2010 Pitcher Hitting Winners and Losers

A pitcher’s hitting ability often goes unremarked upon. For roughly half the league, that’s fine since pitchers don’t hit. In the National League they do however, and while nobody ever expects much out of them, pitchers do occupy a spot in the batting order and what they do with it is part of the overall package of value that they deliver to the team.

On its own, that’s never a surprising statement to make. What I think is surprising is the range in values of hitting value that pitchers display. Granted they are always over small seasonal samples so I am taking care not to mention skill or repeatability here. Nevertheless, pitcher’s plate appearances do matter and managing not to be a federally declared disaster at the plate can be a stealthy way for a pitcher to add a significant amount of value.

In last season, Yovani Gallardo and Dan Haren tied for the lead with a positive contribution of a half-win apiece. Neither Gallardo nor Haren had success at the plate in the past and with Haren now with the American League Angels, he can effectively go out on top aside from the brief forays in interleague play.

Pitchers flailing at the plate are far more usual and the worst offenders demonstrate that as Clayton Kershaw and Ubaldo Jimenez tied at -1.3 WAR with the bat. Unlike the leaders, who we are probably safe off assuming were flukes, these two deserve a reputation for lousy hitting. Kershaw has a career .207 OPS and .098 wOBA while Jimenez is marginally better at a .283 OPS and .138 wOBA. The Dodger pitchers were the league’s worst hitting group, combining for almost five wins below replacement as a unit.

The terribleness of Jimenez and Kershaw illustrates how repeatedly being useless at the plate can add up over the years for pitchers. From 1990 to 2010, Greg Maddux was worth -14.1 WAR with his bat. Of course, he pitched for a very long time so a big part of that is the sheer number of plate appearances –1,562– that he had. However, over a nearly similar amount of trips, Tom Glavine was only at -8.5 WAR, a 5.5 win advantage for Glavine.

That’s not a lot since both pitched for 20+ season, but it is still about a quarter win gap per season between the two and the spreads can be much larger. Mike Hampton and Curt Schilling were about 10 wins apart in their hitting over a similar number of chances. That is not a trivial amount.




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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


33 Responses to “2010 Pitcher Hitting Winners and Losers”

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  1. Popeye says:

    Who is Mike McDermott?

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    • AustinRHL says:

      Yeah, Matthew, I’m not sure how you mistook Greg Maddux for Mike McDermott, but you might want to change that.

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    • Choo says:

      I figured this was common knowledge, but . . .

      Mike McDermott comprised one half of the “The Mighty McDermotts” pitching tandem* of 1890′s Louisville Colonels fame. The other half? A slightly different Mike McDermott. One Mike went 4-19 in his rookie campaign and pretty much got lit up like a Christmas tree whenever he took the hill. The other Mike started 9 games, lost 8 of them, and averaged 9.37 IP per start. Both gentlemen preferred whiskey-dipped tobacco, shared a strong aversion to mustaches despite the time period, and when they sang “I’ll see you all this comin’ fall in the big rock candy mountains,” as they were wont to do, you can bet your biscuits that they meant it. Yessiree I tell ya, them McDermotts, whoo boy. Never been anything like ‘em since.

      * Ignore the fact that The Mighty McDermotts never played on the same roster together. It really spoils the story.

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      • Jason B says:

        Given all that, I can see how he was pretty useless at the plate from 1990-2010, the years cited in the article. I would likewise be pretty awful at the dish too at 130-150 years old.

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        Where the little drops of alcohol come-a-tricklin’ down the rocks.

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    • Not sure what happened there, I believe our player linker has been on the fritz lately. It was always intended to be Greg Maddux there

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      • AustinRHL says:

        The player linker does seem imperfectly coded. I know I find it annoying that it sees “Johan Santa” inside “Johan Santana” and always links to the former, and there are a few similar examples.

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  2. Craig says:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to call Gallardo a fluke with the bat. The guy has legitimate power that can make opposing pitchers worry. He’s had a good start to his season with the bat, including a HR already, so keep watching. I don’t think he is a fluke.

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    • Dealer A says:

      Gallardo is legit as a hitter. He is one of a few pitchers to pitch a complete game shutout and provide the game’s only run with a homerun. That is a real world win above replacement.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      .296 career wOBA off of just a .265 BABIP. Probably the best hitting pitcher in the majors.

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  3. Andy says:

    Gallardo mashed in the minors. He had a bad year in 2009, but 66 PAs doesn’t negate the minor league success. He’s a great hitter for a pitcher.

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    • erroneous says:

      I’m fairly certain the point being made was that neither have a track record of major league success as a hitter, not that they don’t have talent in that department.

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      • Ian R. says:

        Eh. Referring to Gallardo’s good hitting performance as a “fluke” seems to imply that he lacks talent.

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    • Ben Hall says:

      A great hitter, but only for a pitcher. I’m guessing that Matthew’s point was that it’s highly unlikely he’ll contribute more than a replacement player offensively.

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      • Tim says:

        Considering that the Brewers have Betancourt and Gomez in the everyday lineup, I’d say he’s the 7th best hitter in the lineup when he starts.

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  4. Erik says:

    Uh, both Haren and Gallardo have had success in the past at the plate…not as good as their 2010 seasons but they’ve both been good hitters (for pitchers).

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  5. Justin says:

    Gallardo is definitely a much better hitter than you’re giving him credit for.

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  6. Cidron says:

    hmm.. for a one year thing, … but, I wonder what a 5yr, same idea, would have atop the list. Suspecting Carlos Zambrano would be up there a bit, as he has some pop as well as a decent eye (for a pitcher with a stick).

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    • AustinRHL says:

      That’s not hard to look up yourself. Just restrict the hitting leaderboards to pitchers, and select “all players” instead of “qualified only.” Setting a PA minimum of, say, 70, it should be unsurprising that Micah Owings (he of .245 ISO fame) has racked up the most WAR, at 1.1 since 2006. Gallardo is in the positive range, as is Dontrelle Willis. At -0.3 WAR, Zambrano is also one of the better ones. Haren, Wainwright, Looper, and Peavy have also been somewhat competent, while the woefully inept Doug Davis finds himself at the bottom with a .087/.098/.100 line and -4.8 WAR.

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  7. Ralphie says:

    What about Micah Owens? Oh yeah, I forgot – he can’t pitch.

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  8. Slats says:

    Daniel Cabrera (0-for-21 career, 19 strikeouts).

    Worst hitting pitcher of all-time.

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  9. chiasmus says:

    This might be a dumb question, but how is the replacement level determined for pitcher batting? Intuitively, it seems to me that it should be set to the league average batting line for pitchers, on the reasoning that: a) teams don’t generally consider hitting ability when choosing a replacement pitcher; b) there is therefore no reason to think that a pitcher who is replacement-level on the pitching side will be better or worse at hitting than the other pitchers in the league. But I haven’t been able to find an explanation of pitcher hitting WAR that makes clear whether or not this is correct.

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    • Tim says:

      I believe it’s set at the average pinch hitter stat line. At least, that’s what it should be compared against for hitting WAR.

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      • Justin says:

        I dont know if that would be correct though, since pitchers aren’t going to be subbed for PH’s everytime their spot in the batting order comes up.

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  10. joe says:

    Makes you wonder why hitting is not part of a pitcher’s WAR in the NL. Might not be a huge impact, but for some pitchers it may be somewhat significant.

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    • Dustin says:

      Considering most of them would come in at negative WAR it would skew the WAR numbers to make AL pitchers look more valuable compared to their NL counterparts. Looking at it another way however, pitching against DH’s would offset that advantage in one way or another.

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  11. Steve says:

    Interesting piece content wise… but the title is a bit awkward, as is the rest of the writing.

    “In the National League they do however, and while nobody ever expects much out of them, pitchers do occupy a spot in the batting order and what they do with it is part of the overall package of value that they deliver to the team.”

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  12. badenjr says:

    Somewhat unrelated question… Suppose it’s the fourth inning of a tie game and the 8th hitter comes to the plate with a runner on second and two outs. Do you pitch around the eight hitter to get to the pitcher? When is that a good move, and when is it not?

    Clearly there are times that teams pitch around the 8th hitter in the lineup to get to the pitcher. Now generally, the 8th hitter in the lineup isn’t a great hitter either. The defensive team still has to record 27 outs (more or less) over the course of the game. If we assume that the 1st-7th hitters are superior to the 8th hitter, and the 8th hitter is superior to the 9th hitter, it stands to reason that more often than not pitching around the 8th hitter means the defense will have to try to record an additional out against a better hitter later in the game. Obviously, the value of recording the more sure out in a current high-leverage situation can out-weigh the value of forgoing an at bat against a (possibly) better hitter in a different situation where the leverage of the situation is unknown.

    Have there been any studies that look at the value of pitching around the 8th hitter? How big a discrepancy does there need to be between the 8th hitter and the pitcher to warrant pitching around the 8th hitter in various situations? Do teams pay for such decisions later in the game? Is there even any way to know?

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    • Dustin says:

      Another thing you have to factor in to this is that you are putting another person on base for the pitcher(and any subsequent batters should the pitcher get on). That runner could hurt you more if for example the pitcher hits a double and the 8th hitter on first is fast and makes it all the way around.

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    • lex logan says:

      If we assume the pitcher is going to make an out, we can look ahead to the fifth inning and compare bases empty, zero outs with bases empty, one out (pitcher leads off with an out.) The home team’s win expectancy drops from .569 to .538 (bottom of the fifth.) So, the cost of pitching around #8 is (on average) about .031. If #8 manages to drive in a run, the home team’s win expectancy rises to .703 (up 1 run in the fifth), a gain of .134. Dividing, .031/.134 = .231, so if #8′s batting average is .231 better than the pitcher, you should pitch around him. We can ignore walks to #8 — you’ll be in the same boat as if you had intentionally walked him — but a home run would increase the cost (.806-.569 = .237.) I would say in most cases it would not pay to pitch around #8, you want that easy out the next inning.

      Win expectancies, as usual, from table 10 of The Book http://www.insidethebook.com/ .

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