From Brendan Gawlowski at Baseball Prospectus on October 29, 2015:
Madison Bumgarner hasn’t just been the best hitting pitcher in the league over the past two seasons: he’s been the best by a lot. Among pitchers with more than 20 at-bats, only Bumgarner has been a league average hitter. He’s more than doubled every other pitcher’s home run total in that time, and in just 159 plate appearances, has posted nearly as many wins above replacement as any two pitchers combined.
Bumgarner’s success is as strange as it is valuable. Aside from a pair of dingers in 2012, he hadn’t distinguished himself in the batter’s box before last year, posting a .138/.185/.192 line through 2013. Better than the average bear, but nothing to write home about. If nothing else, his development demonstrates the value a team can capture by turning an automatic out into a major league hitter.
The gap between Bumgarner’s numbers and everyone else’s also highlights a recent trend in the game: pitchers are worse hitters now than ever before. NL hurlers hit .132/.159/.169 last season, posting one of the lowest OPS figures of all time. Unadjusted, pitchers are hitting worse now than they did even in the deadball era. They collectively slugged 50 points higher 100 years ago than they did in 2015, and that was back when players had to hit bowling balls with mop handles. Any way you slice it, the bar for a successful hitting pitcher has never been lower.
There are several reasons why pitchers aren’t hitting anymore. They can’t catch up to the velocity. They’re told to leave the bat on their shoulder. They don’t take as much batting practice as they used to. This is a trend with multiple causes, and aggregately, there’s no obvious reason to expect improvement moving forward.
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Originally published: October 29, 2015. Last Updated: October 29, 2015.