You may have seen the articles earlier today (Mark Sheldon of Reds.com had one, as did Bobby Nightengale of The Cincinnati Enquirer) that Tucker Barnhart is considering giving up switch hitting. If not, you’ve probably noticed that over the last month or so that he’s gone to the plate only as a left-handed hitter – even when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound.
A switch hitter for his entire professional career, Tucker Barnhart was hitting just .150/.261/.175 this season as a right-handed hitter. That’s down from where his career mark in the Major Leagues is. In 401 career plate appearances as a right-handed hitter he’s hit .220/.297/.296. That pales in comparison to what he’s done as a left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching, hitting .259/.337/.390. That’s an OPS difference of 134 points.
This hasn’t just been a thing that’s happened in the Major Leagues. Tucker Barnhart struggled from the right side of the plate in the minor leagues, too. From 2009-2014 the best season OPS he had from that side of the plate was .649. He only topped a .500 OPS one other season in the minors (as a right-handed hitter), in 2011, when he had a .527 OPS. In the minors over 394 plate appearances as a right-handed hitter his OPS was just .444.
“I’ve thought about it for a long time, and it’s not been just this year,” Barnhart said. “I’ve had conversations about it in the Minor Leagues with [coaches] Freddie [Benavides] and Delino [DeShields] when I was in Double-A. I’m naturally a left-handed hitter. When my career is over, said and done, I don’t want to think ‘What if?’ I do feel confident that I would be a better hitter — lefty on lefty than right on left — but it remains to be seen.”
It’s certainly an interesting thought that Tucker Barnhart is having. It’s been something that he’s been dealing with for a long time – debating whether it makes sense to “keep on truckin” from the non-natural side of the plate. The time has come that he’s at least going to give it a chance. He hasn’t had many opportunities to have given it a chance in games. Barnhart has only had five plate appearances against a lefty as a lefty this year. He’s gone hitless in those.
That sample size isn’t even worth talking about. But let’s talk about a few things that are worth talking about here. As a switch hitter you have two different swings to work on, to maintain, to try to keep where you want them. As a switch hitter you see the ball differently from each side, too. Your dominant eye is different when you are one side of the plate versus the other. How pitchers will come at you is going to be different, too. How those pitches come at you are different, too. Pitches that used to come in to you now run away from you. Or the ones that used to run away from you now come in on you.
There’s not much data to lean on for Tucker Barnhart at this point from a numbers standpoint. But he’s certainly got a lifetime of feel for the swing from the left side. And during the offseason it’s not like he’s going to not swing the bat, either – he’s going to put in the work and figure out what feels right. Heading into the offseason this certainly does feel like an interesting thing to keep an eye on and perhaps something to find out more about at Redsfest, which will probably be the next time he’s going to be doing interviews once the season is over. If nothing else it’s at least worth exploring.