Rarely is sport science research published in the most prestigious scientific journals. But when the data is incredibly rich, it catches the eye of the editor.
In 1982 an article was published in The New England Journal of Medicine – the number 1 ranked scientific journal (impact factor of 72!) – that claimed there was an overrepresentation of professional baseball players who throw left handed and bat left handed.
However, David Mann and colleagues reanalysed this data (35 years after the initial publication) and came to a different conclusion.
Professional baseball players were 7.6 times more likely to throw with their right hand and bat left handed relative to lesser skilled controls (high school and grammar school students). Throwing and batting left handed was also commonplace, but only 2.5 times more common in professional baseball players than the lesser skilled controls.
The analysis extended to batting average. Based on data from all major league players between 1871 and 2016, players who threw left handed and batted right handed were more likely to have a batting average greater than 0.299 compared to players who threw and batted left handed, threw and batted right handed, or threw left handed and batted right handed.
Why is batting left handed an advantage in baseball?
The authors highlight a number of advantages for left handed batters in baseball. These include:
- Pitchers often have less experience throwing to left=handed batters
- A left-handed batter facing a left-handed pitchers is termed an “off-handed” match-up, which is thought to benefit the batter.
- A left handed batter stands on the right side of the plate, which is closer to first base. Moreover, the momentum of the bat swings moves momentum towards first base.
- Sometimes the location of fielders, with respect to skill level, might be better suited to right handed batters.
- Left handers might be selected on a team for strategic reasons (i.e., to add flexibility).
What is so special about throwing with the right hand and batting left handed?
The authors speculate that “players who throw right-handed and bat left-handed enjoy an additional biomechanical advantage, with the dominant (throwing) hand being placed further from the hitting end of the bat, providing a longer lever with which to hit the ball (potentially at the expense of bat control.”
Similar findings are also evident in cricket – another sport that requires the player to strike the ball with control and power.
Implications for coaching
The findings open up a discussion about how children should be taught to strike a ball. Whilst a training study is required to clearly understand the learning implications of batting with your dominant hand positioned higher or lower on the bat, it seems reasonable to believe that children would benefit from the opportunity to practice batting both left and right handed – especially given that the ability to switch hit is a unique skill in sports such as baseball and cricket.
Mann, D. L., Loffing, F., & Allen, P. M. (2017). the Success of Sinister Right-handers in Baseball. New England Journal of Medicine, 377(17), 1688-1690.