Who Are Baseball's Best Hitting Pitchers?
I can't stand watching pitchers hit.
That's a weird thing for someone who grew up on the National League style of play to say. I've been watching pitchers hit for more than 30 years, and it still bugs me. I'm a strong proponent of bringing the designated hitter to the National League, just so we don't have to see pitchers flail and miss and struggle to put the ball in play, thereby giving an out away every two or three innings, killing rallies left and right and drastically reducing the use of the sacrifice bunt in baseball.
But while the vast majority of pitchers are death warmed over at the dish (Major League pitchers were averaging a slash line of .130/.156/.164 with a weighted runs created of -16 coming into Sunday), there are a few who actually know what they're doing up there. Two of them, Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner both had big afternoons on Sunday.
— MLB (@MLB) August 17, 2015
I will admit. That Greinke bat-flip is something special.
In addition to pitching a three-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts and one walk against the Washington Nationals, Bumgarner also homered and hit a double. Greinke pitched seven innings and gave up a run on six hits with eight strikeouts and one walk in the Dodgers' 2-1 win over the Reds. And their afternoons continued a season-long competition to see just who is the best-hitting pitcher in all of the land.
The table above ranks MLB pitchers' hitting ability by Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference (bWAr). They show that Bumgarner has been the best-hitting pitcher in baseball this year, with a MLB-leading four home runs and 13 hits in 53 ABs this season. Greinke, although further down the leaderboard, is right behind him with two homers and 12 hits in 53 at-bats. Max Scherzer is the only other pitcher on the list with double-digit hits, with 10.
None of these guys are doing too shabby up at the plate, although even the best hitting pitchers don't have batting averages that knock your socks off. There's a reason even the best ones still bat ninth. And while a 0.5 bWAR is nothing to sneeze at, it doesn't come anywhere close to the greatest offensive seasons by a pitcher in baseball history.
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Greinke had a season like this in 2013 when he finished with 1.4 bWAR, hitting .328/.409/.379 with 19 hits in 58 at-bats, three of them doubles but no homers. Bumgarner's best season was a 1.2 bWAR last year in which he hit .258/.286/.470 with two doubles and four long-balls.
The most homers ever hit by a pitcher in a season was seven, done five times. The last to hit that many was Brooks Kieschnick for the Brewers in 2003.
And since 2011 (Bumgarner's first full season as a starter with San Francisco), the numbers show Greinke is the superior hitter, although not by much.
While Greinke's bat has been worth more Wins Above Replacement than anyone else over the last five seasons, Bumgarner is the power threat, with an MLB-leading 10 homers during that stretch. That'll do in the nine-spot in the order.
It seems clear that Greinke is the better overall hitter, but Bumgarner is the power guy, and both are way above average for MLB pitchers at the plate. They're also not to bad slinging the rock either.
If only more pitchers could hit like this, then watching the bottom of the order come to the plate in the National League wouldn't be quite so infuriating.