Should You Try Switch-Hitting?

BY: MIKE SCHMIDT & ROB ELLIS

Mike SchmidtMLB Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt started his college baseball career as a switch-hitter but gave it up before reaching the majors. He went on to hit 548 home runs, win the National League MVP three times and was named the Sporting News Player of the Decade for the 1980s. Below, Schmidt provides Junior Baseball readers his insights on how to make the decision for yourself.

Which way should you bat? Right-handed, left-handed, or both ways?

Most people are right-handed, so they naturally become right-handed hitters, like I did. Right-handed hitting is fine, but you should know that it is slightly more difficult than left-handed hitting. This is because the left-handed hitter faces more right-handed pitching, and the angle of the right-hander’s deliveries are easier to judge from the left side. (The reverse is true for the right-handed hitter.) Because of this advantage, some right-handed players become left-handed hitters. There are three good reasons to hit lefty:

1.     Left-handed batters get a better jump out of the batter’s box to first base. This means the left-handed batter will get more infield hits.

2.     Hitting the ball to the first base side of the field has many built-in advantages for his team (such as hitting behind the runner), so he becomes a more valuable hitter.

3.    The batter faces more right-handed pitchers whose pitches are easier to see for the left-handed batter. For these reasons, think about hitting left-handed while you’re young enough to learn.

What about switch-hitting? Switch-hitting is not as easy as it sounds. If you start switch-hitting at a young age, say 8- to 12-years-old, you might be able to do it. Al Kaline, a Hall of Famer with the Detroit Tigers, said, “Switch-hitting has to be something a hitter does when he’s very, very young. I’m talking about a seven, eight, nine, 10 years-old – about the same time he’s learning to hit.”

Al’s right. A hitter needs to pick up the movement while his muscle-nerve connections are developing his coordination. After they have been programmed, it is more difficult to re-program them. That’s why the younger the better.

But before deciding to switch-hit, you should know some of the challenges involved.

First, you’ll need to practice your new swing exactly twice as much if you decide to become a switch-hitter. And this takes time away from your regular swing. The switch-hitter must fine-tune two different batting styles. Sometimes the movement of one swing will even interfere with the other swing.

Second, about 75 percent of the time you will be batting left-handed because most pitchers at all levels are right-handed, so this will become your most consistent way of batting.

Third, if you are naturally right-handed, you will most likely have less power batting left-handed, at least in the beginning. I tried switch-hitting in high school and college, when I was about 17, and these factors made it very difficult.

But don’t let me discourage you. Lots of big league players manage to do it and become very valuable to their teams. If you’re willing to practice your swing a lot, and don’t mind batting lefty most of the time, practice switch-hitting.

Be committed to it for a certain period of time, say, two seasons. Make up your mind you won’t quit when you experience failure, or when you could have done better your original way. You may have to bat eighth or ninth for a season or two until it catches.
In your mind, consider yourself a switch-hitter. Have faith that it will work out. At the end of the committed period, evaluate your progress. Choose the right decision – go on or give up. But don’t change your mind until the period of commitment is over. If you can do it, it will be a big advantage later on.

Do not look for shortcuts to success in this game.

Adapted from The Mike Schmidt Study: Youth Edition (McGriff & Bell, Inc.) and The Mike Schmidt Study, Hitting Theory, Skills and Technique (McGriff & Bell, Inc.).

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