Pat Venditte and the Ultimate Baseball Rarity

Opening Day is now less than a week away, and we are compiling many pieces related to the final moves and decisions by teams before the season starts. This is also our last chance to cover the players who probably aren’t going to make it: the ones we might not see again until later in the season, next spring training, or at worst, ever again. The denouement of spring training builds excitement, yes, but it also brings disappointment for a whole group of players that are on the outside looking in when the cuts come.

Pat Venditte is likely to be one of those players. You’ve probably heard of him, because he’s a switch pitcher, and there aren’t many of those. By “aren’t many,” I mean effectively none. They are the equivalent of a religious miracle, talking cat, or a hot dog sandwich. Switch pitching may be the rarest of baseball skills, in fact: looking through the history books, it’s hard to find more than a handful of switch pitchers over the past 150 years. There were four documented in the late 19th-century, and only one in the 20th: Greg Harris pitched from both sides during an inning in 1995 for the Montreal Expos.

Harris actually pitched for 15 years as a right-hander before he decided to try being a left-hander in the second-to-last game he ever pitched in, because why not. For Harris, it was probably more of a case of him being able to throw a baseball left-handed rather than him actually being able to pitch left-handed.

An illustration of that point:

Greg_Harris_Lefty

That brings us to Venditte, who can actually pitch well with both hands/arms. He has an interesting background: he played college ball for Creighton, compiling a 43 2/3 scoreless inning streak and winning All-American honors, then turned down the Yankees’ initial signing offer as a junior so he could finish college. He pitched in the minors for seven years for the Yankees after he graduated, became a free agent following last season, and signed a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s.

He’s always had the tools to make it in the minors – fairly good command and strikeout ability – but he’s never had the extra gear to make it after reaching Triple-A, falling just short of a call-up on a couple occasions. Here are his total numbers in Triple-A, where he played in both 2012 and 2014:

Level G IP ERA WHIP H9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9
AAA 33 69.1 3.25 1.27 8.4 0.6 3.0 8.4

To give us an idea of his performance with DIPS theory, he compiled a FIP of 3.93 in 13 Triple-A innings in 2012 and 3.63 in 56.1 innings in 2014. He’s now almost thirty, and was about two years older than his average counterpart in Triple-A last year: unless he finds a new pitch or has a breakthrough adjustment (which does happen), this might just be who he is, which is a cusp pitcher that could find his way to a few major leagues innings if the right breaks come his way.

Venditte is a long shot to make the Oakland roster out of camp, and it isn’t only because of his minor league stats and the fact that his spring campaign has been a mixed bag. Though he’s only given up a run in two out of 10 appearances, they’ve both been of the multi-run variety, and his spring ERA sits at 4.09, albeit in the small sample sizes we deal with during this time of year. On the other hand, he’s looked very effective at times, going from a ground-balling right-hander to the quasi-equivalent of a soft-tossing LOOGY within the span of two batters. Yesterday, he induced a ground out on four pitches against Daniel Robertson as a right-handed pitcher:

Pat_Venditte_Righty_Groundout

Then, in the next at-bat, he made short work of Matt Joyce on three pitches as a lefty, including a nasty slider as the coup de grace:

Pat_Venditte_Lefty_Strikeout

A few questions invariably arise from watching these two examples: does he throw the same pitches from both sides? What about velocity? Like a lot of switch hitters, Venditte is “stronger” from one side, his right, throwing his fastball around 5 MPH faster from that side. He’s not a hard thrower in general, topping out at around 85 as a right-hander.

In terms of repertoire, it’s the same from both sides: fastball, changeup, slider. His slider from the right side looks to my eyes like it has more vertical and less horizontal break than from the left, and that’s probably the reason why I’ve seen it classified as a curveball. The speed of the slider also contributes to that label, as it’s on the slow side, only reaching the low 70’s at times from the right. So maybe Venditte actually has four pitches, just three from each side.

Aside from him having good enough stuff to get major league hitters out (at least in small sample sizes), there are a couple advantages and fun considerations that can only come up when we’re talking about a switch pitcher. The first is fatigue: having a pitcher who can throw with both arms takes some of the strain away on each arm, potentially allowing them to pitch in more back-to-back games, or in double headers. Even though pitching is a full-body pursuit, the arm takes the brunt of the work. That would be more useful if Venditte was a starter, but it would still be a leg up over other relief pitchers.

The second is obviously the platoon advantage, which Venditte always has, except in the case of coming up against a switch hitter. In those cases, we have the Pat Venditte rule, which arose from the situation in this oft-viewed video:

If Venditte has a shot at ever pitching in the major leagues, it’s probably best with Oakland, where they pride themselves on unorthodox roster construction and platoon advantages. He’s currently battling a few other guys for one of the two remaining relief spots on the roster, and one of them is Evan Scribner, who is out of options. Still, with bullpen turnover and injuries, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Oakland could call him up at some point this year if he doesn’t make the squad out of camp, as expected.

If he makes it, he’ll be the first true switch pitcher in 120 years, following names in the late 19th-century such as Elton Chamberlain, Larry Corcoran, George Wheeler, and Tony Mullane. Mullane was the most successful of the bunch, as he still sits 28th on the all-time career win list, yet isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Even if Venditte doesn’t end up pitching in the majors, he has an incredible skill, one that only surfaces in pro ball once a generation at most. He’s not just throwing a ball left-handed in his second-to-last appearance after a 15 year career pitching from one side; he’s getting hitters out from both sides regularly, throwing a multitude of pitches with velocity and command. Pat Venditte is baseball’s chimera, and the game is richer with him in it.

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Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

newest oldest most voted
Phillies113
Member

Venditte should try throwing two pitches at once, maybe a slider with the left and a fastball with the right. This would be a fantastic competitive advantage for the A’s and would drive batters crazy!

Da Bear
Guest
Da Bear

It’s all well and good until Mike Trout hits a double home run, resulting in the ignominy of being the first pitcher ever to appear in a game and be charged with more earned runs than batters faced.

Yu Darvish
Guest
Yu Darvish

Just two balls at once? Big deal!