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Switch hitting has been a prevalent part of the game for decades because generally speaking, hitters do better against opposite-handed pitching than they do against same-handed pitching as I have outlined in “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage.” The idea behind it all is that hitters just tend to see the ball better out of opposite-handed pitching and have an easier time dealing with breaking balls that break toward them instead of away from them.
Many ball players will practice and develop the ability to hit from both sides of the plate when they are young as a way to gain this slight advantage, but it certainly is tough to master. When I was in Little League, I would head to the batting cages before all my games to warm up and I would practice switch hitting just for fun. As a natural righty, I would flip over and hit lefty in the cages sometimes and while I could consistently make contact with the ball, the same type of power was just not there. So I think it is an impressive feat for any player that is a switch hitter and can hit equally for average and power from both sides of the plate.
But what about pitching with both hands? If having the ability to hit both right-handed and left-handed gives an advantage for hitters, then wouldn’t the same be true for a pitcher who can throw with both hands? A pitcher with this ability could pitch right-handed to all right-handed batters and pitch left-handed to all left-handed batters to obtain an advantage much in the same way that switch hitting does. For me, trying to switch hit is hard enough, so I can’t imagine trying to switch pitch. Heck, I can’t even brush my teeth left-handed let alone throw a baseball with the same type of accuracy and force that I do with my right hand. But there is a pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization named Pat Venditte who was just called up to the Majors for the first time in his career, and you guessed it, he is a switch pitcher — the first of his kind to appear in the Majors since 1995.
The soon to be 30-year old Venditte was originally drafted by the Yankees and spent 7 years in their Minor League system before catching on with the Oakland organization for the 2015 season. Venditte has been a relief pitcher for basically the entirety of his Minor League career (250 relief appearances in 259 total games pitched) and he has done pretty well with a career 2.37 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 9.99 K/9. With numbers like that and the ability to switch pitch, it is a bit of a wonder why it has taken so long for him to receive a promotion to the bigs. Not only does he switch pitch, but he also does it with a sidearm motion from both sides, giving him even more novelty.
Venditte made his Major League debut right upon his call up on Friday against the Red Sox and he pitched two scoreless innings allowing just one hit while also striking out one batter. He’s going to work in middle relief for the A’s, but one has to wonder if he could ever work his way into the closer’s role. He gained experience as a closer in his first two seasons in the Minors, but he has only recorded one save in the last 4+ seasons. And because of his soft tossing ways (sitting around 85 MPH on his fastball), he does not profile as a typical closer. However, Billy Beane and the A’s are known to be revolutionary in utilizing uncommon approaches to maximize the most out of the players on their roster. And with last year’s closer Sean Doolittle back on the DL with his shoulder injury and severely diminished velocity, and fill-in closer Tyler Clippard likely to be shopped around since he is in the last year of his contract on a last place team, it wouldn’t be too crazy to think that Venditte could be closing out games for the A’s this season at some point if he shows success in a middle relief role first.
This is mostly just speculation on my part as I think it would be amazing to see a switch pitcher succeed and ascend to a more prolific role, so I wouldn’t put too much value into it. It will be entertaining to watch and interesting to see what he can do. If he ever does become a Major League closer, I will give him a hand, but it’s not like he needs one.
Let’s check out what else happened on Friday!