Shane Victorino Switches Switch-Hitting

If you had a fantasy playoff league, Shane Victorino helped you win RBI and any mythical HBP category, but he sure killed you everywhere else. While his (way) up and (way) down playoff run is likely what everyone will remember from 2013, the rest of it was certainly interesting from a fantasy standpoint.

Victorino’s first season in Boston was supposed to represent a bounceback from a 2012. His 93 wRC+ that year (his last year in Philly that also included a stopover in Los Angeles) dropped below 100 for the first time since 2007. Some of that was BABIP but it didn’t help that the power dropped (by a lot) and the BB% and K% rates trended the opposite direction. Cue suppressed value headed into 2013 drafts.

Signed by Boston to a somewhat controversial 3/$39 million contract in the offseason, Shanf took his antics to right field, a position he hadn’t permanently manned since 2007. His .308 wOBA during the first month of the season caused a degree of consternation in Beantown (and more fuel for the offseason skeptics), although he seemed to get better as the weather warmed up (.327 in May, .341 in June).

Most people (myself included) love to wonder “what would happen if (insert terrible switch hitter here) just gave up and started hitting from their better side, even against same-handed pitching?” Interestingly, we actually got to see that with Victorino, who switched to an “all right-handed” setup after lingering hamstring woes caused weakness in his leg. A career 93 wRC+ hitter from the left side, he batted exclusively righty from mid-August on — with interesting results.

His BB% plummeted and K% skyrocketed (for reference, we’re only talking 115 plate appearances here). Those make some sense for a guy not accustomed to seeing major league pitching in that framework (although the HBP spike was kind of fun). Most interestingly, however, was the power surge. The .210 ISO he posted as a righty versus righties was more than his versus southpaws as a righty career mark. What? Literally taking that strong seriously. Every part of his slash was up across the board (compared to his lefty rates), including average, on-base percentage, and the aforementioned slugging. There hasn’t been much chatter this offseason regarding what his plans are (does the Gettysburg Address count?), but there’s really no way the Red Sox won’t force him to hit 100% from the right side, right?

While his BB% and K% each went the wrong way again this year (the BB% dropped to 4.7% and that was not the fault of the “dropping the switch hitting thing” since he was down all season), many other metrics made positive jumps. His 22.4% line drive rate was a career high (supported his .321 BABIP) and his HR/FB% crept into the double digits (10.8%). His Zone% and F-Strike% jumped nearly four percentage points each (a sign of the move to the American League?), meaning Victorino was getting attacked more than ever. Apparently, he responded by making solid contact on at least some of those balls in the strike zone. His O-Swing% was down (and O-Contact% roughly at career norms) so maybe that BB% plunge was a manifestation of the increased strike-zone targets and necessary for the boost everywhere else. Time will tell.

After all the ups, downs, and hammies, Victorino placed 26th on Zach Sanders’ “OF Big Board” in 2013. Even with some slight age regression built in, the potential ISO gains from him hitting righty all season are tantalizing, and could give him upside to offset natural decline as he slips into his mid-30s. He’s not the likeliest of candidates to bounce into the top 15 mixed-league OF going forward, but should be a pretty safe bet in the 20-35 or so range. Without the overhype a few other players in that realm might get, Victorino should come cheap and provide good value. Unless, of course, you play with Red Sox fans who keep these clips on loop all winter.

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There are few things Colin loves more in life than a pitcher with a single-digit BB%. Find him on Twitter @soxczar.

2 Responses to “Shane Victorino Switches Switch-Hitting”

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  1. Chuck says:

    He also gets those HBPs more on the right side, particularly against right handers:
    vs Righties as a Lefty – 229 PA, 1 HBP (0.44 HBP%)
    vs Lefties as a Righty – 188 PA, 6 HBP (3.19 HBP%)
    vs Righties as a Righty – 115 PA, 11 HBP (9.57 HBP%)

    That might lower his BB%, since it’s hard to get a ball called against you when if it’s 2 inches inside it’s a HBP. I’m curious if the Sox & Vic will see that as a reason for not switch hitting (on base more) or against (at some point that’s going to result in a DL stint, no? Or at least lower quality of play due to pain?)

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  2. Shawn says:

    Victorino simply seems to have a more powerful swing from the right side, maybe due to faster wrists or just a more explosive approach from his lower body, as he always seemed to have more of a “speed game, slap hitter approach” from the left side in philly…..the Jose Veras Curve that he put into the seats for a grand slam in game six of the ALCS probably would have been a lazy short fly to center had he hit lefthanded

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