Pitchers Outhitting the Competition

Everyone knows that Clayton Kershaw is awesome. He’s 23 years old, throws in the mid-nineties and has a slider so breath-taking that even the McCourts can’t put a price on it. But did you know that he’s actually outhitting the competition this season?

Kershaw has a .627 OPS as a hitter, while holding opponents to a .569 OPS. He’s one of three starting pitchers with at least 30 plate appearances who have fared better in the batter’s box than the opposition. Kershaw has done it by dominating on the mound and sprinkling in some singles as a hitter. Rotation mate Chad Billingsley (.855 OPS as a hitter, .749 as a pitcher) and Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano (.822 as a hitter, .725 as a pitcher), on the other hand, are swinging big bats but giving up plenty of hits as well.

The hitting exploits of Kershaw, Billingsley and Big Z made me wonder: which pitchers, either by virtue of superb pitching and singles-hitting or so-so mound work and slugging, outhit the competition by the widest margin in a single season?

Eric Seidman was kind enough to research pitchers posting better OPS figures than their opponents dating back to 1950. Pitchers must have taken at least 40 trips to the plate and faced 100 batters to qualify. Here’s the top 10, sorted by the difference between OPS as a hitter and OPS as a pitcher:

Some fun facts from this list:

Don Newcombe slugged seven homers for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, including four at Ebbets Field. The hulking Newcombe, listed during his playing days at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, threw righty but batted lefty. That couldn’t have hurt, considering Ebbets Field’s dimensions in ’55: 343 feet to left field, 393 to center and about 300 to right field.

Newcombe was actually used as a pinch-hitter at times during his career and finished with an 85 OPS+. As our own Patrick Newman pointed out, Newcombe played as a first baseman and outfielder in 1962 for the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.

Carl Scheib was the youngest player in AL history when he debuted at the age of 16 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1943. He scarcely pitched in 1945 and didn’t pitch at all in 1946 while serving in the Army as WW II wrapped up, suffered a shoulder injury in the early 1950s and made his last big league appearance in 1954. He retired with a career 85 ERA+, but he flirted with a .400 average in 1951.

– Seven of the guys in the top 10 had multiple seasons in which they outhit the competition. Rick Rhoden pulled off the feat five times (1976, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986). Don Larsen and Warren Spahn each did it on four occasions, and strangely, in the exact same years (1953, 1956, 1958, 1961). Newcombe (1955, 1956, 1959), Micah Owings (2007-2009) and Carlos Zambrano (2005, 2008, 2009) outhit opponents three times. Zambrano also holds to all-time record for bats snapped like a cheap No. 2 pencil after striking out. Don Drysdale (1958, 1965) did it twice.

Here’s a list of pitchers who have outhit opponents since the new millennium:

A few more tidbits:

Mike Hampton‘s line as a Colorado Rockie in 2001 and 2002: .315/.329/.552, 10 home runs. I know it’s Coors, but that was still good for a 109 OPS+. If only the whole, you know, pitching thing had worked out.

Micah Owings‘ career line as a hitter: .288/.317/.524. According to Baseball-Reference, Owings’ 112 OPS+ as a batter is actually the best mark ever among pitchers with at least 200 career plate appearances (minimum 70% of career games as a pitcher; otherwise, Ruth wins in a landslide). As a pitcher, Owings has allowed a .256/.342/.425 line. Brooks Kieschnick says hi.



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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


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gnomez
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gnomez
4 years 11 months ago

+1 for Kieschnick reference. Mobile, so without access to stats, I’m surprised Andy Benes didn’t make the list. I’m also pretty sure I have a Mike Hampton baseball card somewhere where the photo is him batting.

G.H. Ruth
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G.H. Ruth
4 years 11 months ago

I would crush Micah and his 112 OPS+

Al Dimond
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Zambrano only holds the all-time *pitcher* record for breaking bats after a strikeout, right? I would guess Bo Jackson leads among position players.

Al Dimond
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

(After recalling Bo, I had to compare his hitting stats to Zambrano’s. Obviously, Bo was a much better hitter. But they have similarly impressive career strikeout rates of around 35%, yielding plenty of opportunities for bat-breaking.)

z
Guest
z
4 years 11 months ago

Kersh and bills were like the worst hitting pitchers last year. What’s changed? Mattingly is actually letting his pitchers swing the bat which is just awesome. I beleive kershaw had been leading the league in sac bunts the last few years.

Bip
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Bip
4 years 11 months ago

He did last year.

TheMooseOfDeath
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TheMooseOfDeath
4 years 11 months ago

Mattingly just took them aside one day during Spring Training and thoroughly discussed the team’s offense. They immediately knew they’d have to provide their own runs if they we’re both going to finish above .500 this year.

A guy from PA
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A guy from PA
4 years 11 months ago

any chance a team picks up Owings and trys to convert him to a position player? A team like the Pirates could sure use his bat at 1st base for example…

Lyle Overbay
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Lyle Overbay
4 years 11 months ago

Haters gonna hate.

Bip
Guest
Bip
4 years 11 months ago

While I believe that Billingsley could legitimately hit well enough for a season to make this list, having watched a lot of Kershaw’s at bats, I really think that he’s mostly getting lucky, being as he rarely hits the ball very hard. Then again, it doesn’t take a lot of luck to out hit the competition when you’re holding them to a .569 OPS.

Linkmeister
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Rhoden is now a damned good golfer, winning often on the Celebrity Players Tour.

chuckb
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chuckb
4 years 11 months ago

When calculating hitting WAR for pitchers, I think fangraphs should compare a pitcher’s offensive production to that of the average pitcher, rather than the average hitter. If a particular pitcher isn’t used, he’s going to be replaced by another pitcher so good hitting pitchers are that much more valuable than those who are worse.

Scott
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Scott
4 years 11 months ago

I’m surprised Wes Ferrell didn’t make an appearance. Put up a 3+ win season w/ the bat.

Scott
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Scott
4 years 11 months ago

turns out I should’ve read the whole as far back as 1950 thing

evo34
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evo34
4 years 11 months ago

This is a pretty random article. Kershaw’s hitting this year is sheer luck (all singles). Would be far more useful to figure out which pitchers have had the highest impact in terms of wins added over several seasons.

Earl F'in Wilson!
Guest
Earl F'in Wilson!
4 years 11 months ago

What about me??!!!

i hit 35 HR(and 111 RBI) in 740 career AB’s….

i hit 7 HR in a season twice, 6 HRs once, 5 HRs twice and 4 HR another year….

in 1966 i OPS’d .799 to my opp .639 while hitting 7 HR in 96 AB and was 13-6 with a 2.59 ERA

in 1967 i led the league with 22 wins (22-11 and 3.27 ERA)

and in 1968 i OPS’d .741 to my opp .628 while hitting 7 HR in 88 AB and was 13-12 with a 2.85 ERA with 10 CG and 3 SHO…

35 HRs in 740 career ABs!

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/wilsoea01.shtml

wpDiscuz