Mickey Mantle invented the modern switch-hitter. Before Mantle, the greatest switch-hitter in baseball history was probably Roger Connor, a 19th-century player who set baseball's first longstanding record for career home runs. Connor hit 138 homers. That record was broken by Babe Ruth in 1921.There were some good switch-hitters in the
Mickey Mantle invented the modern switch-hitter. Before Mantle, the greatest switch-hitter in baseball history was probably Roger Connor, a 19th-century player who set baseball's first longstanding record for career home runs. Connor hit 138 homers. That record was broken by Babe Ruth in 1921.
There were some good switch-hitters in the first half of the 20th century, players like George Davis and Frankie Frisch and Max Carey, all members of the Hall of Fame. But none of them hit with home run power (they played in a different time). Connor's home run record for switch-hitters lasted all the way to 1956, Mantle's Triple Crown season. In time, Mantle would hit 536 home runs -- including tape-measure shots from both sides of the plate -- and would change the entire way we look at what a switch-hitter could be.
This comes up because Mantle was a unicorn in his time; he was the only power-hitting switch-hitter in the game between, probably, from the turn of the century on to the mid-1960s, when guys like Reggie Smith, Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray were playing.
The 1990s and 2000s were excellent for switch-hitters, too. Chipper Jones, probably the second-greatest switch-hitter to Mantle, goes into the Hall of Fame this year. Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira were all exceptional.
And now, it seems, a new generation of switch-hitters is coming along. Here are the 10 best switch-hitters in baseball today:
1. Jose Ramirez
Switch-hitting tendencies: For Ramirez's career, he has almost identical numbers against righty or lefty pitchers. This year, though, all of his power has come from the left-hand side -- 15 of his 18 homers are off right-handed pitchers, and he's slugging more than 100 points better as a lefty.
Note: Ramirez began the 2015 season by hitting .180 for two months; he looked so helpless that the Tribe sent him down to Triple-A. This was, bizarrely, thrilling news for Cleveland fans, because they were desperate for the team to dump him and call up Francisco Lindor, a switch-hitting infield dynamo whom many were calling the best prospect in baseball. A week later, the Indians did call up Lindor, and he has been everything anyone could have ever hoped.
Little did anyone know -- nor would anyone have believed -- that Cleveland had actually sent down the better switch-hitter.
Look at the past three seasons:
Lindor: .290/.353/.487, 727 total bases, 116 OPS+
Ramirez: .312/.373/.540, 120 doubles, 740 total bases, 135 OPS+
It is astonishing how much power Ramirez generates considering he's a small guy (listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds). But this year's home run power doesn't come out of nowhere. He hit 29 homers last year and, even more impressive, led the league with 56 doubles, the most for any American Leaguer this decade.
2. Francisco Lindor
Switch-hitting tendencies: Lindor is a balanced hitter who has success from both sides of the plate. Over his career, he tends to hit for a higher average as a right-handed hitter, but he can hurt you as a lefty -- 11 of his 14 home runs this year are against right-handed pitchers.
Note: Everyone expected Lindor to be an impact player from the start, but the idea was that he first would make an impact as a defensive maestro and then would develop into a good hitter over time. Instead, he came into the Majors swinging, and the power has been a revelation. Lindor smashed 33 home runs last year (22 as a lefty, 11 as a righty) and, as mentioned, already has 14 this year.
3. Carlos Santana
Switch-hitting tendencies: Pretty balanced over his career, but -- and this is a common trend -- Santana has hit for a higher average from the right side and hit for considerably more power from the left side. The power difference has grown over the past three years. This season, Santana has hit into pretty hard luck from both sides of the plate.
Note: Last year, the Tribe had the three best switch-hitters in baseball. Santana did not play his early years in Cleveland's organization, but he did spend 2 1/2 seasons in the Indians' system, and his numbers went up. The Tribe seems to know how to raise switch-hitters.
4. Ozzie Albies
Switch-hitting tendencies: It's too early to make any real judgments, but in 116 career games, Albies is a markedly better right-handed hitter. He's hitting .333/.380/.587 as a righty and .252/.311/.446 as a lefty. As of right now, it probably would make sense to turn Albies around if there's a right-handed reliever on the mound.
Note: It's awfully soon to put Albies this high on the list, but he's such an exciting young player that it seems pointless to wait. He has been slumping since early May after getting off to a crazy hot start; you would expect that of a 21-year-old. But the future is so bright.
5. Asdrubal Cabrera
Switch-hitting tendencies: See if this sounds familiar: Better average as a righty, more home run power as a lefty. That's how it has been for Cabrera throughout his career, though he's hitting better from the left-hand side so far this year.
Note: There have been numerous outstanding switch-hitters from Venezuela, beginning with Omar Vizquel, but also including Victor Martinez, Pablo Sandoval and, yes, Carlos Zambrano, who is almost certainly the best switch-hitting pitcher in baseball history. This reminds of one of my favorite trivia questions: Who is the last switch-hitter to win the AL MVP Award? It's amazing that this still holds up. It was pitcher Vida Blue in 1971.
6. Jed Lowrie
Switch-hitting tendencies: Relatively balanced over the length of his career, Lowrie began like most switch-hitters begin, by being a better hitter from the right side. The past couple of years, though, he's hit with more authority as a left-handed batter. This year, Lowrie is slugging .494 as a lefty and has hit eight of his nine home runs.
Note: Lowrie got off to a blazing start this year, but has cooled off entirely the past month or so. He has been a useful player over the length of his career -- a slightly better than league-average hitter, a versatile defender who could play any infield position, and a solid pinch-hitter because he could match up with either righties or lefties.
7. Justin Smoak
Switch-hitting tendencies: In Smoak's breakout year of 2017, he hit significantly better overall as a right-handed batter -- nearly 80 points of batting average and 50 points of slugging -- but hit 31 home runs as a left-handed batter.
Note: OK, I'm not going to lie: I don't think I knew that Smoak was a switch-hitter. I can only picture him hitting left-handed. I take full responsibility for this, though I suspect everyone has one player whom they watch for years before realizing, "Whoa, that guy's a switch-hitter?"
8. Jeimer Candelario
Switch-hitting tendencies: Candelario has been much better from the right side so far in his career. It's a small sample size, but it isn't just stats (his slugging percentage from the right side is 150 points higher). Candelario just looks much more comfortable these days as a righty. Many young switch-hitters do.
Note: Again, probably jumping the gun here on a 24-year-old with just 90 games in the big leagues, but Candelario has shown a lot of promise in his 300-plus appearances with the Tigers. There is a question to ask about many switch-hitters, and Candelario seems like a good candidate for it: What would happen if he would just hit from the right side all the time?
9. Ian Happ
Switch-hitting tendencies: Happ is an inconsistent hitter with power from both sides of the plate. He strikes out about once every three at-bats from either side. All in all, Happ is probably a better left-handed hitter, but the difference is so slight that it's not worth bringing in a lefty relief pitcher to face him.
Note: Happ only has 164 plate appearances this year, but it appears that he is drawing more walks, particularly from the left side. With his power and big swing-and-miss approach, another 40 or so walks a year could make the difference between Happ being an everyday player and being a role player.
10. Marwin Gonzalez
Switch-hitting tendencies: Gonzalez has basically been the same player from each side of the plate over his career. But last year, in his breakout season, he hit significantly better from the left side (.322/.394/.552) than the right (.250/.328/.467). Gonzalez was dangerous as a righty or lefty, which is what you want from a switch-hitter.
Note: Another good Venezuelan switch-hitter. Gonzalez has struggled this season -- he has also been beat up -- but he was so good in 2017 and the Astros have every reason to believe that he will rebound.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.