Ambidextrous Pitcher Rules
A rule in baseball that few people know about is the ambidextrous pitcher rule, also known as the Pat Venditte Rule. An ambidextrous pitcher is a pitcher who can pitch as both a right-hander and a left-hander and often pitches with the same dominant hand as whichever handedness the batter is.
According to this rule, an ambidextrous pitcher must indicate to the crew chief umpire and any batters or baserunners which hand he intends to pitch with before delivering his first pitch and must not change to the other hand during that at bat. This rule gives the hitter an advantage if both the hitter and pitcher are ambidextrous because the hitter can decide which hand to hit with depending on the hand the pitcher chooses to pitch with.
Handedness Advantage in Baseball
Most batters hit better against pitchers who are opposite-handed. For example, a left-handed hitter typically fares better against right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers. This is because it is easier for batters to recognize the spin coming from a pitcher of the opposite hand, and therefore they will be able to react quicker and more effectively.
Being a switch-hitter is beneficial, because they can always bat with the hand opposite of the opposing pitcher. This affects the strategy of every baseball team. Most teams have certain players who primarily bat against pitchers they have the handedness advantage against. These are referred to as platoon hitters, and lefty platoon hitters typically play more than righty platoon hitters because there are more right-handed pitchers in baseball.
Ambidextrous Hitters and Pitchers
While ambidextrous, otherwise known as switch hitters, are fairly common in baseball, there have been very few ambidextrous pitchers in MLB history. There were 48 switch-hitters on an active MLB roster in 2018, while there was only one switch-pitcher who pitched a total of 14 innings that season.
Due to the infrequency of switch-pitchers, there was no official MLB rules in regards to ambidextrous pitchers prior to the pro debut of Pat Venditte in 2008. Venditte was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2007 as a switch-pitcher, and, since there was no rule in the rulebook, there was confusion about who would have the advantage in a switch-hitter vs. switch-pitcher matchup.
Origins of the Rule
Pat Venditte made his pro debut for the Staten Island Yankees in 2008 against the Brooklyn Cyclones. In this game, Venditte pitched ambidextrously as he always had. An issue occurred when he faced a switch hitter in the ninth inning of this game. Venditte, and the batter each took turns switching their handedness and neither one would relinquish their advantage.
Eventually, the batter was ordered to bat with their right hand, and Venditte had the advantage as he also pitched with his right hand. With this advantage, Venditte struck out the batter in four pitches to end the game with a victory for his team. After the game, the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC) immediately implemented a new rule to clear up any confusion, which is how the rule originated.
The ambidextrous rule was implemented in 2008 but was not used in MLB until Venditte made his Major League debut in 2015 with the Oakland Athletics. The rule was first used at this level with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning in a game in which the Athletics were playing against the Boston Red Sox. Venditte was the pitcher, and Blake Swihart was the switch-hitter for Boston.
The ambidextrous rule initially caused confusion because Venditte indicated that he wanted to pitch with his left hand but changed his mind and indicated that he will pitch with his right hand after Swihart was already at the plate. After some confusion, Venditte was allowed to pitch with his right hand and eventually struck out Swihart to end the inning.
Can pitchers switch which hand they are pitching with in baseball?
The pitcher is allowed to switch the hand they use to pitch, but they must use the same hand throughout the entire at-bat. Pitchers are not allowed to switch their pitching hand during an at-bat. Prior to the at-bat, the pitcher must declare which hand they will be pitching with to the batter and umpire.