Astros’ Conger finally hitting from the ‘right’ side, blasts 3rd homer

June 4, 2015
This is something Angels fans never got to see -- Hank Conger hitting a home run swinging from the right side. (AP)

This is something Angels fans never got to see — Hank Conger hitting a home run swinging from the right side. (AP)

By Brian Han

What do you know (Mike Scioscia), Hank Conger can hit from the right side!

Houston Astros’ switch-hitting Korean American catcher launched his third home run of the season on Thursday in a 3-2 loss at home against the Baltimore Orioles. Conger went 2 for 4 and it’s worth noting that his solo shot in the third inning came against Orioles starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen.

Why? Because Chen is a left-hander, and Conger was never really given a chance to hit from the right side when he was with the Los Angeles Angels.

The 27-year-old, whose Korean name is Choi Hyun, was always regarded as a better hitter from the left side, even though he is naturally right-handed, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia primarily used him from the left side against right-handers. Last year, Conger registered 215 at-bats from the left side and only 16 from the right side.

Conger was touted as a high-level prospect and his journey to the big leagues even drew comparisons to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, but his role was reduced to that a platoon player during his days with the Angels. Understandably, he had never hit a home run swinging from the right side until this year. All 16 of his home runs in his major league career had come from the left side.

That changed when he joined the Astros. Now his last two home runs have come swinging right handed.

This isn’t new territory for him, but it is unfamiliar territory because he’s been away from it for so long. As a result, there have been some costs to readjusting to both switch hitting and playing for a new club in a new park.

His strikeout rate is at a career high at 28.3 percent compared to the 20.2 percent league average according to Fangraphs.

His average after Thursday’s game is a tick above the Mendoza line at .204 and the league average for catchers is .232, but he’s only had 54 at-bats so far. Other healthy starting catchers are hovering close to 200 now that it’s almost a third of the way into the season.

Conger is currently playing behind Jason Castro, but Castro hasn’t been much better. Castro’s batting average is also less than stellar .222, but his .997 fielding percentage is higher than Conger’s .985. The league average for catchers is .993.

Simply put, fielding average refers to how well a defensive player properly handles a ball in play that involves him.

Castro has thrown out 13 out of 37 base runners trying to steal (35.1%) and Conger has stopped only 1 out of 7 (14.3%).

Still, the sample size is very small for Conger, and with Castro out a few games with a knee contusion, Astros manager A.J. Hinch just might have unlocked something by letting Conger hit from the right side.