Whatever gains may be made hitting from the stronger side full-time can easily be erased by the task of dealing with a completely new look from pitchers.
Frankly, it’s a very rare, last resort kind of move.
There are two Tigers switch-hitting prospects who fit this mold in my mind, at least as possibilities. Both are coming off very solid seasons, and both are in the boat of ‘too early to tell’ so this is largely just a theoretical thought experiment. I’m not suggesting that the Tigers should be forcing such a drastic change on a player. Just batting the idea around.
Up first is Wenceel Perez. He makes this list for based more on the eye test than anything else. There is enough of a track record to get some sort of idea with him.
Wenceel Perez (remember him?) shortens up with 2 strikes, lines a sac fly to CF, De La Rosa moves up to 3B. pic.twitter.com/GseYUbupny— Detroit Tigers Minor League Tracker (@Tiger_Lifer) August 4, 2021
Wenceel Perez goes deep! That’s his first big fly with the Whitecaps! pic.twitter.com/7VaJd0M2lb— TigersProspectsVideo (@ProspectsVideo) June 3, 2021
Starting in 2018 when he graduated from the rookie levels, Perez played in three different levels. One was rookie, one was short season A ball, and he ended in full season ball. The highest he climbed was the equivalent of Low-A, essentially. He was on a tear, he slashed .303/.350/.427 in 200 PA swinging lefty. That compares to just 51 PA swinging righty, where he slashed .348/.412/.435.
His 2019 season is where things start to get a little murky. He spent the entirety of the season in the Low-A equivalent, which at the time was West Michigan. He had 377 PA as a lefty swinger against right handed pitching where he slashed .218/.295/.305 vs. a .273/.312/.336 slash in 139 PA as a righty swinger against lefties. Perez seemed back on track in 2021 hitting for a .248 batting average through 365 PA from the left side and .280 in 111 PA from the right side. Better, but while he reached the High-A level in 2021, the progress has been slow in coming overall for the 22-year-old infielder.
The answer here is that no, Wenceel Perez is not a candidate for this drastic move. He is doing fine from both sides and hopefully will continue to do so as he progresses to higher levels of competition. No one expects Perez to hit for enough power to play everyday, and giving up switch-hitting isn’t going to change that anyway. With a utilityman profile based on solid speed, defensive versatility, and the ability to make plenty of contact, the role Perez is best suited for is better served by switch-hitting.
While Perez’s numbers favor one side, there’s no massive track record of it being an issue. If he starts to see more seasons like 2019, then maybe. That, however doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, I’m on record as liking his lefty swing more than his righty swing from an eye test standpoint prior to the start of the 2021 season.
So here's my (likely not at all) hot take on Perez: I like him from the left side far more than the right side of the plate. His hit tool is his carrying tool and I think that is miles ahead in his lefty swing than his righty swing #FilmStudyFriday https://t.co/CcJDX0Finn— Trevor Hooth (@HoothTrevor) May 30, 2020
The other player that comes to mind only has a single season of work under his belt, and that is infielder Gage Workman, BYB’s 12th ranked Tigers prospect. He is already in the middle of a change as he transitions from being a college third baseman to a professional shortstop. Thus far, he’s handle that switch of positions pretty well. So, one thing at a time and all.
Gage Workman hit a 3-run shot in his final AB of the 2021 season. It was his 9th with the Whitecaps, and 12th overall. pic.twitter.com/7RZlHKPgqW— Tigers Minor League Report (@tigersMLreport) September 19, 2021
Gage Workman with an infield single. Then he steals 2nd and 3rd (his 30th and 31st on the year) and then he scores on Austin Schultz’s first hit at the High-A level. pic.twitter.com/aqRIAcVWiN— Tigers Minor League Report (@tigersMLreport) September 16, 2021
Workman spent time in both Low-A and High-A during the 2021 year. As a whole he hit .246/.326/.434. A trip to his splits show he slashed .267/.349/.500 in 394 PA from the left side of the plate. As a righty he slashed .179/.256/.226 in 117 PA. That’s far too small of a sample to draw any conclusions. But let’s try, shall we.
All 12 of Workman’s homeruns came swinging from the left side, so he had a higher average and more power from that side. His walk numbers were just about a percentage point higher as a lefty, the difference from nine to ten percent. He struck out about 28 percent of the time as a lefty and 36 percent of the time as a righty. These numbers are combined across both levels.
Right now the answer is still no for Workman, too. The sample is too small. However, this is an idea to keep in the back pocket if those splits don’t improve. The book on him when the Tigers took him at draft time was a solid defender with a questionable bat. Maybe a move like this could shore up that hitting ability. On the other hand, it could also be an admission that he’s bound for more of a platoon role. Either way, the Tigers have no reason to force this right now. Of the two players discussed, however, Workman certainly seems the likelier possibility to give up switch-hitting at some point. For now he deserves another full year’s work to see if he can straighten out his swing and approach in the right-hander’s batter’s box.
As it turns out, there are probably no Cedric Mullins’ breakouts coming to the Tigers’ farm. It’s a pretty drastic change to make for a switch-hitter, and remains rare, but maybe we’ll see more experimentation with the idea now that Baltimore had success with it. Perhaps the Tigers will have a better candidate down the road.