By Jason Wojciechowski on March 1, 2004 at 5:14 PM
When was the last time the A's had a switch-hitter get significant playing time? This popped into my head after I glanced at an article talking about Bobby Kielty's preparations for this season. A quick trip to Baseball Reference answered my question readily.
If we don't count Ray Durham, because he was acquired in a mid-season trade, the last A's switch-hitter to be an integral part of the team was Tony Phillips, in 1999. That's five years ago. This got me to wondering whether this was at all unusual.
First, let's count the number of switch-hitters in baseball last year. I'll use an arbitrary 200 at-bat cutoff, because Brian Boehringer, for example, a Pittsburgh relief pitcher, shouldn't really count. I count 27 National Leaguers and 29 American Leaguers, for a total of 56. Evenly spread, you'd expect almost two per team. Some teams had four, and quite a few had none, but there weren't any huge outliers, like teams with six switch-hitters or anything.
But what about those other teams with none? Do they stretch their futility in finding useful switch-hitters back as far as the A's do? Tampa Bay, which got 136 switch-hit at-bats last year from two players (one of them a pitcher with just one AB) had Randy Winn patrolling center field in 2002, so they're off the hook.
St. Louis got just 79 at-bats, 77 of them from Wilson Delgado and two from pitcher Steve Kline, in 2003. Things were worse in 2002, with Delgado and Kline combining for 21 at-bats, and no other switch-hitter making an appearance. Bobby Bonilla was on the roster for the Cardinals in 2001, but he only got 174 AB's. Thomas Howard got 133 at-bats off the bench in 2000, but without Steve Kline around, he was a lonely ambihitter. So, like the A's, we end up at 1999, when oldster Wille McGee got 271 at-bats off the bench at the age of 40, the same number of years Tony Phillips was carrying when he became the last significant Oakland switch-hitter.
Colorado had four switch-hitters make appearances last year, but only Greg Norton came particularly close to 200 at-bats, with 179. Norton had 168 as the only switch-hitter in 2002, and he and Neifi Perez stop the streak in 2001 with 225 and 382 AB's, respectively.
The Cubs barely even had any left-handed hitters, much less switch-hitters, in 2003. It didn't really matter, though, in no small part because they didn't have to face their overwhelmingly right-handed rotation. In 2002, Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller, and Todd Hundley all had significant playing time, and Bobby Hill racked up 190 at-bats as well. 2003 was an anomaly for the Cubs.
Milwaukee, despite the presence of a two-way player on the roster, had no two-side hitters, with only Matt Ford, a pitcher, registering as a pinch-hitter. 2002 saw three little-used switch-hitters struggle for playing time, but 2001 had the last gasp of Devon White in center field, along with Luis Lopez, one of 2002's three, getting 222 at-bats off the bench.
Six teams had no switch-hitters in 2003, so it appears that not having one on the roster is not so unusual. What does appear unusual is going a great number of years without one, as St. Louis has gone four years, but no one else came close to that run. With Kielty, the A's look to break their streak this year, but the Cardinals don't appear to have anyone looming to be a double threat.
The streak is actually a little bit of a bogus one for the A's, since I arbitrarily removed Ray Durham from consideration early on, but did nothing of the sort for any of the other teams involved in this mini-study. St. Louis', though, is very real.