May 21, 1999

The Ol’ Switch-er-roo
by Steve Lombardi

With which hand do you write? Ever try to write with the other hand? Confess, we’ve all tried it at some time or another - either recently or a long time ago. Maybe it was only once? Perhaps it was just for a second? Then again, you may have tried it several times? You might have spent hours at it?

The point is, for some reason, you were compelled to take this particular task - one that you had mastered and came to you naturally- and attempt to recreate it from a completely opposite perspective. Don’t feel bad. I’m sure it’s a totally intrinsic human urge - and one that some expert somewhere would tell you is healthy to pursue.

This also could be why we have ballplayers who are switch hitters.

However, is it really necessary to switch hit? Babe Ruth only batted left-handed and overall did somewhat better than "O.K." at it, no? Who’s your pick for the "greatest" hitter ever? Ruth? Ted Williams? Willie Mays? DiMaggio? Ty Cobb? Whomever he is, odds are that he did not switch hit.

For the longest time, based on conventional wisdom, it’s been my observation that people switch hit for one of two reasons (besides the aforementioned "human curiosity" thing) : 1). Bravado; or, 2). Survival.

Ever play ball? Ever been in a situation where you were capable of playing, in this case, specifically "batting," at a greater level than your competition? After destroying them long enough, what happens? To really drive home the point of your superiority, you start hitting from your "opposite" side. If you’re a right handed hitter, you’ll stand up to the plate lefty, as if to say "This is soooo easy, I’ll do it lefty!" Never done it? Well, maybe you’ve never been in the situation where you could? But, it happens. Bravado baby - big time. Been there. On both sides of the ball.

There is a flip side to this situation. Ever been in a position where the opposition’s "stuff," here meaning "pitching," was so tough that you were over matched? (Been there too - sadly to report.) Here, you’ll try anything to survive or gain an edge. You’ll even try switch hitting.

In any event, enough about disputing necessity and offering personal conjectures. Regardless of the reason "why?" to switch hit - after all, in truth, the rationale is solely contingent to each individual - there have been many superior switch hitters to grace the game of Major League Baseball. And, any time you have several of anything, the big question is "Which are the best?"

In an attempt to answer that question, what follows is a list of "The Twenty Greatest Switch Hitters Of All Time as of December 31, 1998" - with the hitters ranked, number one being the best, and so on.

How was this "list" derived? It’s a process that may be referred to as "Subjective Objectivity" - utilizing objective data and applying a subjective weight. Scientific? Far from it. But, that’s life. Get over it.

What "objective data"? Basically, two qualifiers: Durability and Production. Endurance counted towards 20% of the grade with the remainder (and the majority) of the consideration given to output. That said and done, here are the results:

The Twenty Greatest Switch Hitters
Of All Time as of December 31, 1998

1

Mickey Mantle (1951 - 1968)

2

Eddie Murray (1977 - 1997)

3

Tim Raines (1979 - present)

4

Reggie Smith (1966 - 1982)

5

Ken Singleton (1970 - 1984)

6

Pete Rose (1963- 1986)

7

Chili Davis (1981 - present)

8

Frankie Frisch (1919 - 1937)

9

Ted Simmons (1968 - 1988)

10

George Davis (1890 - 1909)

11

Augie Galan (1934 - 1949)

12

Max Carey (1910 - 1929)

13

Tony Phillips (1982 - present)

14

Roy White (1965 - 1979)

15

Wally Schang (1913 - 1931)

16

Willie Wilson (1976 - 1994)

17

Jim Gilliam (1953 - 1966)

18

Willie McGee (1982 - present)

19

Tommy Tucker (1887 - 1899)

20

Red Schoendienst (1945 - 1963)

Controversial stuff, huh? Don’t worry. The following aims to assist in explaining the rankings:

Mantle #1 - No matter how you gauge production (Runs Created Per Game, Total Average, etc.), Mick is BY FAR the best of all switch hitters. Hands down. No argument.

Murray #2 - In all the offensive rankings considered, Steady Eddie was either among, or near, the top four. This, plus the fact that the only switch hitter to play more games was Rose, makes him Number Two.

Raines #3 - When it comes to the various measures of "run production" among switch hitters, Mantle is first, Raines is second, and everyone else follows. The only knock on Timmy is that he stopped being a full time player once he was age 35.

Reggie Smith #4 - Until Raines came along, he was second to Mantle in terms of "production per opportunity"- here the measure of "opportunity" being "Per Game as a Seasonal Average." His length of career, along with Raines' eminence, pegs Reggie at Number Four.

Singleton #5 - I know what you’re thinking here: "O.K., I’ll give you Murray and Raines over Rose. Maybe, I won’t even argue that hard about Reggie Smith over Charlie Hustle. But, SINGLETON? Come on!"

Let the following side-by-side comparison illustrate the point. (All figures based on Seasonal Averages.)

Runs Created Per Game:  Rose     5.8 Singleton    6.1
Total Average: Rose   .748 Singleton  .815
Production(1): Rose   .786 Singleton  .827
Runs Contributed(2): Rose    23.2 Singleton  31.4

Granted, Rose played 24 years while Singleton played 15. However, the nine year difference does not make up for the gap in terms of rate of production. If you need a switch hitter for one big At Bat and could take any guy at the peak of his career, you’re better off going with Singleton over Rose. Sorry Charlie Hustle.

Rose #6 - In most of the switch hitting "production" statistics - in terms of per game - Rose was in the Top Ten. However, he usually ranked somewhere around eight-nine-ten. So, he’s in the Top Ten here - but, we do have to bump him up based on all the games played and career hits, etc.

Chili Davis #7 - "Over Frankie Frisch?!?" you ask. Yes. Over the Fordham Flash. Again, in the "production by the opportunity" measure (see the preceding comment on Reggie Smith), Chili is right up there with Frisch. Based on Davis’ longball totals, he gets the slight nod over the Flash.

Frisch #8 - He belongs in the Top Ten of all switch hitters. Therefore, he’s plugged in at #8. He is, perhaps, the answer to the question "Who is the best switch hitting Middle Infielder of all-time?"

Ted Simmons #9 - Perhaps, the best switch hitting catcher of all-time. Only four "switchers" played more games. Simba (his nickname) is in most of the Top Ten switch hitting "production" measures as well.

George Davis #10 - The first great switch hitter. Played 20 seasons and is in - or near - the Top Ten of all switch hitting offensive leaders.

Augie Galan #11 - Most of you are saying "Who?" Although injury prone, Galan was one of the best players in the NL during the 1940’s. He did manage to play 1,742 games - which is a very good total among switch hitters. Additionally, in terms of offensive contribution per game (on a seasonal average), he was right up there with the likes of Tim Raines, et al.

Max Carey #12 - The best fielding outfielder of his time. Only 3 switch hitters appeared in more games. Offensively, he’s usually among the Top 15 of switch hitters in most measures. Here, he advances to #12 factoring in his longevity.

Now, some fun follows with numbers thirteen through twenty. Perhaps a chart indicating where these eight rank among ALL switch hitters may be helpful? (Keep in mind, while looking at the chart, the lower the number means the better the rank.) 

Rank Among Other Switch Hitters
as of December 31, 1998

 

Career Games Played

Runs Created Per Game as a Seasonal Average

Total Average

Production

Runs Contributed

Tony Phillips(3)

18

14

7

14

15

Roy White

27

15

8

12

16

Wally Schang

28

11

n/a

9

11

Willie Wilson

11

21

11

26

20

Jim Gilliam

22

19

12

22

21

Willie McGee(3)

17

18

15

17

18

Tommy Tucker

32

10

n/a

18

12

Red Schoendienst

10

22

n/a

21

23

Note: Runs Created Per Game, Total Average, Production and Runs Created are based on a seasonal average with at least 10 seasonal years.

If you carefully examine the rankings displayed in the above chart, you will ascertain that there is virtually no way that you could have a Top Twenty list of switch hitters (as of year end 1998) and not include Phillips, White, Schang, Wilson, Gilliam, McGee, Tucker and Schoendienst. Some of them, you know. Others, you may not. Therefore, here’s a quick biography on each:

Tony Phillips - Somewhat like Pete Rose in that he played all over the diamond - 2B, 3B, OF and SS. Only once he was past his 30th birthday did he begin to post stellar seasons. Very intense player - perhaps a result of his High School days at the New Mexico Military Institute.

Roy White -Played 15 years in the majors - all with the New York Yankees. On average, he was good for double-digit HRs & SBs each year - with a fair number of BB which always exceeded his strikeout totals. Sure-handed and soft-spoken OF.

Wally Schang - Outstanding defensive catcher who was a strong hitter and a good baserunner. He played for seven pennant winners and was the first to play for three different World Championship teams. Once had 8 assist in one game - which is an AL record for catchers.

Willie Wilson - Busted in a cocaine scandal in 1983 - which may have cast a shadow over his accomplishments. He was a Gold Glove quality CF who garnered 2,207 hits, 1,169 runs and 668 steals in his career. Very aggressive and hard-nosed player.

Jim Gilliam - A former Negro Leagues All-Star who made his major league debut at age 24 in 1953. Slick fielding 2B - so much so that the Dodgers moved Jackie Robinson to third to make room for him. Had an excellent eye at the plate and has a very good baserunner.

Willie McGee -National League MVP in 1985. A far-ranging outfielder, who has 2,186 career hits (including 343 doubles, 94 triples and 79 HRs) through 1998. Add 345 career steals and you have one of the top 20 all-time switch hitting run producers - no matter what your measure for production.

Tommy Tucker - Star first baseman from before the turn of the century. (We’re talking 1900 here - it ain’t 2000 yet.) Played in the American Association before making his mark in the NL. While he only appeared in 13 seasons, he was a dominant run producer when he did play.

Red Schoendienst - Sure handed 2B who appeared in parts of 19 seasons. Only a handful of switch hitters appeared in more games. Along the way, he managed 2,449 hits and a lifetime .289 batting average. Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

Now, in actuality, the final rankings of switch hitters #’s 13 through 20 here are not ultra-critical. Why? Call it just a hunch; but, in the next five to ten years, most of these guys are going to be bumped off the list of the "Top Twenty Switch Hitters." O.K., maybe it’s more than a hunch? To be totally candid, it’s almost a given that some of the aforementioned will drop off the list. Just take a look around today. What do the following have in common?

Jose Offerman
Ray Durham
Roberto Alomar
Tony Clark
Bernie Williams
Chipper Jones

They’re all very talented and productive switch hitters who are just starting out. At least half of them - health provided - will be in the "Top All-Time Switch Hitters" group once they’re done. (Although some may have said that about Ruben Sierra or Carlos Baerga a few years ago. Hey, ya-never-know?) Additionally, if a Tony Fernandez or Devon White "type" continues to hang in there - they too may just catch on at the bottom of the list.

No matter - whomever is added or subtracted, it will be a LONG time before anyone unseats The Mick at #1. Now, if only that Ruth fellow ever had the urge to take a few hacks right-handed………………

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(1)  On Base Average plus Slugging Percentage.
(2)  A projection of the number of runs contributed to a team's offense by each player above the number contributed by an average player in the league.  It is an attempt to measure the overall offensive contribution of a player in terms of number of runs.
(3)  Based on career totals through 1998.