Hanser Alberto may no longer be with the Orioles, but his ability to destroy left-handed pitching will be missed around here. It was his calling card over the course of two years in Baltimore, along with his exuberance for the game.
Alberto — who hits from the right side of the plate — batted .398 against lefties in 2019. The Orioles team as a whole hit .256 against lefties that year. In 2020, Alberto hit .375 against southpaws and the team hit .248. Now imagine how much worse those team splits would have been if not for Alberto? Someone else will have to step up or it will only get uglier.
But what’s the big deal whether you’re hitting from the same side of the plate as the opposing pitcher is throwing from? Two words: breaking balls. More specifically, breaking balls thrown from the same side of the plate as the hitter have more drastic movement away. And there’s also the batter’s field of vision and ability to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand.
So how do the Orioles make up for the loss of a lefty killer like Alberto? Other than relying on their stronger right-handed hitters — including the return of Trey Mancini — maybe the answer lies somewhere in their increased lineup versatility.
Lineup balance has long been idealized in baseball, and you can kill two birds with one stone if you’re a switch-hitter.
The Orioles had a couple of switch hitters who got significant playing time last year and they’ve added two more this offseason that stand a good chance of getting regular at-bats.
Anthony Santander is the standout among the group whose star is on the rise. Cedric Mullins, who opened eyes last year, has a chance to win the center field job but could move around the outfield and serve as the fourth outfielder as well. New additions include Freddy Galvis, who is penciled in at shortstop, and Yolmer Sanchez, who is a slick-fielding second baseman with the ability to play all over the infield.
Mullins showcased a plus glove, plus speed, and the ability to bunt in any situation over the course of 48 games last year. Not to mention, he hit for a much better average than expected at .271. But a closer look at his splits reveals an alarming disparity.
The young switch-hitting center fielder batted .305 against righties but managed a measly .171 against lefties. So while Mullins is a prime player to watch in 2021, he will need to make significant improvements as a right-handed hitter to provide true lineup versatility and also help fill the Alberto void.
Newcomer Freddy Galvis is a switch-hitting shortstop that comes to town with more chatter about his glove than his bat. Going on nine years in the show, Galvis is carrying an average below .250.
For his career, Galvis is hitting 20 points better as a right-handed hitter against lefties than vice versa. Other than Mullins, that is the most dramatic left-right differential of the four players noted in this blog.
Infielder Yolmer Sanchez came to the Orioles from the White Sox in October of last year by way of waivers. The 28-year-old switch hitter is known less for his offense and more for his defense, having won the American League Gold Glove at second base just two years ago.
Sanchez owns a paltry .245/.300/.360 triple-slash line over the course of his career. In fact, his career numbers against left and right-handed pitching are almost exactly the same. In 534 at-bats against lefties, Sanchez has a .240 average and a .626 OPS. In 1,705 at-bats against righties, those numbers are .246 and .670, respectively. But he only batted in six games total last year, which is hardly enough to judge a set of platoon splits.
From one former Gold Glove winner to a 2020 finalist in right field, Anthony Santander had a breakout of sorts during the pandemic shortened season last year. The O’s will look for him to maintain his power, improve his on-base skills, and stay healthy.
Like Sanchez, Santander’s batting numbers aren’t that different from one side of the plate to the other. For his career, the right fielder’s batting average is 15 points higher as a left-handed hitter than as a right-handed hitter (.241 vs. .256). His OPS from the left side is .768, and .739 from the right.
Seeing this relative consistency from a rising star like Santander is encouraging, but he still has another level that he could reach. So while he is the most likely candidate to pick up the slack against lefties among these switch-hitters, it will be an evolving situation over the course of spring training and into the regular season.