Ichiro as potential switch hitter

DMZ · March 12, 2010 at 9:36 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Back in the old days when I wrote for Baseball Prospectus, the M’s gave me a one-game press pass. I’d explained what I wanted to go cover, who I wanted to talk to, and how it’d be used only for the annual, and they finally let me in on the understanding that I wouldn’t write anything about it for the website, radio, and so on. I don’t remember exactly why I’d wanted to be at that game — I think I was interested in our starter, but it’s not important. I turned up as early as I could to see home-team batting practice, and it’s great to stand that close. Bret Boone wandered by and gave me a weird look, players made fun of each other as they took their turns, and Rick Rizzs sat on the dugout bench, talking to everyone who walked by.

I was most interested in watching Ichiro, though, as he went through his prep for batting practice. He took easy swings, varying the speed a little, and up close, it looked perfect. Something was wrong, though. I watched for a minute before I could figure it out: he was swinging right-handed.

Ichiro’s right-handed swing looks exactly like his left-handed swing.

I stood there like a yokel, and when it was his turn he got in the cage and started roping hits left-handed. And if you ever get the chance to watch Ichiro hit, even in batting practice, from that close, do whatever you have to do. It’s amazing. Television doesn’t do it justice.

After batting practice ended, I went up to the press diner, where Ron Fairly held court on all the types of teams he’d played for. I kept thinking about Ichiro. I bought my food and sat down at a table with two people from the NHK crew. I chatted with them about their work for a couple minutes before approaching the big thing on my mind.

“Hey,” I said, “I think I saw Ichiro practicing his swing right-handed.”
“Oh yes,” the man said. “He’s always done that. He feels it keeps him limber and helps with his balance.”
At which point my brain engaged the clutch and I stammered for a bit before I could ask “Could he hit right-handed?”
They both nodded. “He’s very good,” the same man said.

Ichiro is so good that he could hit right-handed if he decided it would offer him some kind of advantage. Every time I’ve seen him in the on-deck circle since, and particularly against left-handers who can’t pitch effectively to righties, I look a little more closely: is this the at-bat where Ichiro does his mental calculations and decides to switch to the other side of the plate? He wouldn’t even make a big deal about it — and he’d look so natural that he might be standing on first before we figured out what was strange about that single.


43 Responses to “Ichiro as potential switch hitter”

  1. Evan on March 12th, 2010 9:43 am

    Of course, given Ichiro’s reverse platoon split as a lefty, under what circumstances would such a change make sense?

  2. CCW on March 12th, 2010 9:44 am

    Ichiro is the coolest player any of us will ever see. I just don’t see how you can top his combo of ability, dedication, uniqueness, success and personality. He’s the perfect star athlete.

  3. henryv on March 12th, 2010 9:50 am

    Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever truly appreciate how incredible Ichiro! is. If he had played in MLB since he was younger, he would probably be on pace to cruise passed Pete Rose, with an OPS over 30 points higher.

    It would be hard to not consider Ichiro the most complete player in the history of the sport, at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. And given that he is likely to have more than 5-6 healthy years left in him, he’s going to finish with:

    -12 gold gloves (if not more)
    -3000 hits
    -.800 OPS
    -.325 BA
    -500 Stolen Bases
    -1400 runs scored

    Man, I love that guy. And every time I hear someone talk about trading him, I wanna punch the radio.

  4. MX on March 12th, 2010 10:09 am

    He is a natural right-hand. Of cause he can hit right-handed.

    Not only Ichiro can hit on both sides, he can pitch with both hands. He will be a pitcher (RHP/LHP) after age 40.

  5. Carson on March 12th, 2010 10:09 am

    This is very interesting. He does throw righty (really good), so you figure he has to have some coordination using his other side.

    If he ever does it, I hope he only does it once, and gets a hit. It would just add to his ever growing legend.

    BTW – Write more, Derek. Thanks.

  6. Zero Gravitas on March 12th, 2010 10:13 am

    I believe we will see this before his MLB career is over. He sees himself as an entertainer on the field and loves to put on a show. It will probably happen in the same game where he finally gets to pitch – which is another skill he keeps bringing up in interviews, just so nobody forgets.

  7. DoesntCompute on March 12th, 2010 10:14 am

    It would be priceless to see the pitcher’s response when he realized what was happening. I would also pay big money to hear Niehaus’s call. It would be priceless.

  8. DMZ on March 12th, 2010 10:14 am

    Of cause he can hit right-handed.


  9. MX on March 12th, 2010 10:17 am

    Of cause he can hit right-handed.

    I am just kidding. I believe he can do anything….

  10. JerBear on March 12th, 2010 10:20 am

    Ichiro! is a gift sent directly from the baseball gods to atone for their injustices, real and perceived.

    I’m sure if he ever does bat right-handed (and I hope he does), I have to think it will be for show rather than a calculated advantage – given his existing reverse platoon split and the fact that so much of his game is built on his speed down the line (which, as I understand is the main reason his father started him batting lefty).

    I really hope to see him pitch some day too.

  11. robbbbbb on March 12th, 2010 10:24 am

    Ichiro! just has extraordinary natural athletic ability. I wouldn’t doubt that he could pick up any hand-eye co-ordination activity in a matter of minutes.

    I’d hate to try and play him in any sort of sport like that. He’d be a terror at air hockey, for instance, and I’d pay good money to let him kick my ass.

  12. sparky on March 12th, 2010 10:31 am

    This is one of the main reasons I get so excited when I see a new post in my USSMariner RSS feed. Posts like these, that do such a great job of describing the type of excitement and anticipation one can have as a baseball fan, are why I keep coming back.

  13. marc w on March 12th, 2010 10:32 am

    I know you need to regress platoon splits quite heavily, but over the course of thousands and thousands of PAs, it really does look like Ichiro hits lefties better than righties.
    A 20+ point wOBA advantage isn’t huge, but just the fact that it exists is weird. Ichiro is such a freakish hitter that even though he COULD switch-hit, he doesn’t need to. As Derek says, I’m sure he’d do it if he thought it’d give him an advantage, and whereas for pretty much every other player it clearly would… Ichiro is not every other player.

  14. jld on March 12th, 2010 10:37 am

    Of course, given Ichiro’s reverse platoon split as a lefty, under what circumstances would such a change make sense?

    When he’s facing a RHP.

  15. loveMeSomeStats on March 12th, 2010 10:39 am

    the fact that so much of his game is built on his speed down the line (which, as I understand is the main reason his father started him batting lefty).

    Can someone who knows elaborate on that a bit. It makes sense that someone batting left-handed is closer to first … but how big of an advantage is that? And might Ichiro have decided that his father was right and that the speed to first outweighed the percentages in making contact?

    thanks! nice post!

  16. dawgnmemphis on March 12th, 2010 10:43 am

    I remember in the early to mid90s (maybe 93 or 94) there was quite a buzz about how Griffey was working on hitting right handed, and how he was seriously considering breaking it out in a game.

    Of course, much like Rick Mirer throwing lefty, this never really happened (though Mirer did throw the ball away left handed a couple of times, which wasn’t much different than his natural hand tosses).

    Ichiro hitting righty would make more sense than either of those, because as others have noted he’s a natural righty.

    But really, the left hand batters box is such an advantage to him that it’s a blessing to us all that he hits southpaw.

  17. Jon on March 12th, 2010 11:04 am

    Can someone who knows elaborate on that a bit. It makes sense that someone batting left-handed is closer to first … but how big of an advantage is that?

    It’s not only being closer, but the momentum of the swing takes the hitter towards first as well. That’s the case for just about all lefties, but it’s even more of an advantage for Ichiro because his whole game is getting down the line as quickly as possible. He’s already 10 steps out of the box by the time he finishes his swing.

    It would be cool to see Ichiro become one of the guys that plays all 9 positions in a game. Usually it’s some scrub that no one cares about, but I bet Ichiro is fully capable.

    Of course, it wouldn’t happen unless he had already announced his retirement and was playing his last handful of games. They’re not going to want to risk his health, which is why he hasn’t seen the mound in blowouts to date.

  18. auldguy on March 12th, 2010 11:05 am

    Not only is the LH batter’s box closer to first than the RH box, the momentum generated by a lefty’s swing is clockwise – toward first. Like getting a running start. A righty’s swing momentum sends his mass more toward third, and must thus be overcome rather than incorporated into the running start.

  19. Liam on March 12th, 2010 11:20 am

    I hope that this is the first of many stories you will be able to tell now that the statute of limitations has run out.

  20. nadingo on March 12th, 2010 11:21 am

    Didn’t he teach himself to hit lefty so that he would start out closer to first base? It’s how he pulls that awesome move where he’s already running towards first as part of his follow-through. Though it’s still amazing that he’s capable of doing something incredibly difficult (hitting a MLB baseball from both sides of the plate) but chooses not to because he doesn’t think it’s advantageous.

  21. Shiatsu on March 12th, 2010 11:28 am

    There is a reason Ichiro is always at the top of his game and always in amazing shape. Players, fans, the media, everyone in this country is waiting for him to hit reality and drop off. Well, his reality is different from everyone else’s. What I mean by this is he has been taught how to balance the entire body so it is at its highest potential for success. And in my business, it is quite apparent that an extremely few amount of American’s have any idea what that means. Reading up on Ichiro, I have found multiple things that he does that shows just what I mean. From this story about switch hitting, to how he stretches, to the fact he gets shiatsu all the time from a shiatsu practitioner, Tanaka is his name I believe, even down to his approach to the plate.

    I do a very rare style of Shiatsu in Seattle, taught to me by a man who’s family originated it over 600 years ago. This amazing technique has changed my life and my whole understanding to sports medicine and why athletes have the problems they do, and also why conventional western medicine can leave guys on the shelf for years… or forever and never get the injury treated properly. The body can easily get out of balance with the way the American culture dictates even the “healthiest” people’s lives.

  22. Shiatsu on March 12th, 2010 11:29 am

    Ichiro’s life style, very different in more ways than most know, focuses on an absolute balance which will allow his blood, lymph, and energy to flow without being impeded. When these things are impeded, they cause many things, muscle tension being one of them. This muscle tension, if left unattended will eventually lead to muscles with poor range of motion, thus causing one to strain, or “pull” / “tweak”, a muscle or tendon, or experience tendonitis of some sort.

    Now when I say balance, I’ll give you an example that everyone does and doesn’t realize they’re doing. Say for example when you do something like sweep the floor, and you sweep using the same motion and the arms are in the same position for a rather extended period of time. After a while you start to feel fatigued or “heavy” in one of your arms and or other parts of your body. This is your body literally telling you to stop and switch so it can balance out, something we all do without thinking. So the arm that was down is now up and vice versa. We don’t get injured sweeping the floor obviously because we aren’t using our muscles in an extreme way, like competitive sports requires. So we don’t realize just how important “switching” sides really is for the body.

  23. Shiatsu on March 12th, 2010 11:30 am


  24. Coach24 on March 12th, 2010 11:35 am

    Why would you want to see Ichiro hit right handed? You don’t like what he is doing left handed well enough? Crazy! Also, considering the large number of infield hits he gets, hitting from the right side would take away some of those hits that he is safe by a step.

  25. Robo Ape on March 12th, 2010 11:36 am


    Yeah, I believe that’s right. I’ve often wondered if Ichiro couldn’t turn around and hit righty once he loses his speed (if that ever happens) to become more of a power hitter.

  26. Joe C on March 12th, 2010 12:01 pm

    This reminds me of the Jose and Pepe Vidro commercial… except that Vidro sucked.

  27. topler on March 12th, 2010 12:05 pm

    I could see this happening as Ichiro! gets over 40 and loses a step or two. Then he would rely on power over speed. Tony Gywnn has said before he thinks Ichrio! would win a home run derby if he tried because his swing is so perfect everytime.

  28. dougals on March 12th, 2010 12:07 pm

    Imagine being at the game when he puts the ball in the left field bleachers during his first right handed swing and then being there to catch it.

  29. SonOfZavaras on March 12th, 2010 12:26 pm

    You could tell me Ichiro has a way to make woven gold out of thread and I’d find a way to wrap my head into believing it.

    Dude is in the top 1% of hitters that’ve ever lived.

  30. HititHere on March 12th, 2010 12:27 pm

    I worked in the HiH Cafe during the glorious 2000-2002 seasons, and never fully appreciated getting to see BP every home game. I wish I could go back and redo those years…but that aside, during BP I saw just 2 M’s hit home runs into the cafe, approximately 440 feet away.

    Ruben Sierra crushed one, which I managed to nab (it still has the oval-shaped black mark from his bat) and…Ichiro! I distinctly remember that swing looking so effortless and intentional, it dumbfounded me that the ball kept carrying higher and higher, right over my head when I was standing on the terrace. And then, it bounced back down onto the first level. Sadness.

    Of course he hit that lefty, but my point is I could see Ichiro! switching to righty and pounding out quite a few HRs. It just doesn’t seem likely to me, since his superhuman speed never seems to wane with age.

  31. wabbles on March 12th, 2010 12:30 pm

    Yet further evidence of why he gets the exclamation point.

  32. SonOfZavaras on March 12th, 2010 12:33 pm

    Regarding Ichi as a switch-hitter, though-

    it’d be fascinating, because (speaking as a switch-hitter, myself) most of us learned how to do it when we were kids and used it all throughout our careers (not me, though…I learned just before I hit CC ball and never hit consistently for average on the left side).

    For someone to START employing it at a relatively advanced athletic age? Ichiro’s a physical genius, but it would be simply awesome to watch and shatter some long-held athletic myths (such as- athletes over 30 can’t reinvent themselves).

  33. Bender on March 12th, 2010 1:34 pm

    I love that you love Ichiro as much as I do. I’m intensely jealous that you got to be that close to him, let alone got to watch him take batting practice.

    Thanks for the write up!

  34. allenwu on March 12th, 2010 2:03 pm


    Ichiro’s a natural righty. He did not develop hitting right handed. He developed hitting left handed at a young age.

  35. Jack Swan on March 12th, 2010 2:47 pm

    I have to imagine watching Ichiro hit is very much like watching Ty Cobb hit a hundred years ago. And if Ichiro had the limited competition and absence of elite relievers from that era, I’m sure his batting average would be right there with Cobb.

  36. Breadbaker on March 12th, 2010 3:31 pm

    Had some Brit succeeded and Lefty O’Doul failed, I suspect Ichiro would now be known as the greatest cricketer the world has ever known.

  37. Nick on March 12th, 2010 4:08 pm

    It would be hard to not consider Ichiro the most complete player in the history of the sport, at the plate, on the bases, and in the field.

    Wow, I love Ichiro, but I gotta suggest you at least consider Mays, Ruth, DiMaggio, Aaron, Cobb, Musial, and a few others I’ve heard could play a bit.

  38. Schumi on March 12th, 2010 4:57 pm

    Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be for him if he gets to bat right handed and fails? I guess he will never do it in his MLB carreer.

  39. Jeffrey D on March 12th, 2010 5:01 pm

    I am as big a fan of Ichiro as anyone; however, I do not believe he is such a great natural athlete.

    I believe his success is due a unique combination of hard work and intelligence. Lots of people work hard, but not as smart, not as insightfully.

    Compared to people like Bo Jackson, Ichiro has practically no natural gifts at all. And heaping praise on his “natural ability” short changes the amazing effort he has made to maximize the ability he has.

  40. pinball1973 on March 12th, 2010 6:04 pm

    Being a fan of the Blue Wave, I had several chances to attend pre-game work outs (the home team’s are oddly always closed) right on the field behind the nets.
    The first time, it amazed me how hard/loud everyone hit the ball. Even in prime seats, the effect is nowhere near what it is from 4-5 meters away on the ground. You could feel the well-hit balls from then-Orix hitters Troy Neel and DJ, as well as the very strong Takahashi.

    But watching Ichiro take batting-tee practice is what I remember, even more than his regular batting practice (which was, no exaggeration, magical). As fast as the coach/assistant could pop the ball on the tee – and it was fast – Ichiro would stride into the ball and just destroy it. And unlike his regular batting face, during the tee-ball work I was literally frightened at how he looked and the physical effect it produced.
    I thought the effect might be less the second time, but it wasn’t at all. Upsetting my expectations made it even a little more frightening.
    Those are among my strongest memories of Ichiro while he played here.

    I am certainly glad Ichiro is a baseball player and not, say, playing rugby, or boxing, or a gladiator. I would never like to be on the receiving end of the sort of coldly insane concentration he put on those baseballs.

  41. msb on March 13th, 2010 9:04 am

    On the case of Erik Bedard, he had issues that doctors think is a torn Labrum in his shoulder, but now seems to be coming back faster than had been expected.

    Probably due to the surgical repair of the torn labrum.

  42. jonw on March 15th, 2010 8:44 am

    Probably due to the surgical repair of the torn labrum.

    Dubious western medicine!

  43. Tom C on March 17th, 2010 6:33 pm

    Awesome story Derek, thank you!

    A message to the guy shilling shiatsu: Stop trying to piggyback on Ichiro’s awesomeness, please.

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