In honor of the greatest switch hitter of all time, Chipper Jones, being inducted into the Hall of Fame this past month, I wanted to give my take on switch hitting. Every so often, a parent asks me if I think their son or daughter should switch hit. More often than not, my answer is simple…No! Now before you stop reading this article, because this isn’t the answer you wanted to hear, I encourage you to continue on and find out why.
My opinion on this matter may hold a little more value due to the fact it’s coming from someone who did switch hit. I’m also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with a fair amount of knowledge of joint complexity, structure, and functional body movements. The funny thing is, a majority of my personal success I owe to switch hitting. My first full season as a switch hitter ever, I set the current Single Season all-time record for highest batting average in a season at Cal Lutheran University. I then bounced around the independent league ranks for 4 seasons with a lot of opportunities stemming from the mere fact I could switch hit.
In junior college, I did not switch hit. I always wanted to but for fear of regressing, I stuck to the right side. When I transferred to my 4-year school, I dedicated a majority of my time to switch hitting. I picked up switch-hitting immediately after my sophomore season in 2008 so I had that summer and fall to work on it. I struggled immensely in the beginning and was asked often, “Why do you want to switch hit? You’re way better from the right side.” The answer was simple. I thought it was the only chance I had at playing professionally. In 2009, I had a season-ending shoulder injury and was forced to take a medical redshirt. At the time I was devastated but looking back, it gave me more time to work on switch hitting. Obviously, I couldn’t swing, but I could study the swing more. I spent hours studying the swing. The swing I looked at the most was that of Bryce Harper, while he was still in High School/Junior College. His positions and his movements, I couldn’t describe at the time but I knew he was doing things in his swing that were insanely good.
Above is one of my favorite pictures of Harpers swings. This comes from way back in 2010 when Harper played his only year of collegiate baseball at the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas. The positions his body gets into throughout his swing are truly unique and require a high degree of range of motion all throughout the body.
So, I tried to emulate Bryce Harper. The more I studied the positions and movements of his swing, the more I realized how different they were from what I was doing. I would think to myself, “How does he even get into these positions?” It was so uncomfortable for my body to even attempt these positions in the mirror let alone go through a live swing to replicate the movements I was observing. I will say, identifying swing positions of elite level player definitely helped me as a player. However, positional identification, in regards to the swing, has its limitations. I had a clear understanding of what I had to do in order to mimic that of an elite hitter, I just wasn’t aware of how to adequately achieve what I was looking at. Now, with a few years of being a CSCS, working with athletes, working in 4 different strength and conditioning/physical therapy clinics and an ever-increasing amount of knowledge in regards to human movement, the answer became clear: To get the most out of positional swing identification you must physically have the joint awareness and capacity to achieve the positions you’re observing. As a switch-hitter, you have to be able to get into these positions from two sides of the body which, in my opinion, is extremely difficult for most hitters and for a lot of hitters, it is virtually impossible.
I struggled to emulate an elite level swing pattern left-handed, in part, because I didn’t have the room to move in the areas of my body that were needed. Upper back mobility, hip and leg mobility, the room to move just wasn’t there. I tweeted out a while back about how identifying positions in the swing is only as important as the knowledge needed to improve the range of motion required to achieve the identified positions. You can do all of the mirror work in the world but if your body doesn’t allow for these desired positions to occur free of conscious thought, you’re ultimately fighting an uphill battle you’re going to lose. I was fighting an uphill battle my whole career as a switch hitter, I just didn’t know it.
For a majority of hitters at any level, you are never going to move as well on your non-dominant side as your dominant side. There are too many limitations from a physical standpoint. A lot of the switch hitters I have worked with have inherent differences in regards to the shape of their swings. This is from the range of motion limitations. I always test range of motion with the hitters I work with and when it comes to switch-hitters, I’ve noticed whatever side they score better on in their assessment, that’s the side of the plate they are better on from a metrics standpoint (how hard they can hit the ball, how far they can hit the ball, etc.)
Another thing I wanted to touch on is what is generally lost in the throwing arms of baseball and softball players over time. Ask any strength coach who has experience with throwers, what are the 2 movements that, more often than not, become deficient in the shoulder joint. Throwers lose internal rotation due to an increase in the glenohumeral external rotation and upper trapezius function begins to degrade thus inhibiting the shoulder to elevate properly. Front arm elevation and internal rotation is a common movement shared amongst the best hitters in the world.
The physical limitations a hitter faces when switch-hitting are scientifically backed, but if this does not convince you, take a look at the statistical side of the argument. First, according to Baseball Reference, not one hitter in the history of MLB is in the top 50 career-wise for batting average. You would have to go outside of the top 50 to find a hitter in this category who is a switch hitter (Roger Connor who played before 1900 tied for 64th). In terms of home runs, only 4 hitters in the top 50 were switch hitters and none in the top 15. There is a reason for this folks, hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in professional sports. The only thing harder is having to hit from both sides of the plate.
Now, despite all the evidence, there are some outlying circumstances where I do think switch hitting is good. If the hitter demonstrates similar exit velocities and consistency from both sides of the plate at a young age, then as a parent I would let my child see it out. All too often though, I see switch hitters much better from one side of the plate. With Hittrax hitting, you can actually see how you measure up from both sides of the plate numbers wise (exit velocity, distance, etc.). I’ll see a hitter attempting to switch hit and the exit velocity splits from right to left or left to right are 10MPH. That is a significant difference! Any hitter currently switches hitting who has that big of a difference between sides should seriously consider investing their training time into the more dominant side.
In closing, if you are going to switch hit, get assessed. Go see a trainer, strength coach, or a physical therapist to make sure you have the active range of motion to move through the positions of the swinging from both sides of the plate. Never having to hit from the same side of the plate as the pitcher is throwing is a luxury but any type of physical limitations are going to make hitting from both sides of the plate even more difficult than it already is. Any questions, comment below. Thank you for reading!