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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