Today marks a bit of a change for the site. It’s still going to cover the minor leagues on a daily basis, and nothing from that standpoint is going to change. What will change is that once or twice a week I will also be adding in some thoughts on the big league club.
The 2015 season has gotten off to a very rough start for Billy Hamilton at the plate. The switch hitter is batting just .214/.257/.321 as I type this out on Wednesday afternoon. Hamilton brings tons of value on the defensive side of the ball and he’s the best baserunner in the game. Still, .257 won’t cut it in the on-base percentage department as a position player.
When Billy Hamilton came out of high school in the 2009 draft he was a right handed hitter. The organization decided that to take better advantage of his speed that they would experiment with him switch hitting. In the minor leagues he held his own from the left side of the plate, often posting better numbers from the left side.
Despite posting better numbers though, his swing from the left side has never looked remotely as good as from his natural right side. On balls that are mid-thigh and lower, Hamilton’s swing from the left side is smooth and quick. However, when the pitch is higher than that the swing is choppy, giving him no authority at all to make hard contact.
In his big league career he’s hit .240/.288/.336 from the left side of the plate. From the right side he’s hit .263/.290/.395. The on-base percentage is nearly identical, but he’s hit for significantly more power from the right side. That’s no surprise, it’s his natural side and his swing is much better from that side of the plate.
Let’s take a look at the heat maps from BrooksBaseball.net for batting average, since power really isn’t a part of his game from either side of the plate (though it’s stronger from the right side):
The colors seem to be a bit off for some reason, as they don’t represent the same scale somehow, but as a left handed hitter, of the 25 sections shown Hamilton is hitting over .280 in just three of them where he has more than five balls put in play. From the right side he’s hitting over .280 in seven of them. The sample size is much smaller from the right side of the plate, and he’s got similar struggles with pitches up in the zone, but at least in the middle of the zone he’s hit well, while he’s struggled somewhat in that area from the left side.
What about the premise of taking advantage of the speed from the left side of the plate? That really only comes into play on infield hits. For his career he’s turned infield balls in play into hits 9.1% of of the time from the right side of the plate. From the left side of the plate that’s at 12.2%. However for 2014 and 2015 that number is down to just under 11% as it was boosted by an incredible 67% rate in 2013. The plan is working, but is two extra singles for every 100 infield ground balls worth having a player bat from his far weaker side?
Hamilton is just 24-years-old, and he’s still new to switch hitting in the grand scheme of things, but his swing from the left side still doesn’t look good and he’s really not made much improvement over the years on anything up in the zone from the left side. I would probably allow him to continue to work on things for 2015, but if he doesn’t show real improvements this season from the left side, I’d strongly consider pulling the plug on switch hitting and have Hamilton focus solely on hitting from the right side.