Monday, December 05, 2011

The Best and Worst Hitting Pitchers

Watching a pitcher hit is about as much fun as looking at a flower garden in Maine in early October. There might be an Astor blooming here or there, but otherwise not much is happening. The four likeliest outcomes in order of frequency are: strikeout, sacrifice bunt, single, double play. According to, the pitcher is the only position player that hit into more double plays than homers. So yes, it's not an exciting prospect. But occasionally you have pitchers that can swing the bat. These pitchers are usually called, "great athletes." Some have been legendary. Micah Owing is one. But he simply hasn't been able to pitch well enough to even get enough at bats to qualify on this post.

Some of the good hitting pitchers play in the American League right now and thus their bat is gone (except for interleague games in a NL park). Dan Haren is one. C.C. Sabathia is supposed to be another, but there is no real evidence to show that to be true. There is for Haren as we shall see.

For this exercise (while we wait to see what happens in the winter meetings), the ten best hitting pitchers in baseball will be presented along with the ten worst. How will those lists be determined? First, we will look at data from the last three years. That takes away the fluke season. For those three seasons, the pitcher must have at least 100 plate appearances. This eliminates Micah Owing but it also eliminates the relief pitcher who happened to come to the plate once and miraculously got a hit. We can't go by WAR here because there is too much disparity of plate appearances to make that a fair judge. The stat we will use here is wOBA or weighted on-base average. These lists will use for the wOBA scores.

The ten best hitting pitchers:

  1. Dan Haren. It's a real shame he toils in the AL now because Haren could hit. Haren only had three at bats in 2011 and got one hit. But he is the only pitcher who has a wOBA over .300 in the last three years. Haren had a .904 OPS for the Diamondbacks in 2010 before he was traded to the Angels. He would have been a better hitter than Jeff Mathis.
  2. Carlos Zambrano. In retrospect, Zambrano should be on top of this list. The volatile pitcher has compiled 5.3 WAR as a batter during his career. But for the last three years, his wOBA places him second behind Haren. Zambrano has 23 career homers and has hit at least one in nine straight seasons.
  3. Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo slugged .508 in 2010 and has hit well over .200 the past two seasons. He has nine career homers in five seasons.
  4. Mike Leake. Leake has no power with a .291 slugging percentage, but he gets a lot of hits. He's a .262 hitter so far in his short career. The most impressive stat for Leake is that he went the entire 2010 season without hitting into a double play.
  5. Daniel Hudson. It took a year for Hudson to adjust to hitting as his first year in the NL wasn't very good at all. But he found his strike in 2011, batting .277 with three doubles and a homer. He won the Silver Slugger Award for pitchers in 2011.
  6. Chris Narveson. The left-hander fell off in 2011 after batting .327 in 2010. He has no power though as his .262 career slugging percentage attests.
  7. Derek Lowe. Lowe makes the list most likely because he's had nine extra base hits in the last two season. But it's hard to get excited about a guy whose slash line features numbers all below .200 across the board. Traded to Cleveland, Lowe's offensive days are over.
  8. Adam Wainwright. The wagon builder missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery. But in 2009 and 2010, Wainwright compiled thirteen extra base hits. That's heady.
  9. Randy Wolf / Johan Santana / Cliff Lee. Wolf gave the Brewers three of the top hitting pitchers in one rotation in 2011.

The ten worst hitting pitchers

  1. Tommy Hanson. Hanson has had 164 plate appearances in the last three years and has ten hits. Enough said.
  2. Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez is unique in that he has -1.3 WAR as a pitcher the last three years and a -1.1 WAR batting. Bonus!
  3. Charlie Morton. This guy has struck out 49.6 percent of the time, the clear leader in that category among all starting pitchers. Pathetic.
  4. Ted Lilly. Ted is a Lilly-livered hitter, so this certainly works. The lowest BABIP of all starting pitchers the last three years.
  5. Matt Latos. At least Latos has hit two homers in the last three years. But other than that, he strikes out at a cool 44.9 percent rate.
  6. Jeff Karstens. What a pitching rotation the Pirates have had! Morton, Maholm and Karstens are one, two and three in the highest percentage of strikeouts per at bat. Tony LaRussa wouldn't have batted these guys eighth.
  7. Johnny Cueto. At least Cueto doesn't strike out (29.2 percent). But he doesn't hit either. 
  8. Hiroki Kuroda. He gets the bat on the ball. But it doesn't go anywhere. But he's only hit into two double plays during his career.
  9. Paul Maholm. He's hit a homer in the last three years, but his 48.1 strikeout percentage does him in.
  10. Barry Zito. More fuel on the fire for those who think he's had the worst contract in baseball.

Even the best hitting pitchers have a wOBA below league average. And yes, this is why this author is a card-carrying member of the DH-supporter club. Yeesh.

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