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Finding Switch-Hitters Who Should Stop Switch-Hitting

Back in December, I wrote about Cedric Mullinsbreakout 2021 season, the catalyst for which was a decision to stop switch-hitting and begin batting exclusively from the left side of the plate. By dropping his right-handed swing, Mullins, a natural lefty, could focus on honing one swing instead of struggling to maintain two separate swings.

Switch-hitting has always been a rare skill throughout baseball history, but the number of batters who can swing both ways has dwindled in recent years. From that previous piece:

In 2021, just 17 qualified batters (13.1%) were switch-hitters, right in line with the league-wide average over the last decade. Compare that to the decade between 1986 and ’95 (excluding the strike-shortened 1994 season), when more than one in five qualified batters (21.1%) hit from both sides, with a peak of 24.8% in ’89. With modern baseball strategy so heavily emphasizing the platoon advantage, it’s surprising to see so few switch-hitters these days. Giving up that advantage in every at-bat is a radical decision, and there’s barely any precedent for it.

The number of players who have dropped switch-hitting after making their major league debuts is tiny. J.T. Snow did it in 1999, halfway through his career. So did Orlando Merced in 1996. Shane Victorino flip-flopped between switch-hitting and batting right-handed after injuries forced him to give up left-handed batting at various points during his career. More recently, Tucker Barnhart gave up switch-hitting in 2019.

After seeing the success Mullins had after giving up swinging from the right side, the obvious follow-up question is whether we can identify any other switch-hitters who might benefit from focusing on swinging from one side or the other.

The extremely small number of players who have actually made the decision to stop switch-hitting at the major league level should tell us that this isn’t a silver bullet solution to a player with a wide platoon split. Anecdotally, more players stop switch-hitting in the minors because they have a lot more to gain if the adjustment pays off. For those players who have already made it to the majors but haven’t truly established themselves, like Mullins, it’s a risky decision. They’d be making the change against the best the sport has to offer, likely resulting in a significant adjustment period. Still, with teams focused on finding every miniscule advantage to wring out of their rosters, it’s a worthwhile question to pursue.
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Fluke or Breakout: Is Cedric Mullins’ 2021 Success Sustainable?

There might not have been a bigger surprise performer in 2021 than Cedric Mullins. With just over 400 plate appearances spread across parts of three years prior, he had put up a cumulative 72 wRC+ and accumulated -0.4 WAR; this season, he pushed his wRC+ up to 136 and posted 5.3 WAR, the 14th highest mark among all position players. He also became just the 11th player to reach 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a single season over the last decade.

The catalyst for his breakout season was quite simple: Mullins quit switch-hitting and began batting exclusively from the left side. That discussion had begun all the way back in 2018, his debut season, when then-Orioles manager Buck Showalter suggested it to him. After struggling to establish himself in the majors for three seasons, he finally decided to rely on his natural swing during the offseason. “It was getting difficult to try and create two different swings,” he told MASN’s Steve Melewski in March. “I know my left-side is my natural side, so trying to develop my right-handed swing at the highest level was challenging.”

Switch-hitting has always been a scarce skill, but the number of players who can swing both ways has dwindled in recent years. In 2021, just 17 qualified batters (13.1%) were switch-hitters, right in line with the league-wide average over the last decade. Compare that to the decade between 1986 and ’95 (excluding the strike-shortened 1994 season), when more than one in five qualified batters (21.1%) hit from both sides, with a peak of 24.8% in ’89. With modern baseball strategy so heavily emphasizing the platoon advantage, it’s surprising to see so few switch-hitters these days. Giving up that advantage in every at-bat is a radical decision, and there’s barely any precedent for it.

The number of players who have dropped switch-hitting after making their major league debuts is tiny. J.T. Snow did it in 1999, halfway through his career. So did Orlando Merced in 1996. Shane Victorino flip-flopped between switch-hitting and batting right-handed after injuries forced him to give up left-handed batting at various points during his career. More recently, Tucker Barnhart gave up switch-hitting in 2019. But those previous examples were all players who had already established themselves in the majors. Mullins could have seriously damaged his chances of having a productive major league career if his decision went wrong.
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The Marlins Get Their Backstop

The Marlins have one of the most intriguing starting rotations in baseball. They just signed Sandy Alcantara to a five-year extension after his phenomenal 2021 season. Trevor Rogers just finished second behind Jonathan India in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Behind those two, Pablo López, Jesús Luzardo, Sixto Sánchez, Elieser Hernandez, Edward Cabrera, and Max Meyer provide tons more talent to dream on. The only thing missing was a catcher to help guide and maximize those young arms.

Ever since J.T. Realmuto was traded away after the 2018 season, the Marlins had been rather aimless behind the plate. In the three seasons since, their catchers have accumulated just 1.3 WAR, the sixth worst mark in baseball over that stretch. In 2021, Jorge Alfaro, Sandy León, and a few other backup catchers combined for -0.1 WAR. Things got so bad with Alfaro that they tried playing him at first base and in the outfield after Miami acquired Alex Jackson at the trade deadline.

On Monday, though, the Marlins got their man: Miami acquired catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates in exchange for right-handed pitcher Zach Thompson and two prospects, Kyle Nicolas and Connor Scott. (Alfaro was traded to the Padres a day later for a player to be named later or cash considerations.) Read the rest of this entry »

Rays Restock Their Rotation With Corey Kluber

After trading away Blake Snell and declining Charlie Morton’s club option last offseason, the Rays made a flurry of smaller moves to bolster their rotation depth, bringing in Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, and Chris Archer on one-year deals. But Archer ended up spending the majority of the season on the Injured List, Hill was traded away in July, and while Wacha pitched better than his 5.05 ERA might lead you to believe, it was still a 5.05 ERA. Those three combined for 48 appearances for Tampa Bay and just 1.9 WAR, and all three won’t be returning in 2022.

With Tyler Glasnow projected to be sidelined for the entire season after Tommy John surgery, the Rays’ rotation once again looked rather pyramid-shaped heading into this offseason: lots of depth and plenty of options in the middle, but thin at the top. Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Ryan Yarbrough, Luis Patiño, and Shane Baz are lined up to take on the bulk of the starter innings in 2022, but while that group was solid last season, putting up a cumulative 5.9 WAR in 112 combined games, no one present has all that much major league experience.

To that young group, the Rays have added a veteran who can also address their need for a frontline starter, signing Corey Kluber to a one-year, $8 million contract on Sunday. The deal includes incentives based on games started that could push the total up to $13 million — a safeguard given his recent and long injury history. He missed the majority of the 2019 season in Cleveland after a line drive fractured his throwing arm and made just one start in Texas the year after, leaving his only appearance with a shoulder injury after a single inning. He signed a one-year deal with the Yankees in January and started the season looking good, making nine starts through April and May, but left his tenth with another shoulder injury that kept him off the mound for two months; he returned at the end of August and made six more starts down the stretch.
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The Angels Begin Filling in the Gaps on Their Roster

Despite having the generational talents of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani anchoring their roster, the Angels entered this offseason with plenty of question marks. They’ve squandered the majority of Trout’s early career, making with just one postseason appearance since his debut in 2012 despite spending levels that were in the upper echelons of the majors for most of that time. They started this offseason with a bang, signing Noah Syndergaard to a one-year deal last week. That move comes with its fair share of risk, but the top of their rotation now projects to be much more solid. Yesterday, the Angels started addressing some of the question marks around the fringes of their roster. First, they acquired utility man Tyler Wade from the Yankees for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Then, they signed left-handed reliever Aaron Loup to a two-year, $17 million pact, including a team option for 2024 that includes a $2 million buyout.

Loup’s addition addresses a much bigger need than Wade’s. Raisel Iglesias rejected the Angels’ qualifying offer last week, becoming a free agent and leaving a significant hole in their bullpen. While Loup isn’t quite the reliever Iglesias is, he’s been remarkably effective over the past two seasons. Among all qualified relievers during that period, Loup’s park- and league-adjusted ERA ranks second in baseball, 63% better than league average. He led all qualified relievers in 2021 with a 0.95 ERA. Read the rest of this entry »

Louis Head Joins an Under-the-Radar Marlins Bullpen

Unless you’re a diehard fan, you’d be hard pressed to name a single member of the Marlins bullpen. Given that they traded away a bunch of their relievers in July and still look like they’re a few years away from building a true contender, that’s not surprising. Building a lockdown relief corps isn’t the top priority based on where they are in their rebuild. But GM Kim Ng mentioned during last week’s General Manager Meetings that adding depth to the bullpen was part of the offseason to-do list — a bit of surprise given the context above. They started to address that depth right away, too, acquiring right-handed pitcher Louis Head on Sunday from the Rays for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Miami’s relief corps was pretty solid in 2021, with the third best park- and league-adjusted FIP in the National League, 8% better than league average. But Marlins relievers weren’t exactly flamethrowers; collectively, they posted a 22.0% strikeout rate, the fourth-worst mark in baseball. Instead, the team employed a bunch of pitchers who ran above-average ground-ball rates, helping them successfully manage the contact they did allow. As a group, they had the fifth-highest ground-ball rate and second-lowest barrel rate in baseball.

Marlins Bullpen
Player Age How Acquired IP K% BB% FIP WAR
Dylan Floro 31 Trade (LAD) | Feb ’21 64 23.0% 9.3% 2.81 1.5
Zach Thompson 28 Free Agent (MiLB) | Dec ’20 75* 21.0% 8.9% 3.69 1.3
Anthony Bender 27 Free Agent (MiLB) | Dec ’20 61.1 28.7% 8.1% 3.19 1.0
Richard Bleier 35 Trade (BAL) | Aug ’20 58 19.6% 2.7% 3.01 1.0
Louis Head 32 Trade (TBR) Nov ’21 35 23.9% 6.7% 3.11 0.4
Zach Pop 25 Trade (ARI) | Dec ’20 54.2 20.7% 9.8% 3.77 0.3
Steven Okert 31 Free Agent (MiLB) | Feb ’21 36 28.2% 10.6% 4.34 0.1
Anthony Bass 34 Free Agent (2 yr, $5M) | Jan ’21 61.1 22.3% 9.2% 4.93 -0.4
*Thompson had 14 starts and 12 relief appearances in 2021

Bass was signed to a two-year deal last offseason, making him the highest paid member of this group. A surprising number of minor league free agents ended up making a solid contribution in the majors, and the rest were acquired via the same kind of under-the-radar trade that brought Head into the fold. Despite all their success this year, the average age of these relievers is 30.3 years old. It’s a competent collection of relievers assembled from the castoffs of other organizations, and Head fits in perfectly.
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The Roster Dominos Start to Fall for the Reds

The period between the end of the World Series and the official start of free agency is usually uneventful, with teams taking care of procedural moves to get their rosters ready for the long offseason. That wasn’t the case for the Reds. On the first day of the offseason, the team traded Tucker Barnhart to the Tigers for infield prospect Nick Quintana. A day later, Nick Castellanos exercised his opt-out clause, forgoing two more years in Cincinnati and $34 million in total salary to test the market. A few days later, the Cubs announced they had claimed a surprisingly available Wade Miley off waivers. It was a pretty eventful few days for the Reds, and they now enter the offseason with a lot more question marks hanging over their roster than they had before the Fall Classic’s conclusion.

All three of these moves have significant implications for the Reds’ payroll in 2022. In a media session after the Barnhart trade last Wednesday, Reds general manager Nick Krall explained the reasoning behind that move: “Going into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.” That same rationale explains why Miley was so freely available to the league on waivers. While Castellanos opting out of his two remaining years with the club was unsurprising after his phenomenal 2021, his $17 million salary next year is now off the books, and both Barnhart and Miley held club options for next season — $7.5 million for the former and $10 million for the latter.

Even though those comments from Krall are couched in business speak, it’s not hard to understand the direction the Reds are headed this offseason. After a hefty increase in payroll from just over $100 million in 2018 to a non-pro-rated $149 million in ’20, the Reds look like they’re about to cut spending for the second season in a row. Even with Castellanos, Barnhart, and Miley off the roster, their estimated payroll for 2022 currently comes out to $131 million, $10 million over their final payroll figure for this season and just $17 million below the franchise high-water mark from 2020.

Given that payroll number and their comments, the Reds probably don’t have much room to add any players to address the numerous holes on their roster. They currently have just over $70 million in salary committed to five players in 2022: Joey Votto ($25MM), Mike Moustakas ($16MM), Sonny Gray ($10.7MM), Eugenio Suárez ($11.3MM), and Shogo Akiyama ($8MM). And that doesn’t take into account the 10 players due to receive a raise in salary arbitration this offseason. It’s likely they’ll try to move Moustakas, Gray, or another one of their high-priced players to free up further salary space. But this isn’t a case of addition by subtraction; the Reds are taking steps to field a team that constitutes a significant step back from the competitive rosters from the last two seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

Where Do the Athletics Go From Here?

Last week, the Padres’ managerial search came to a surprising end when they signed Bob Melvin to a three-year deal. Even though the A’s had picked up his contract option for the 2022 season, the team allowed him to interview for the vacant position in San Diego, and he ended up moving on to greener (or browner) pastures. One of the most respected and successful managers in baseball, Padres general manager A.J. Preller got the man at the top of his list.

With Melvin at the helm, the Padres are hoping to take another step forward after an ugly late-season collapse caused them to miss the playoffs, which led to previous manager Jayce Tingler’s dismissal. His successor inherits a roster full of young talent, an organization committed to using its resources to build a winning franchise, and a front office that’s been aggressive in supplementing the homegrown core. But while San Diego still has some glaring questions on its roster even with Melvin in place, the A’s are facing a far murkier future.

Over the past decade, the A’s have won 806 games with Melvin as manager, fifth most in the American League over that period, and earlier this summer, he surpassed Tony La Russa to become the winningest manager in Oakland history. That also includes six trips to the postseason, tied with the Astros and trailing only the Yankees for most in the AL in the last 10 years. Even though Oakland hasn’t advanced past the divisional round in any of those appearances, it has been among the most successful organizations in baseball during the past decade.

Athletics executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane recognized the level of success Melvin enjoyed despite some difficult circumstances in Oakland.

“Bob, arguably, has been the most successful manager we’ve had here, especially when you consider the challenges that he’s had. He’s had a roster that has turned over multiple times since he’s been here. He has one of the lower payrolls to deal with. From a professional and personal relationship, his tenure speaks for itself.”

Melvin obviously had no control over the amount of payroll space the team was working with or the unsettled stadium situation in Oakland that has cast an air of uncertainty over the future of the franchise, but his success is impressive nonetheless. The six postseason appearances certainly stand out, but he also oversaw a three-year rebuild from 2015 to ’17, losing 274 games in those three seasons. Essentially, he guided two separate talent cores to two separate three-year postseason runs during his tenure as the A’s manager.

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Alex Bregman’s Struggles Have Continued Into the Postseason

The Astros have powered their way into their third World Series in the last five years without the offensive contributions of one of their key players. In Houston’s 12 postseason games this October, Alex Bregman has hit a paltry .239/.308/.326 (.273 wOBA). He fared well against the White Sox in the ALDS, collecting six hits and two walks in those four games, but has just five hits in the eight games since and has been held hitless so far in the World Series. When your lineup is as deep as Houston’s is, you can survive a prolonged slump from one of your stars because there are so many other good hitters who can pick up the slack. Still, the Astros would rather Bregman hit than not.

These postseason struggles are just a continuation of a rough end to the regular season for the third baseman. He lost over two months of the season to a quad injury, keeping him sidelined from June 17 to August 25. After being activated from the injured list, he collected hits in 16 of his first 18 games back, but ended the season with just six hits in the team’s final 14 games. If you tack his postseason performance on to the end of his regular season, he’s hit just .200/.293/.313 (.269 wOBA) over his last 30 games. That late season swoon brought his wRC+ down from 130 on September 16 to 115 just 14 games later.

Bregman started his major league career with just two hits in his first 10 games, but pushed his wOBA up to .315 by his 30th game in the bigs. He’s had some slumps over the years — notoriously starting off each season slowly — but there’s never been a 30 game stretch where his wOBA has fallen as low as it is right now. Just looking at some of his peripheral stats during this stretch reveals where most of Bregman’s problems lie:

Alex Bregman, Last 30 Games
133 13.5% 11.3% 0.113 0.200 0.269
Last 30 Games Including Postseason

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The Dodgers Offense Comes Alive in Time to Stave Off Elimination

For much of this postseason, the main storyline for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been a pitching staff that’s been stretched to its limit, but that focus neglects the fact that the Dodgers have also struggled to hit like they did earlier in the year. Entering Game 5 of the NLCS, they’d scored just 3.5 runs per game in their 10 previous playoff tilts. They were shutout twice by the Giants, and held to fewer than four runs four other times. It was an uncharacteristic slump for what had been one of the National League’s most potent lineups during the regular season. As a team, they were hitting just .231/.303/.356 (.286 wOBA) in October, a far cry from their .251/.339/.446 (.337 wOBA) regular season effort.

With their season hanging in the balance, the Dodgers bats finally came alive on Thursday night. They collected 17 hits against the Atlanta Braves — every position player in the lineup collected at least one hit except for Will Smith — and pushed 11 runs across the plate to force a Game 6 in Atlanta this weekend. This was the Dodgers’ seventh straight postseason win while facing elimination, the third longest streak in baseball history.

The hero of the game was undoubtedly Chris Taylor. He started his night by blasting a two-run home run off a center-cut fastball from Max Fried to give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the second inning — a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the night. In the third with runners on the corners, Taylor blooped a single into center for his second hit and third RBI of the game. He hit his second home run in the fifth inning, another two-run shot off Chris Martin, who had just entered the game in relief of Fried. Taylor came up again in the seventh inning with the bases empty and deposited a pitch into the left-center field bleachers — his third homer of the game and sixth RBI. His final at-bat came in the eighth and he came close to a fourth home run when he lined a hanging curveball down the left field line; it curved foul and he ended up striking out to end the inning:

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