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
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:
And here he is as a lefty against righties:
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.
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.