The MLB Home Run Derby is an event that attracts millions of viewers every year. Last year the event pulled a TV rating of 4.9, even with the monotonous, worn down, beaten like a dead horse phrase of “back, back, back” incessantly issued by ESPN’s Chris Berman.
The contest showcases the crafted skill of launching baseballs into orbit. Few mortal men can step to the plate and do what professionals make look so incredibly easy. It’s glorified batting practice. It makes jaws drop at the sheer power that a man can use to send objects into space.
But what if the event showcased players who see at-bats only every fifth day? Guys that were probably cleanup hitters in college, but were drafted as pitchers with a knack for fooling hitters?
Pitchers are stereotyped as non-athletes incapable of offensive dexterity equal to that of position players. They are said to excel only at throwing strikes, partially at fielding their position, and occasionally laying down a sacrifice bunt. One of the most exciting events in baseball occurs when a pitcher hits a home run. Twitter absolutely exploded when New York Mets’ pitcher Bartolo Colon hit his first Major League home run on May 7th at the ripe age of 42, making him the oldest player to hit his first career home run. At one point this season, San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner had as many home runs (11) as the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Nationals’ Bryce Harper over their last 190 plate appearances! Yes, you read that right.
Of course, the best hitting pitcher of all-time is Hall of Famer and baseball immortal Babe Ruth. As a pitcher, the Great Bambino hit 14 home runs before hitting another 700 home runs as a position player. Wes Ferrell, the right-handed pitcher who played 15 seasons with multiple clubs from 1927-1941, holds the record for career home runs (38) by a pitcher, and most home runs (9 in 1931) in a single season by a pitcher.
Baseball strategy has evolved significantly since Ferrell’s era. The offensive objective of a pitcher at the plate is dictated by several factors, namely the score of the game, the inning, and number of outs and runners on base. The institution of the designated hitter by the American League in 1973 effectively prevents half of MLB’s pitchers from stepping to the plate. Still, with many pitchers playing multiple positions in college and frequently hitting in the lineup, the transition to MLB is easier for some active pitchers.
Below is a list of pitchers who absolutely mash, relatively speaking, when given the opportunity to grab some lumber. ThriveNation would love to see these guys participate in a classic home run derby!
1. Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco)
Since debuting with the San Francisco Giants in 2009, Bumgarner has racked up 13 career home runs. He recently advocated his case to participate in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star break this July. During batting practice on June 5th in St. Louis, Bumgarner launched a pitch into the fourth deck in left field – a rarely achieved feat. He’s the kind of pitcher who relishes the opportunity to take hell hacks at the plate.
2. Mike Leake (St. Louis)
Leake debuted with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010 before being traded to the Giants in 2015, and signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. Over his seven-year career, Leake has totaled seven home runs, and sports a .206 batting average. In three seasons at Arizona State University, Leake batted .299, slugged .485, and hit two home runs. While he does not have the same power numbers as Bumgarner, Leake is no slouch for a pitcher.
3. Zack Greinke (Arizona)
While Greinke is well known for his lucrative contract he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he is also known around the league as one of the better pitchers at the plate. Though his first seven seasons were spent in the American League with the Kansas City Royals, he has managed to blast six home runs in 13 seasons. Greinke has shown he can handle the bat particularly well, touting a career batting average of .226. In 2013 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he finished the season with a .328 average. Greinke is currently hitting .296 with Arizona this season.
4. Yovani Gallardo (Baltimore)
Though his last two seasons have been spent in the American League, Gallardo has amassed 12 career home runs in 10 seasons. In 2010 with the Milwaukee Brewers, Gallardo hit four home runs and finished the season with a .254 batting average. He does not have the imposing figure at the plate, but he can certainly bring the rain given the opportunity.
5. Travis Wood (Chicago Cubs)
In sevens seasons in the National League, Travis Wood has launched nine home runs. In 2013 and 2014, the Cubs lefty hit three home runs. He blasted at least one home run in each of his first five seasons before ending that streak in 2015. Wood is hit less so far in 2016 in just three at-bats, but he’s proven he can hold his own against his counterparts.
6. Adam Wainwright (St. Louis)
In 11 seasons with the Cardinals, the stud righty has launched seven home runs and boasts a .200 career batting average. Listed at 6’7″ and 2235 lbs., “Uncle Charlie” is an intimidating figure at the plate. He also hit three home runs in the minor leagues. While he’s no longer a spring chicken, Wainwright still swings the bat better than most pitchers.
7. Matt Cain (San Francisco)
Cain has hit six big league dingers in 12 seasons as a member of the San Francisco Giants. Pitching in his home ballpark is very favorable, but hitting – not so much. Despite the fact that San Francisco’s park is not conducive for hitting home runs, Cain’s career power numbers are respectable for a pitcher, making him an easy choice for this list.
8. Cole Hamels (Texas)
Hamels spent nine plus seasons in Philadelphia before being sent to Texas in a trade at the deadline in 2015. Cole has just one career home run, coming in 2013 off of Matt Cain during a game in which Cain also homered off Hamels (I was there!). Despite the lone dinger on his resume, Hamels boasts 15 career doubles, which ranks seventh among active pitchers on major league rosters (trailing only Wainwright, Gallardo, Peavy, Arroyo, Greinke, and Leake).
Note: Despite having great offensive statistics, Dodgers lefty Jordan Schafer was not considered on this list. He spent his first six big league seasons as an outfielder before reinventing himself as a pitcher at the end of an injury-shortened 2015 season. He is not on the Dodgers major league roster.
STATS COURTESY OF BASEBALL-REFERENCE.COM