There hasn’t been a more exhausting argument to listen to regarding any single Red Sox player this offseason than everyone’s couch fainting over Shane Victorino’s platoon splits. Before we venture into the land of the lost though, let’s get this out of the way so everyone feels validated:
1.) Shane Victorino is not the player he was
2.) Shane Victorino probably won’t ever be the player he was again
3.) Shane Victorino is still a valuable player
While it’s true that Victorino has declined at the plate largely due to his increasing platoon splits, it’s also true that once you take a closer look at them, they’re not anywhere near as alarming as they’d seem on the surface – at least if you’re the Boston Red Sox. Because Victorino is a switch hitter, he’s almost two separate batters altogether. Most switch hitters as a rule don’t tend to be able to do the same kinds of things from either side of the plate and as a result, when you consider large splits, you need to take into account their overall approach at the plate to determine whether or not they could become problematic. This isn’t as simple a case as a single-handed player like Jonny Gomes flailing haplessly against RHP. Gaging Victorino is truly a two-for-one proposition, as he is a hitter who takes two different approaches to putting the ball into play depending on what side of the plate he’s chosen to bat from.
Call it the splits within the splits, if you will.
As a right-handed batter, Victorino profiles as a dead-pull hitter. While his power has declined in recent years, having the Green Monster to drive balls off of should provide a boost to his production. Given his strong base running skills, he should be able to turn a lot of would-be wall balls into extra base hits, thus mitigating some of the power shortages he’s faced in past seasons.
Speaking of his approach as a left handed hitter, Victorino is quite a different animal when he hits with his back to the Red Sox dugout. Rather than pull the ball like he does as a righty, Victorino tends to spray the ball all over the field, giving him an abnormally even distribution of balls in play in left, center and right field. However, a good number (28%) of his hits last year were hit to – you guessed it – left field. Was this something due to slower bat speed? Perhaps, because the percentage was higher than normal – but Victorino’s career percentage of opposite field hits as a lefty (21%) still suggests a higher-than-normal tendency to go to the opposite field. In fact, all but about 33% of his hits end up headed towards left field – regardless of which side of the plate he’s hitting from.
So what does this mean? It likely means that the friendly confines of his home park should mitigate or at least slow the progression of his platoon split issues.
What’s more is that this isn’t the first time the Red Sox have signed this kind of a player – an aging 32/33 year old with increasing platoon splits that could be eased with the introduction of a swing-friendly ballpark. Last year, that guy was Cody Ross.
Since Ben Cherington has taken over as GM of the Red Sox, he’s made no secret of his love of hitters who profile well in Fenway Park and has shown little regard for deep platoon splits, so long as they show a strong tendency to hit the ball to left field. By employing this approach last year, he was able to acquire a bedrock starter for pennies on the dollar.
In 2011, Cody Ross hit .241/.322/.418 vs. RHP overall. At the less than friendly Pac Bell Park, Ross hit .235/.316/.405 vs. RHP. During the 2012 season, Ross saw his overall split improve ever so slightly (.256/.308/.422), but the way it was able to do so was his dramatic improvement in hitting RHP at home. In Fenway, Ross had no issues with righties, posting a well-above-average .289/.353/.495 mark. Conversely, the split continued to worsen on the road, where he ‘hit’ .220/.256/.341. Still, the Red Sox were able to mitigate the disparity caused by increasing platoon splits by simply giving Ross a better park to play in.
While Victorino was similarly as bad a on the road vs. righties (.219/.286/.353), he also struggled to a similar tune to that of Ross in 2011 at home vs. RHP last year (.241/.305/.310). Needless to say, Fenway should help ease the pain of the splits significantly – as should the myriad of hitter-friendly parks (especially Yankee Stadium) that will await Victorino in the AL East.
Given his strong base running acumen, capable defense, leadership in the clubhouse and insurance policy he provides in the event of the loss of incumbent Center Fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Victorino still has a lot to offer the Red Sox in spite of his steep splits. There’s also the issue of his hand injury last year, which seems to have fallen off of everyone’s radar for whatever reason. While Victorino has featured increasing splits, his performance vs. RHP was far from offensive pre-hand injury (.271/.333/.456), which might imply that the hand could have played a role in his lackluster performance last season.
However, having been put in a friendlier environment this season and owning a clean bill of health, I feel like it’s premature to write of Victorino’s demise. There’s a very good chance he’s got one more big season left in him.