“Are you a true switch-hitter?”
Not really comprehending the instructor’s question, Ryne answered in the affirmative. The coach went on to say that a true switch-hitter always bats from the side of the plate opposite the pitcher’s handedness and that his own son had done so since around 8 years old. And you could probably do worse than to follow Tucker Barnhart’s trajectory.
Name-dropping aside, the point I’m driving at here is that most switch-hitters who reach the highest level have done so without facing a pitcher who throws from the same side as the box in which they’re batting. So even though the splits might sometimes dictate otherwise, it’s more a matter of routine and comfort level.
Think about it. Someone who always bats righty has no choice, other than being subbed out, and they’re used to the way it looks and feels to bat against a righty. When you only ever face southpaws from the right side, any reverse-split platoon advantage might be mitigated by the fact that a switch-hitter isn’t used to that look.
Ben Zobrist has actually faced righties from the ride side 42 times over the course of his career, though he has not done so since 2015, when he logged four such plate appearances. He has never faced a left-handed pitcher from the left side. Why does this matter?
Well, that sore left wrist that had kept him out of the lineup not long ago is still bothering him. A natural right-handed hitter, Zobrist isn’t able to put nearly as much work on his swing from that side as he continues to nurse the injury. He’s not able to generate as much power or as smooth a follow-through, either, as the bottom hand drives those aspects of the swing.
A kinetic chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and Zobrist batting right-handed presents a quandary when it comes to facing lefty pitchers. He told Tony Andracki he’s not comfortable with the prospect of batting left-handed against southpaws and he’s quite literally physically uncomfortable batting from the right side.
While Joe Maddon left open the general possibility of letting Zobrist — or any switch-hitter, for that matter — defy convention should he feel the need to do so, it doesn’t sound as though we’re going to see any career firsts for the veteran. The Cubs are also unwilling to put him on the shelf and be without his presence in the lineup and clubhouse. Besides, an injury like this might not heal from just two weeks on the shelf.
What it likely comes down to is Zobrist becoming more of a platoon player to allow him to tax the left wrist as little as possible. With Javy Baez and the switch-hitting Ian Happ able to play second base, the Cubs really aren’t going to be missing much with Zobrist out of the lineup against lefties. Then again, he’s only batting .222 from the left side, so it’s not like they’re getting an advantage with a righty on the mound.
Maybe a DL trip isn’t such a bat idea, after all.