Forget Using a Designated Hitter, Madison Bumgarner Will Hit for Himself
Last week, I wrote a post about how baseball consistently provides us with "weird" statistics. Well, today is no different, as we'll see something that has not (intentionally) happened in 40 years.
The San Francisco Giants are facing the Athletics in Oakland on Thursday, which means the game will be played under American League rules, so both teams will have the option of using a designated hitter. However, the Giants are choosing to forego this option and instead let their starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, hit for himself.
We have to go back to 1976 to find the last time a pitcher hit for himself in an American League stadium. (Andy Sonnanstine hit for himself in 2009 for the Tampa Bay Rays but that's because their manager at the time, Joe Maddon, screwed up the lineup card.)
I imagine the thought process of Giants manager Bruce Bochy letting Bumgarner hit instead of using a DH looked something like this:
However, the move might not be as crazy as it seems, considering Bumgarner is arguably baseball's best hitting pitcher. Let's compare some of his numbers as a batter this season to what the average hitter in the National League is doing.
Bumgarner's triple slash doesn't stack up, but his batted-ball profile certainly does.
He's hitting more line drives, making almost the same amount of hard contact -- while his soft-hit rate is significantly lower -- his home run-to-fly ball ratio is more than double, he's chasing pitches outside of the strike zone 9.5 percent less, and his Isolated Power is almost 10 points higher than the National League average hitter.
Granted, he only has 46 plate appearances on the season, but what he did in 2014 through so far this season shows that he's no slouch at the plate.
It should be noted that Stark is being playful here, especially considering most of these guys have more plate appearances just this season than Bumgarner does over the last three seasons combined, but nonetheless, he can swing it.
.@SFGiants to forgo DH Thursday in Oakland, allow Madison Bumgarner to hit. https://t.co/1IesCQuMs6 #PitchersWhoRakehttps://t.co/Hrm0oqcof4
— MLB (@MLB) June 30, 2016
His 11 home runs from 2014 through this season (205 plate appearances) are more than 13 qualified hitters have posted during this same time frame, including teammate Angel Pagan who has just nine.
Despite Bumgarner's success at the plate, he's still a pitcher first and choosing to let him hit over "regular" hitters on the Giants roster is unconventional to say the least. Bochy has apparently made this decision because they are facing a lefty in Dillon Overton, and the Giants don't have many right-handed batters available at the moment.
Although a southpaw himself, Bumgarner hits from the right side of the plate, and in addition to being a pitcher, this move carries additional risk. The Giants are forfeiting the DH spot completely by letting Bumgarner hit for himself, which means a DH cannot enter the game in Bumgarner's place if he leaves the contest.
Bochy is likely banking on this not being an issue and hoping that Bumgarner can pitch late into the game. He has not thrown less than six innings in any start since April 15 this season, a stretch of 13 consecutive starts.
Bumgarner hasn't just been an innings-eater either, as prior to his last start (6 1/3 innings allowing three runs in a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies), he has gone eight straight starts allowing two runs or fewer. He should have no problem neutralizing an Oakland lineup that has a combined .306 Weighted On-Base Average this season, which ranks eighth-worst.
If Bumgarner can shutdown the A's, then not using a "real" hitter in the DH slot might not even matter. However, if he's chased early and San Francisco has to operate without a DH, wooo boy, watch out for those critics. After all, managers who hit their pitchers eighth instead of ninth already seem to drum up enough controversy.