Shane Victorino: Built for Fenway?

Jim McIsaac

Shane Victorino's fits in with Boston's strategy this off-season: signing players who will benefit from Fenway Park.

To this point, the Red Sox have signed four new free agent players: Mike Napoli, David Ross, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino. There has been a good deal made about the similarities between these players' contracts and what that means for the Red Sox current team-building philosophy. All four players are in their thirties, signed short-term and they all give the Red Sox a certain amount of flexibility for the remainder of their off-season activities. These players all have something else in common as well, though. Except for Shane Victorino, who is a switch-hitter, all of these players are right-handed batters and, as many people have noted in the aftermath of this signing, Victorino, like most righty hitter, hits lefties much better than he hits righties.

The common thread here is not right-handed hitting or a strong platoon advantage against lefties (David Ross actually has a slight reverse-platoon split). All of the new Red Sox are players who will likely benefit significantly from playing in front of the Green Monster. For Napoli and Gomes, the benefits of the monster are fairly obvious. These guys are big, powerful right-handed hitters who can send the ball sailing onto Lansdowne Street, bounce doubles high off the wall and get singles on what would otherwise be easy fly outs. Napoli actually uses the whole field quite well, while Gomes is a pure pull hitter, but both should get a significant bump from the Monster. David Ross, like Gomes, hits from the right-side and is primarily a pull hitter even though his splits are very different from Gomes. As we saw with Cody Ross last year and with countless other in Red Sox history, the presence of the Monster can do wonders for such players. However, of all the players Boston has signed thus far, Shane Victorino may be the one of stands to benefit the most from the large left field barrier.

Over at Fangraphs, Matt Klaassen makes an important point about splits, warning that "one should not project a player’s offense as if his platoon splits represented two separate players who are combined into one," while talking about Victorino and the potential for him to be platooned. It is valid point in the context he is concerned with, but one of the most fascinating things about Shane Victorino is how different he is as a left-handed hitter than as a right-handed hitter, and this was especially extreme last season.

Looking at these two spray charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers illustrates the point quite clearly. Here is Victorino as a righty against lefties:

Victorino_2012_vs_lefties_medium

And here he is as a lefty against righties:

Victorino_2012_vs_righties_medium

As a right-handed hitter, Victorino is right there with Gomes and Ross as a predominately pull-hitter. In 2012, he made contact with 148 balls from the right side: he pulled 76 of them, hit 58 to center and sent just 14 to the opposite field. However, from the left side, he showed a completely different approach, pulling far fewer pitches. Of 379 batted balls, he pulled 139, hit 135 to center and went to the opposite 105 times. As a right-handed hitter, he pulled the majority of pitches and hit just nine percent the other way, but as lefty he hit 28 percent to the opposite field, pulling 37 percent. These opposite field tendencies had not been so extreme in the past but they had been apparent; Victorino has a 21 percent career rate of balls hit to the opposite field and 42 percent pulled as a lefty.

Philadelphia is regarded as a major hitter’s park by most people, but it is fairly neutral overall, with a three-year park factor of 102. Its reputation comes from how much it favors left-handed home runs, which it boosts around nine percent. For righties, it can actually be a tough place to hit, reducing batting average slightly and home runs by a bit more. Fenway is a better place to be if you hit the ball to left field a great deal, boosting batting averages for righties by nine percent while remaining completely neutral for home runs. Victorino may be a switch-hitter, but his overall batted ball profile is much closer to a right-handed hitters. The right-handed Victorino will derive the same advantage from the monster that a Ross or a Gomes might, but the left-handed Victorino stands to gain as well. He could struggle to hit home runs in his new home park, especially from the left side, but the extra hits off the wall and the extra bases he can take on balls to gaps should make up for that.

Though it is not nearly as obvious as it is with someone like Jonny Gomes, Victorino is a player who is tailor-made for Fenway. Along with an aversion to long term deals and an emphasis on roster flexibility, targeting players who will succeed at home is clearly part of the off-season agenda for the Red Sox front office and Victorino is sneaky-smart fit for that strategy.

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