The Giants have signed ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte to a one-year deal. Before I get into the particulars, let’s get this out of the way.
"You're sure that's the right word?"— carltonhimself (@carltonhimself) June 9, 2015
"Like, 80% sure, yeah."
"Print it." pic.twitter.com/RyteF8V2ko
Yes, Pat Venditte pitches from both sides of the “pitcher’s plate” and Baseball created a rule to deal with this issue. The “Pat Venditte Rule”— Rule 5.07(f) of the Official Baseball Rules —states:
A pitcher must indicate visually to the umpire-in-chief, the batter and any runners the hand with which he intends to pitch, which may be done by wearing his glove on the other hand while touching the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher is not permitted to pitch with the other hand until the batter is retired, the batter becomes a runner, the inning ends, the batter is substituted for by a pinch-hitter or the pitcher incurs an injury. In the event a pitcher switches pitching hands during an at-bat because he has suffered an injury, the pitcher may not, for the remainder of the game, pitch with the hand from which he has switched. The pitcher shall not be given the opportunity to throw any preparatory pitches after switching pitching hands. Any change of pitching hands must be indicated clearly to the umpire-in-chief.
Switch-pitching has been my white whale. I see it as the next advancement in baseball. With pitching becoming highly specialized, the entire concept of a switch-pitcher feels appropriate. Revolutionary. And yet, we still haven’t seen it much beyond Venditte.
The easiest explanation is that it takes so much time and effort to hone pitching skills with a single handedness that learning both simultaneously means that neither is fully developed. Another reason could be that the modern way of pitching with maximum effort on every pitch favors velocity over durability, movement, and control. Finesse pitchers don’t have much place in the game right now, and a switch-pitcher is likely to be more like that than a fireballer. The Red Sox are plenty happy with Nathan Eovaldi throwing 100 mph with just his right arm.
But that’s a generalization, and an unfair one at that. Movement matters! Here are Venditte’s spin rates from this past season:
Slider: 2,090 rpm (average: 2,123 rpm) — higher is better
Sinker: 2,523 rpm (average: 2,123 rpm) — higher is better
Changeup: 1,679 rpm (average: 1,746 rpm) — lower is better
It’s interesting to note that the first year Statcast data became publicly available and all the MLB averages were first made known, Pat Venditte’s slider was clocked as the slowest velocity recorded at 73.3 mph. So... dude is funky. And it’s glorious.
This is what we want! It’s one thing to revolutionize roster management or use data to micromanage defensive shifts, it’s entirely another thing to innovate physically. There’s no performance enhancement beyond practice, but the results are that a player has made himself into two players. Not only did they have to make a rule after him, he has a custom made six-holed glove, you know? He’s already a legend.
The Yankees drafted him in 2008, but it took him seven years to make his major league debut at the age of 30. He’s pitched a total of 64.2 major league innings for four different teams (A’s, Blue Jays, Mariners, Dodgers), posting a 51:26 strikeouts to walk rate and a 4.77 FIP. His best season was just this past year with the Dodgers. In 15 appearances (14 IP), he struck out 9, had a 1.00 WHIP, and 3.77 FIP.
But, real quick, take a look at his career splits. They’re funky, too.
He’s better overall as a left-handed pitcher, which just adds to the possibility that the Giants will trade Tony Watson and/or Will Smith... or, more likely, this is another margin move designed to add depth and versatility to the organization, but it’s also a dream come true for this beleaguered, joyless sports blogger. The Giants didn’t get interesting or take a risk — it’s a $585,000 deal — but they got a little more fun. When they have another 5-win month, we’ll still have Pat Venditte switch pitching. It’s okay to cry when you’re happy.