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Do Switch Hitters Start Slow?

Posted by Raphy on March 7, 2010

Mark Teixeira is a notorious slow starter.  Throughout his career, Teixeira's numbers in the first month of the season have been significantly worse than any other month:

I Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+
April/March 148 146 654 566 85 141 34 2 22 74 2 0 80 105 .249 .349 .433 .781 245 10 7 0 1 12 7 .270 72
May 184 180 791 691 118 204 51 3 39 142 1 1 84 139 .295 .378 .547 .925 378 21 11 0 5 11 6 .319 100
June 164 161 719 621 105 172 45 1 40 128 2 0 83 134 .277 .374 .546 .920 339 11 14 0 1 10 7 .295 99
July 174 174 768 666 108 189 39 0 41 119 6 1 87 137 .284 .371 .527 .898 351 15 9 0 6 11 6 .300 95
August 198 197 872 756 128 235 47 3 49 162 3 0 102 147 .311 .397 .575 .972 435 16 9 0 5 10 8 .329 110
Sept/Oct 192 192 834 723 125 226 50 7 51 173 1 1 87 146 .313 .393 .613 1.006 443 19 15 0 9 15 5 .327 116
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/7/2010.

Therefore, it was no surprise that Teixeira was asked about his early-season slumps during a pre-game interview. What was surprising was his response. As the always-informative Yankees blog River Avenue Blues reported,

"During his introductory press conference, Tex said it takes him longer to get going because he has two swings to work on in Spring Training (one from each side of the plate), which makes sense."

Teixeira seems to think that his slow starts are a by-product of his being a switch hitter. Is this true? Are switch hitters as a group slow starters?

To answer this question, I used the PI player batting game finder to find the batting totals for every switch hitter from 2000-2009 in their team's first 25 games. (Select "Find Players with Most Matching Games in Multiple Years", From 2000-2009, Bats Switch, and In team's first 25 games.) You can see the results here.  I repeated then repeated the process again without limiting the number of games.  These are the results for that search.

When you add up the players statistics from both of the searches these are the results:

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Total (2000-2009) 285148 252548 67902 13312 1916 6387 30760 26397 44455 0.269 0.340 0.413 0.753 2307 2039 1906 1843 5485
First 25 games 43041 37836 10033 1989 301 926 4561 4240 6564 0.265 0.341 0.407 0.748 354 346 300 263 818
Remaining games 242107 214712 57869 11323 1615 5461 26199 22157 37891 0.270 0.340 0.414 0.753 1953 1693 1606 1580 4667

Due to rounding, the jump in OPS is actually closer to .006 rather than .005, but it is still not a significant number (without Teixeira's numbers the jump is only .003). Clearly, for switch-hitters as group there is little difference between the first 25 games and the rest of the season. Teixeira's theory may be an interesting idea, but does not seem to have any basis in reality.

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 7th, 2010 at 2:30 am and is filed under Game Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

10 Responses to “Do Switch Hitters Start Slow?”

  1. But isn't it possible that it's true for him yet not generally true for switch hitters?

  2. I suppose that you're right. Maybe my last sentence was a bit too sweeping.

  3. but Teixiera clearly thinks it does, so in his case it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy

  4. [...] it does make sense for Teixeira himself, but as Raphy at the B-R blog notes, his fellow switch hitters do not share this predicament. Raphy ran the numbers on every switch [...]

  5. "But isn't it possible that it's true for him yet not generally true for switch hitters?"

    No. If it wasn't the "first month" people wouldn't ascribe any significance to it. If he had a .750 career OPS in June, nobody would try to figure out "why". As for Teixiera, he's just making an excuse to get the moronic mainstream media off his back with their silly questions.

  6. So are all MLB hitters in their first month hitting proportionally to the rest of the season? Just looking at the firt month .748 to the rest of the season .753 numbers for switch hitters may tell one part of the story, but if the first month is a disproportionally offensive month for non-switches, Teixeira may be speaking the truth.

  7. Johnny Twisto Says:

    SL, that's the right question to ask. I think (but didn't bother to confirm) that overall offense is generally a bit lower in April than the rest of the season.

  8. I agree with the last two posters. The only way to test whether Tex's hypothesis (that switch hitters are slow starters because they have to work on two swings) is to compare switch hitters' starts to non-switch hitters' starts. The simplest test would be to test for statistical significance for A > B, where A=(switch hitters' OPS in March and April)-(switch hitters' OPS in May-October) and B=(non-switch hitters' OPS in March and April)-(non-switch hitters' OPS in May-October).

    I will mess with Excel this afternoon and see what I come up with.

  9. Mike-

    I think your viewpoint is a bit arrogant. You are certainly right that more emphasis is put on first month/last month splits and it is often unnecessary. And it is certainly possible that it's just a bizarre coincidence with Teixeria. But we should note that this is true for him year-in and year-out, so I am less likely to think it's just a flukey thing. Also, maybe he knows something about his swing/approach that we don't. Maybe there are significant differences between his two swings. Maybe he doesn't swing a bat until spring training and needs extra time to get both in order. Or maybe it's just BS. We don't know for sure. But I think it's unfair to say with absolute positivity what is true when we don't have all the necessary info.

    This is why I think there are issues with lumping guys in based on superficial characteristics. Yes, you found all the switch-hitters, but not all switch-hitters are the same. As noted, some have very similar swings regardless of the side of the plate they are on, while others have wildly different ones. It's the same thing as looking at a players performance vs LHP or RHP. Not all LHP are the same. Rather, we should look for players who actually have more in common and group them accordingly. Knowing that Jeter is 1-4 in his career against Bucholtz is meaningless, because the sample size is too small. Know Jeter is 2000-6000 against RHP is also not that meaningful, because it includes Pedro Martinez, Sydney Ponson, and everyone in between. But if we evaluate pitchers who have a similar arsenal, wind-up/delivery, and otherwise have a comparable pitching profile, we can get a meaningful sample size without so much noise.

    Sorry, got off on a rant. Anyway, I certainly recognize the likelihood that this hypothesis is bupkis. But I don't think we can simply dismiss it, and I don't think lumping all switch-hitters in together is necessarily the way to get at the accuracy of it.

  10. Yes Teixeira is a slow starter but not every switch hitter is. Looking at Mickey Mantle's stats for the month of April from 1952-1964 he is a .307 hitter with 33 homers and 98 ribbies, plus he walked 126 times in 535 at bats.