Maybe that Monet is hiding between the couch cushions. That Salvador Dali couldn't have gone too far, unless the dog ran off with it. Leave it, Rover! Leave it! Bad dog!
Perhaps nobody loses more art than a baseball player. Whether it's the lost art of pitching inside or the lost art of bunting, fogies everywhere constantly groan about the missing masterpieces from today's game.
But what about art that is found, or even refined?
The ability to switch-hit may be at an all-time high in major league history. If hitting a baseball is a form of craftsmanship, then doing it equally well from both sides of the plate represents a type of mastery that doesn't get as much credit as it deserves.
Four of the top six all-time batting averages for switch hitters with a minimum 2,000 plate appearances are held by active players:
1. Frankie Frisch, .316
T2. Chipper Jones, .307
T2. Jose Vidro, .307
4. Bernie Williams, .306
5. Pete Rose, .303
6. Roberto Alomar, .302
The rest of the top 50 on this list is littered with active or recently retired players. Tim Raines (.294), Dmitri Young (.292), Carlos Baerga (.292), David Segui (.291), Luis Castillo (.292), Bill Mueller (.292), Tony Fernandez (.288), Eddie Murray (.287) are all safely in the top 30.
It wasn't too long ago that, with the exception of a Mickey Mantle here or a Reggie Smith there, switch-hitters were universally considered slap-and-dash types like Willie Wilson, Garry Templeton and, of course, Pete Rose. As recently as 1990, this is what the top 10 list of switch-hitting batting averages looked like: Murray, Willie McGee, Bip Roberts, Mariano Duncan, Bill Doran, Jack Daugherty, Stan Javier, Wally Backman, Vince Coleman and Wilson. The top 10 OPS among swith-hitters for that season is basically the same, except for the notable addition of Bobby Bonilla.
There no reason to switch-hit if you can't do it equally well from both sides of the plate, or at least bring something different to the table from each side. These are players who do exactly that, and therefore should be given "extra credit," if you will, for bringing versatility to a lineup, as well as great numbers.
Cream of the crop:
Jose Vidro, 2B, Expos: From 2000-02, his OPS splits were .905 righty/.874 lefty. In 2003 it's .946/.868. This is lights-out stuff from a second baseman.
Chipper Jones, LF, Braves: A real classic -- gets on base from the right side, hits for power from the left.
Bernie Williams, CF, Yankees: Numbers are down from the left side this year because of a knee injury, but through 2002 his career batting splits were .320R/.302L.
Milton Bradley, CF, Indians: In his first good season, he's killing left-handers (1.134 OPS) and isn't too shabby against righties (.833).
Luis Castillo, 2B, Marlins: Plus-.300 hitter from both sides, even provides a little pop from the right.
Carlos Beltran, CF, Royals: The same fearsome hitter from either side.
Jorge Posada, C, Yankees: Career .911 OPS righty, .815 lefty.
Bill Mueller, 3B, Red Sox: Having breakout year from both sides.
Jason Varitek, C, Red Sox: OPS splits this year: 1.161R/.825L. No wonder the Sox score a ton of runs if they can get this from their catcher.
Scott Spiezio, 1B, Angels: Struggling as a righty this year.
Jose Cruz, RF, Giants: Erratic of late, but for the most part very useful.
David Segui, 1B, Orioles: Injured again but historically gets the job done.
Dmitri Young, LF, Tigers: More power as a lefty, otherwise the same.
Ruben Sierra, DH, Yankees: Career -- 78 home runs RH, 189 LH. Still a valuable piece of any offense.
Then there are those who shouldn't switch-hit at all, but this list is surprisingly small and consists mostly of White Sox:
Roberto Alomar, 2B, White Sox: He used to pull it off, but he's hitting .200 (55-for-275, 5 HR) from the right side since the start of 2002.
Lance Berkman, OF, Astros: Only eight of his 122 career home runs have come right-handed, with corresponding dips in batting average and OBP.
Carl Everett, OF, White Sox: Career .674 OPS as a righty ... only two of 21 homers this year as a righty.
Jose Valentin, SS, White Sox: Career .210 (185-for-881) from the right side. If he hasn't learned it by now, he never will, so he might as well stop throwing away at-bats.
Getting back to the key question, Are major leaguers getting better at switch-hitting? There certainly have been more players doing it in the latter half of the 20th century/early 21st century than ever before. In 1960, there were four switch-hitters who had at least 300 plate appearances. That figure grew to 19 in 1970, 31 in 1980, 48 in 1990 and 39 in 2002.
Why the increase? It makes sense if you consider the history of the platoon system, which did not really catch on until Casey Stengal's talent-laden Yankee squads of the 1950s showed what it could do. Soon after, players learned that they could stay in the lineup if they could switch-hit. It started being taught in earnest at the organizational level.
Another factor is the explosion of situational relief pitching in the 1970s. Switch-hitters became an integral part of game strategy because they represent roadblocks to the late-game micromanagement that is so popular today.
Put it all together and it stands to reason that players have never had more incentive to hit from both sides of the plate. (Heck, Mantle's popularity alone must have caused thousands of youngsters to give it a try.) So let's all sit back and appreciate the artistry.
Welcome to the world of alternate photo captions:
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