Afterthought: Switch Pitching

Today’s Machining World Archives May 2007 Volume 03 Issue 05
(Updated Dec. 2010)

Pat Venditte presently is a AA prospect in the Yankees organization. He’s a legitimate big league prospect with 91-mile per hour pop on his fastball from the right side, but what makes Venditte column-worthy is that he throws just as well from the left side.

There are a lot of switch hitters in Major League Baseball, but not switch pitchers. Mickey Mantle was probably the greatest switch hitter to ever play the game, but new guys with that ability come to the Bigs every season. It is a skill which can be learned, if not mastered, with enough effort and concentration. As a kid I practiced playing ping pong, hitting and shooting baskets with my left hand and achieved a modicum of proficiency, but it never felt “normal.” I was always a righty, even if I could make a left-handed layup.

I love Pat Venditte’s story because he dared to defy conventional wisdom and take his game where few have ever taken theirs. According to a New York Times article, Pat’s father saw him using both hands with equal dexterity when he was three years old. Pat’s dad was a baseball fanatic and taught him to throw and bat lefty and righty – and they both stuck. The beauty of the story is that neither father nor son accepted conventional baseball stupidity that you cannot be a switch pitcher.

Another baseball dictum is that you can’t be a left-handed catcher. The myth is that right-handed batters get in the way of the release of the throw to second base – an absurdity in a baseball world almost equally split between left- and right-handed batters. In a lifetime of watching Major League Baseball, I have not seen a left-handed throwing catcher.

You also see no lefty shortstops or third basemen; other no-nos of the game. I see no reason why a lefty cannot play either position. The pivot on the double play may actually be easier for a lefty shortstop. I can imagine that a left-handed second baseman would be disadvantaged on a short to second double play pivot, but not the other way around.

I look back at the great one-armed pitcher Jim Abbott, who was born with a deformed right arm. Abbott won 87 games, made the All-Star team and batted successfully in the Majors.

Pat Venditte of Creighton has put up terrific numbers, throwing heat from the right side and funky sidearm stuff from the southpaw side. He has a special glove with an extra thumb sewn in which can be successfully used on either hand.

Pitchers usually have an advantage against batters who swing from the same side from which they are pitching because of the natural tendency of hitters to bail out (move the front leg away) from the breaking stuff of a pitch hurtling toward his head at 90 miles per hour. When the pitch curves, he cannot react in time to swing hard and cover the plate. This is why managers often change pitchers to get a lefty vs. lefty or righty vs. righty match-up. Pat Venditte theoretically always has that advantage, except occasionally against a switch hitter who might switch sides during an at bat.

What I love about the Venditte story is that father and son both showed the contempt for conventional wisdom. Instead of swallowing the norm, they went out and did it, knowing that being able to switch pitch affords Pat a huge edge on the field. It also enables him to pitch more frequently than mono-handed pitchers.

I often remember the business philosophy of Jake Grainger of Alpha Grainger Manufacturing in Milford, Mass. He says his quest in every job he pursues is to find the “unfair advantage” over the competition. Every setup is aimed at achieving the “unfair advantage.”

Pat Venditte – keep your unfair advantage – from both sides of the mound.

Lloyd Graff

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