Josh Bell is a switch swinger. That is, he hits from the left side of the plate, but not so much from the right side of the plate. During his minor league career the difference is stark: a career .301/.367/.506 line against right handed pitchers, but a .242/.320/.360 line versus southpaws. The first hitter is a prospect; the second would never make it to the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Of course, since those two hitters are actually the same player, the second hitter did make it to the upper levels of the minor leagues. Here are his combined AA and AAA numbers from 2009 and 2010:
There are two key takeaways, and they are very much related:
- Right handed Josh Bell doesn’t hit for very much power (just a .076 ISO)
- Right handed Josh Bell hits A LOT of ground balls.
While Bell has struggled against righties so far this spring, it’s safe to say that he still profiles as an excellent hitting prospect from the left side of the plate. It’s clear, however, that the right handed version stands virtually no chance of every being a successful Major League ballplayer; his batted ball profile indicates that he is simply overmatched. He doesn’t hit enough line drives, and he hits far too many ground balls. Fortunately, there’s a remedy: give up switch hitting.
Now, it is entirely unreasonable to expect Josh Bell to hit southpaws with the same ease he hits right-handers just because he changes batter boxes; platoon splits are very real, and Bell’s are likely to be a bit larger than average, at least initially, owing to the lost developmental time. Still, his performance against right handed pitchers can inform us on how well he is likely to hit lefties. Since MGL (see the link), is one of the preeminent saberists around, let’s follow his methodology.
The typical left handed batter has a ratio of about 1.20 in his platoon split. That is, his OPS vs. right handed pitchers divided by his OPS vs. left handed pitchers should be around 1.20. If we assume that .950 (this might be high, given his struggles at AAA thus far) is his true upper level talent OPS against righties, we divide by 1.20 to discover that Bell’s expected OPS against left handed pitchers as a lefty would be .792*. Feel free to adjust the ratio or the true talent assumption as you see fit. However, as the below table shows, it takes a lot of adjusting to get Bell’s expected performance against lefties down to his actual performance so far in the upper levels of the minor leagues. In fact, only the bottom right adjustments (a .750 or .725 true talent OPS and a platoon split of 1.30 or higher) shows as worse than Bell’s current performance. Thus, by giving up switch hitting, we should actually expect Bell to improve his performance against left handed pitching.
Every day that goes by without the Orioles ending the switch hitting experiment is another day of development that Josh Bell will require in the minor leagues while he learns to face left handed pitching. In fact, it would not surprise me if some of Bell’s struggles this spring are due in part to an increased focus on his right handed hitting. It’s time to see what Bell can do by focusing full-time on hitting left handed. Maybe then we really will have our third baseman of the future.
*I’m not saying that Bell would post an OPS of .792 against lefties. It’s very possible he could have a larger than average platoon split. Additionally, these are simply his minor league numbers. They would need to be further translated to provide a realistic projection at the Major League level.