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« Big Papi's Nearly-Perfect World Series | Main | Joe Kelly Should Bring the Heat vs. Big Papi »

Ditching Switch-Hitting Pays Off for Victorino

Batting from the right side of the plate, Shane Victorino played a key role in Boston's World Series-clinching Game 6 victory. Victorino stepped to the dish with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning and drove in Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and Jonny Gomes by making a fresh dent in the Green Monster. Victorino's drive off a Michael Wacha fastball was the biggest play of the game according to Baseball-Reference's Win Probability Added stat, boosting Boston's odds of winning from 58 percent to 84 percent.

And to think, the former switch-hitter has a pulled hamstring to thank for his crowning achievement in the majors.

Victorino injured his left hammy during the summer, compromising his ability to drive the ball as a left-handed hitter. Overall, he swatted just three home runs and posted a .702 On-Base-Plus slugging percentage while batting as a lefty in 2013. But truth be told, Victorino ceased being a threat from the left side long before his hamstring woes (he had a .629 OPS as a lefty hitter in 2012). The injury gave Victorino the opportunity to do something fans and analysts had been clamoring for anyway: give up switch-hitting. And for that, Red Sox Nation is grateful.

In 160 postseason and playoff plate appearances as a righty hitter, Victorino popped seven homers and tallied an .827 OPS versus right-handed pitchers. He flirted with returning to switch-hitting during the postseason, taking swings from the left side in the ALDS and ALCS, but he batted exclusively as a righty against St. Louis. In case Victorino needs any more convincing that he should only step to the plate as a righty batter in 2014, consider his performance from each side of the plate against right-handed pitching this season:

  • Victorino ripped 61.8 percent of pitches put in play down the line while batting as a righty against right-handed pitching. As a lefty hitter, he pulled pitches just 36.7 percent of the time.
  • Batting right-handed, Victorino hit a ground ball just 38.6 percent of the time. As a lefty hitter, he chopped pitches into the turf 50 percent of the time.
  • Victorino drove fly balls an average of 241 feet in righty-versus-righty matchups, compared to 232 feet as a left-handed hitter.
  • Crowding the plate as a righty hitter, Victorino turned into a pitch magnet. Victorino was plunked 16 times in righty-versus-righty situations, trailing just Starling Marte (21 righty-versus-righty hit by pitches). Marte, by the way, logged more than three times as many plate appearances (489) as Victorino in such matchups. Victorino might not like getting drilled, but those hit by pitches boosted his on-base percentage to .367 in righty-versus-righty situations (.316 OBP as a lefty).

If Victorino had challenged Wacha and his wicked fastball-changeup combo as a lefty hitter, Boston's big third inning might have instead ended with a meek groundout. As a righty, though, he was ready to tee off on the rookie's 93 MPH heat. Who knew pulling a hammy and surrendering the platoon advantage could be such a good career move?

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