Chase Headley, Ken Singleton on Same-Side Switch-Hitting

Ken Singleton is one of the most accomplished switch-hitters in history. Solid from both sides of the plate, the former Mets, Expos and Orioles outfielder slashed .282/.388/.436 from 1970 to 1984. Chase Headley isn’t of the same caliber as Singleton, but he’s a solid switch-hitter himself. Sporting fairly neutral platoon splits, the 32-year-old third baseman has slashed .263/.343/.401 in his nine-plus seasons with the Padres and the Yankees.

How they embrace their identities as a switch-hitter differ.

Singleton came to the plate 8,559 times and never once went right-on-right or left-on-left. Headley has 5,115 career plate appearances, and on 17 occasions he’s eschewed convention and gone same side against an opposing pitcher. He has three hits and three walks in those confrontations.

There are reasons for switch-hitters to make exceptions. Most commonly, it’s done against a knuckleball pitcher, with the hitter opting for his stronger side. Less frequently, it’s done to neutralize a quality changeup. More rare is a switch-hitter going same side because he’s crushing the ball from one batter’s box and swinging like a blind man from the other.

Last summer, I asked Headley and Singleton for their thoughts on these scenarios.

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On Facing Knuckleball Pitchers

Headley: “I started hitting off knuckleballers right-handed. I’ve probably had 15 at-bats that way — I decided to give it a try and had a little bit of success — but knuckleballers are just a different animal. I may go right-handed tomorrow [against Steven Wright]. Some of that would be the ballpark, and [the Green Monster].”

Singelton: “As far as facing knuckleballers, I hit pretty well against them. Look up my numbers against guys like Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough. I hit left-handed against them — I never went right-on-right — and I felt comfortable. Not that I felt I was a better hitter right-handed or left-handed. It didn’t really matter. It’s just that if they were right-handed, I was going to hit left-handed.”

On Facing a Pitcher with a Strong, Fading Changeup

Headley: “I’m not sure, but I think I may have gone righty-righty against Shaun Marcum. There were a few switch-hitters who used to hit righty-righty off him, because he threw, like, six different kinds of changeups. He was really tough on lefties.

“I know I did it against Josh Collmenter. I remember talking to some right-handed guys, and they said it felt good hitting against him, so I tried it and it felt better. That was toward the end, though. I faced him a decent amount, but didn’t try going right-on-right until I had probably 15-20 at-bats against him. I think I only did it that one time.”

Singleton: “Guys with good changeups… Andy Messersmith, in my day, and Oil Can Boyd had a good one as well. I wouldn’t go right-on-right against them, though, because they usually had a good breaking ball, too. For me, it was all about not wanting the breaking ball going away from me.

“It was hard enough to hit as it was. When you had somebody like Ron Guidry, with a great slider, or Steve Carlton with a great slider… even then I had trouble, despite the ball coming in to me. Those are two of the toughest pitchers I faced.”

On Swinging a Hot Bat from One Side, Scuffling from Other

Headley: “I think there are certain match-ups where that might not be a bad idea. I would probably consider doing it a lot more righty-righty than I would lefty-lefty. I’ve never faced a lefty left-handed, whereas growing up, I did hit right-on-right. Even in BP… you face right-handed BP guys a lot more right-handed than you do lefties.”

Singelton: “There were times I might have been hitting better from one side or the other, but I just thought that was the way it was going to be for me — I was going to hit right-handed against left-handers, and left-handed against right-handers.

“Even when I wasn’t hitting well, I had the ability to get on base. I got my bases on balls. It would probably lessen my chances of getting a walk if I’d have gone same side. My deal was getting on base and I had a good eye from both sides.”

On Comfort Level and Familiarity

Headley: “Going same side can make sense — that’s why I’ve done it the handful of times — but in general, you’re just so used to seeing the ball from a certain angle. That’s what makes it little more challenging.”

Singelton: “Again, I always wanted the breaking ball coming in to me. Never in my life — not once — did it cross my mind. I was having success hitting the conventional way as a switch-hitter, so why was I going to change?”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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MGL
5 years ago

It is interesting that these guys talk about really wanting to face opposite handed pitchers for the curve balls, yet according to this research by Max Marchi, the curve ball has reverse platoon splits which means you are better off facing a curve ball from the same side, exactly the opposite of what these guys are saying and of conventional wisdom.

London Yank
5 years ago
Reply to  MGL

Even if it is true on average that curveballs have reverse platoon splits, it does not mean that individual players will have an easier time against same handed curveballs. Some will, some won’t.