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About Ji-Man Choi’s choice to switch hit

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Is it helping or hurting?

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Ji-Man Choi‘s switch-hitting has been wildly entertaining for fans this season. On the day he debuted the skill, he surprised with a big HR and, To date, Ji-Man Choi’s right-handed home run still has the highest exit velocity of any Rays hit this year.

However, unlike watching his new attempt — which is great fun — his overall performance has not been that fun:

vs Right as LHH (51 PA): .190/.314/.310
vs Left as RHH (9 PA): .250/.333/.625

This averages out to a 93 wRC+ on the season thus far.

I know it’s not appropriate to discuss something with 51 PA; however, small sample sizes is all we have this season, and there is an interesting trend in the game logs once a left-handed pitcher has departed the game: Choi’s results as a LHH have not been good after stepping up to the plate as a RHH.

By my count, the total result on the season thus far has Choi 1 for 15 with 2 BB as a LHH following a RHH attempt earlier in the game. Excluding these results, though, his other LHH results are pretty good. Perhaps the awkwardness of coming back to the LHH after RHH seems to bother him.

I don’t want to jump to conclusions with a small sample, but it’s natural to think that — during a slump — the transformation into a switch-hitting first baseman may be part of his struggle.

It’s worth considering that the results of Choi ‘s attempt at a switch-hitting during his minor league career in 2015 was not that good, too. He was better than expected as a RHH (.967 OPS), but his results fell as a LHH (.751 OPS):

vs Right as LHH (65 PA): .255/.369/.382
vs Left as RHH (15 PA): .429/.467/.500

Overall, Choi had a 124 wRC+ at Triple-A in 2015 with the Mariners, which is respectable but after switch-hitting was abandoned that rose over the next two seasons in Triple-A to a 157 wRC+ in 2016 in the Angels system, and a 149 wRC+ in 2017 in the Yankees system.

The change was initiated by the Angels where Ji-Man Choi was quoted as saying the following that Spring:

“If that’s what the coaches want, I will follow their instructions,” Choi said through an interpreter. “It’s bittersweet because I can’t hit right-handed, but that’s what the coaches want, so I will do that.”

[OC Register]

Fast forward to 2020, Choi reportedly did not practice switch hitting during his long stay in Korea during baseball’s pandemic shutdown, so we can reasonably assume that he did not prepare for the season with that intention. Not until Summer Camp did Choi start toying with the concept again.

So will things get better over time? I have no idea how things are going to be. Kevin Cash seems to be trying to keep him from feeling pressured, as has been his style for all players since he took over as manager, but if Choi feels stressed out about this and sees it as an obstacle to disturbing good LHH, he may give up this compelling wrinkle to his game once again.

But if Choi can break out of his slump while continuing to switch hit, the Rays may have their best switch hitter since Ben Zobrist. Just the thought of it brings me joy.

The Rays are patient with letting their players try new and interesting ideas, as we have seen with Brendan McKay’s Two-Way attempt. The decision and its timing are entirely up to Choi. Maybe we should follow the Rays lead and have some patience, too.