Tuesday, March 20, 2018

All these switch-hitting shortstops

I had a vivid dream last night that the Twins had a new shortstop to fill in for Jorge Polanco named Ivan Embree, a switch-hitter who was built like Nick Gordon (which is to say, slight) and swung the bat like Vladimir Guerrero (which is to say, at anything white and moving).

There is, and has been, nobody named Ivan Embree in pro baseball, at least according to Baseball Reference. But switch-hitting shortstops are pretty common. Indeed, the suspended Polanco is a switch-hitter, and so are the three infielders in camp who really do figure to play short in his absence (Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza and Erick Aybar).

Back in my formative days as a fan, teams would frequently take a light-hitting, speedy shortstop prospect and force him to switch hit. The idea (illusion) was to duplicate Maury Wills. If Wills' example ignited the notion of trying to make an adult learn to switch hit as a pro, it pretty much died with Mariano Duncan, who switch hit poorly for the first three years of his career and then gave up hitting left-handed. (Ending this farce may have been the first time that Bill James' research and writing affected the game.) It is now widely accepted that one learns to switch hit early in life or not at all.

Only about 1 percent of the population is truly ambideterious, meaning they have no dominant hand at all; a lot more than 1 percent of major league hitters are switch hitters. And while there are switch-htting outfielders and first basemen (hello, Robbie Grossman), I daresay the switch hitters are overrepresented at shortstop.

Why? A quick theory: there are probably degrees of ambidexterity, and I would think that a right-handed thrower with an almost equivalent left hand would be a better fielder than one with an awkward glove hand. Meaning that youngsters who are quickly adept fielders might be better candidates to switch hit. A fairly high percentage of major league shortstops come from Latin America (as is the case with Polanco, Escobar, Adrianza and Aybar), and the buscones are probably doing with 10-year-olds what the Dodgers used to do with 18-year-olds. You can field, you can run, you're going to switch-hit.

No comments:

Post a Comment