In his five years as an everyday player for the Phillies, Shane Victorino has been an enigma. Despite some questionable plate discipline, he’s been a productive hitter. Despite some circuitous routes to fly balls, he’s played above-average defense in the outfield. Despite a career 45-point platoon split (in wOBA), he’s a switch-hitter. Despite being universally hated by fans of baseball’s other 29 teams, he is well-liked by Phillies fans.
Try and figure out Victorino and you’ll be left scratching your head.
There is, however, one group of people that have figured him out. As mentioned, Victorino has a drastic platoon split. Against right-handed pitching over the course of his career, he hit for a .323 wOBA, which is about average. Against left-handers, his career wOBA jumps to .367. By comparison, Ryan Howard finished the 2010 season with a .367 wOBA while Placido Polanco sat at .323. Against LH, Victorino hits like Howard; against RH, he is as impotent as Polanco.
A graphical look at Victorino’s performance by year:
Using the Baseball Analytics database, I found out why there is such a large gap in performance. The heat maps tell the story.
Against left-handers, Victorino has no problem hitting hard and soft stuff alike.
vs. LHP, hard stuff
vs. LHP, soft stuff
When Victorino faces right-handers, however, his performance drops significantly when facing softer stuff.
vs. RHP, hard stuff
vs. RHP, soft stuff
Victorino’s wOBA against soft stuff drops from the 90th percentile against left-handers to the sixth percentile against right-handers. While a lot of it is likely due to his left-handed hitting simply being weaker, right-handed pitchers also did a better job of keeping the ball low and away — a weak spot for almost all hitters.
vs. LHP, soft pitch frequency
vs. RHP, soft pitch frequency
This trend will not cease in 2011. The amount of fastballs Victorino saw dropped each season since 2007, from 67 percent to 64, 62, and finally 57 percent this past season. It would behoove Charlie Manuel to consider batting Victorino lower in the batting order against right-handed starting pitching, and perhaps bat him lead-off against left-handed starters. Victorino’s 45-point wOBA platoon split is significant, and over the course of nearly 3,000 plate appearances, it is certainly reliable information. This is information opposing teams have used and will continue to use. Barring Victorino magically learning how to hit a right-handed breaking ball, Manuel should adjust accordingly.