Archive for the ‘Cincinnati Reds’ category

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2017

March 28, 2017

As everyone knows, contemporary pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s widespread use in the minors and in the college game, is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

Pitchers simply don’t get as many opportunities to hit today because of the steady trend of using more and more relievers throwing more and more innings, which means starting pitchers get fewer opportunities to hit, and there are more opportunities for professional hitters to be used as pinch hitters.

Also, no matter what the old-timers might say, the level of major league play has gradually and steadily improved since the professional game started in the 1870′s, which means that pitchers, who make the major leagues solely based on their ability to pitch (this has been the overwhelming norm since at least the early 1880’s, and probably a lot earlier) have undergone a slow but steady decline as hitters by virtue of the relative improvement of pitchers (as pitchers), fielders and professional hitters, in spite of the fact that most major league pitchers were great hitters in high school and many were fine college hitters.

A final point to make is that MLB teams now almost always decide at the moment an amateur player is drafted whether he will be developed as a pitcher or a hitter.  As a result, if a player is designated as a pitcher, he won’t get many opportunities to hit in the minors even if he was an outstanding college hitter, like for example, Mica Owings.  Coming up in today’s game, Babe Ruth much more likely than not would remain a pitcher throughout his major league career.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This 2017 update ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats, in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average at or above .160 or a career OPS at or over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball their entire lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

1.  Madison Bumgarner (.183 career batting average and .542 career OPS).  For the third year in a row, fangraphs rates big-swinging MadBum as the most productive pitcher as a hitter in MLB.

On paper, Jake Arrieta‘s 2016 slash line of .262/.304/.415 is much more impressive than Bumgarner’s .186/.268/.360.  I expect that park factors play a big role in fangraphs’ ratings.

In the last three seasons, MadBum has slugged 12 HRs in 229 at-bats and driven in 33 RBIs.  There isn’t a team in the National League who couldn’t use that batting performance from a starter.  He’s also the only major league hitter since the start of the 2015 season to homer twice off MLB’s best starter Clayton Kershaw.  ‘Nuff said.

2.  Zack Greinke  (.219 BA, .580 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

Greinke’s 2016 was his weakest offensive performance in four seasons.  Still, he hit .212 with a .476 OPS, which is great for a contemporary pitcher.

3.   Mike Leake (.203, .522).  Mike Leake has disappointed me as a hitting pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three major league seasons (2010-2012), but since then he’s just been a better than average major league average hitting pitcher.

I bet this has something to do with making adjustments.  By the 2013, major league pitchers realized that Leake could really hit and they’d have to pitch to him like a real hitter, and they’d figured out his weaknesses.  Leake doesn’t seem to have made the necessary counter-adjustments, and now he’s just a better than average hitting pitcher.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.200, .562).  Gallardo hasn’t played in the NL in two years, but he’s 4 for 8 the last two seasons in the AL. His 33 extra base hits in 424 at-bats is what makes him a threat at the dish.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  With well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.198 BA, .613 OPS).  Syndergaard passed the 100 career at-bat threshold in 2016, and his combination of power (three HRs in 2016) and willingness to take a walk (seven in 67 plate appearances) made him a real threat at the plate this past season.

I’ve been writing versions of this post long enough now that I’ve noticed that pitchers who hit well through their first 100 major league at-bats tend to regress in subsequent years to towards the pitchers-as-hitters mean.  That’s why I’m ranking him low until he proves he can keep doing it.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567) & CC Sabathia (.217, .546).  These two deserve to be ranked together because their career numbers are very similar and they both just barely clear the 100 at-bat threshold.  They would rank higher based on the raw numbers except: (1) Hudson is now a relief pitcher, and despite 70 relief appearances, the 2016 Diamondbacks didn’t give him even one plate appearance in spite of the fact that he had his one big season at the plate in 2011 as a D’Back (no wonder the 2016 D’Backs lost 93 games); and (2) Sabathia hasn’t gotten on base since 2010 (CC’s 0-for-18 over that span).

Sabathia has only played one-half of one season in the National League in his long MLB career.   As an American League hurler, he only gets to hit about one or two games a year (roughly two to five plate appearances a year) during inter-league play, but he’s still gotten enough hits over his career to make this list.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher (although that certainly describes an older Babe Ruth and Buzz Arlett), but obviously he’s just a great all-around baseball player.  I’ve long wondered what kind of batting numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.  His career is now winding down, so we’ll never know.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.232, .526).  Chatwood was a starter again last year and made it over the 100 at-bat threshold in 2016.  He’s a fine hitting pitcher who probably benefits as a hitter from making half his starts at Coors Field.  Needless to say, Coors Field doesn’t do much for him as a pitcher.

10.  Travis Wood.  (.182 BA, .522 OPS) Wood hit poorly in 2015, was moved to the bullpen in 2016, and signed this off-season with the AL’s Kansas City Royals for the next two seasons, so he won’t have many more opportunities to improve his career batting numbers anytime soon.

11.  Tyson Ross (.201, .482).  Ross is coming back from a major injury and pitching for an AL team, the Rangers, this year, but he sure hit in 2015 for the Padres.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.244, .628).  Lorenzen can hit, but he has to establish himself as a starting pitcher if he ever hopes to reach the 100 at-bat cut-off.  He pitched exclusively in relief last year, but was used as a pitcher or allowed to hit five times in which he hit slugged a homer for his only hit.

Shohei Otani will be one of MLB’s best hitting pitchers as soon as he signs with an MLB team some years from now.  I’m hoping an NL team signs him for this reason.

The top two prospects in this year’s amateur draft, Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay, are two-way players, who will most likely be developed as pitchers.  Thus, the odds are good that one day at least one of these two will make a future year’s version of this post.

As final notes, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad as major league hitters almost immediately.  Also, since I started writing these posts about five years ago, I’ve noticed a steady deterioration in the best-hitting major league pitchers just in that short time.  If this trend continues, I would expect the National League to adopt the designated hitter by 2030.

What Will Adam Duvall Do in 2017?

March 14, 2017

As a 27 year old rookie (he may not technically have qualified as a rookie in 2016 because he had 149 plate appearances going into the season, but he was a rookie in all other respects), Adam Duvall was one of the feel-good stories of 2016.  His 103 RBIs were fifth best in the Senior Circuit, his 33 HRs were tied for 6th, and he made the All-Star team.

Given that 27 year old rookies tend not to have particularly impressive careers, the jury is definitely out on whether 2016 was a peak year fluke or Duvall can continue to make adjustments and have a more memorable MLB career.  Lew Ford is kind of the recent poster boy for the classic 27 year old rookie who had one great season and then quickly faded off into the sunset.

I recently wrote a couple of posts about the string of players the Oakland A’s developed beginning with their age 28 seasons.  However, most of the A’s diamonds-in-the-rough had high on-base percentages to go with their plus MLB power.  Duvall swings away and swings away some more, to the tune of a 4/1 K/BB ratio last year.

Guys who walk as little as Duvall does often have problems adjusting when opposing  pitchers stop throwing them strikes, pitch to their weaknesses and get better at setting them up to pitch to their weaknesses.

On the other hand, Duvall runs pretty well (six triples and six stolen bases in 11 attempts), and his left field defense was rated by fangraphs as more valuable than his offensive contributions in 2016 in spite of the fact that he made eight errors, which is a lot for a corner outfielder.  The upshot is that if Duvall can maintain the same level of offensive performance in 2017 and beyond as he had in 2016, he’ll still be a valuable major league player for some time to come.

The question is probably can Duvall continue to hit well enough in 2017, so that the Reds don’t lose confidence in him and conclude he was one-year wonder.  That can happen faster than you think if he starts off this season in a bad slump.

As a former San Francisco Giants’ prospect, I’ve been following Duvall with interest since he hit 22 HRs for Class A Augusta, a very tough place to hit, in his age 22 season.  He hit 30 home runs in the Class A+ San Jose the next year (in the hitter friendly California League), and continued to hit home runs the next three seasons in the upper minors.

In short, Duvall’s 2016 power is no fluke, and the question is whether he can hit for enough of an average, given his adversity to taking a walk , to keep put himself in a position to continue hitting the long balls.  Whether he will or won’t is definitely an open question as we approach the 2017 season.

The Best and Worst Hitters’ Parks in MLB Baseball 2016

April 8, 2016

Back in the summer of 2012 I discovered that espn.com provides stats for what it calls “park factor”, which for purposes of this post means the ratio between the number of runs scored at a ballpark in any given season divided by the number of runs scored by said ballpark’s occupant (and its opponents) in away games that same season.  I’ve written several posts on this subject, which have proven quite popular, the last about two years ago, so it feels like a good time for an update.

As we enter the 2016 season, below are the average park factors for all major league ballparks over the last six seasons, 2010 through 2015 (four seasons for Marlins Park which opened in 2012).

1.  Coors Field (Rockies) 1.427.  Coors Field remains far and away the best hitters’ in MLB by a wide margin.  Every other stadium had a season or two between 2010 and 2015 well out of line with its overall average position except Coors Field.  It was the best hitters’ park in MLB five of the six seasons, usually by a lot, and a strong second in the sixth season.

2.  Globe Life Park at Arlington (Rangers) 1.144.  Globe Life Park remains the best hitters’ park in the American League.

3.  Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.107.

4.  Chase Field (Diamondbacks) 1.093.

5.  Camden Yards (Orioles) 1.083.

6.  Miller Park (Brewers) 1.072.

7.  Yankee Stadium 1.059.

8.    U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) 1.058.  One of the more variable parks in MLB, U.S. Cellular Field was a pitchers’ park in 2015, but a strong hitters’ park in 2010 and 2012.

9. Rogers Centre (Blue Jays) 1.047.  A pitchers’ park in 2015, Rogers Center was a hitters’ park every other year of the last six.

10.  Great American Ball Park (Reds) 1.045.

11.  Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.034.  Long regarded as one of the best hitters’ parks in MLB, Wrigley was a pitchers’ park in 2014 and 2015, bringing it’s six year average down considerably.

12.  Comerica Park (Tigers) 1.026.

13.  Kauffman Stadium (Royals) 1.027.  25 or 30 years ago, Kauffman Stadium was one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball.  However, the newer parks built starting with Camden Yards in 1992, have for the most part been much better hitters’ parks than the ballparks they replaced.  The casual fans want to see offense, and the modern parks have largely catered to that desire with resulting attendance increases.

14.  Target Field (Twins) 1.013.  The Twins’ new ball park looked like it was going to be a pitchers’ park after the first couple of seasons of play there.  However, it now looks to be a slight hitters’ park.

15.  Citizens Bank Ballpark (Phillies) 1.005.

16.  Nationals Park 1.004.

17.  Marlins Park (2012-2015) 1.000.  The Marlins’ new park appears to be as close to a perfectly level playing field for pitchers and hitters as currently exists in MLB, at least based on the first four seasons of play there.

18.  Progressive Field (Indians) 0.992.  Progressive Field was the second best hitters’ park in MLB last year, after five consecutive seasons as a moderate pitchers’ park.  2015 was almost certainly a fluke.

19.  Minute Maid Park (Astros) 0.987.  Once known as Ten-run Park, when it was named after failed energy company Enron, Minute Maid Park varies wildly between a hitters’ park and pitchers’ park from season to season.

20.  Turner Field (Braves) 0.972.

21.  Busch Stadium (Cardinals) 0.957.

22.  Oakland Coliseum (A’s) 0.941.  O.co isn’t as much of a pitchers’ park as it once was, more or less switching places with Angel Stadium, another now antiquated multi-use stadium from the 1960’s.

23.  PNC Park (Pirates) 0.927.

24.  Dodger Stadium 0.906.

25.  Tropicana Field (Rays) 0.894.

26.  Angel Stadium 0.877.  The fact that Angel Stadium is now one of the worst hitters’ parks in MLB gives one additional appreciation of just how good Mike Trout is as an offensive player.

27.  Citi Field (Mets) 0.876.

28.  Petco Park (Padres) 0.857.

29.  Safeco Field (Mariners) 0.842.  The Mariners and the Padres moved their outfield fences in before the 2013 season in order to goose offensive production.  It hasn’t helped a whole lot, as both parks remained among the worst hitters’ parks in MLB from 2013-2015.

29.    AT&T Park (Giants) 0.842.  AT&T varies a lot season to season, but in 2011, 2012 and 2015 it was a strong pitchers’ park.

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2016

April 7, 2016

As everyone knows, modern pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s widespread use in the minors and in the college game, is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

Pitchers simply don’t get as many opportunities to hit today because of the steady trend of using more and more relievers throwing more and more innings, which means starting pitchers get fewer opportunities to hit, and there are more opportunities for professional hitters to be used as pinch hitters.

Also, no matter what the old-timers might say, the level of major league play has gradually and steadily improved since the professional game started in the 1870′s, which means that pitchers, who make the major leagues solely based on their ability to pitch (this has been the overwhelming norm since at least the early 1880’s, and probably a lot earlier) have undergone a slow but steady decline as hitters by virtue of the relative improvement of pitchers (as pitchers), fielders and professional hitters, in spite of the fact that most major league pitchers were great hitters in high school and many were fine college hitters.

A final point to make is that MLB teams now almost always decide at the moment an amateur player is drafted whether he will be developed as a pitcher or a hitter.  As a result, if a player is designated as a pitcher, he won’t get many opportunities to hit in the minors even if he was an outstanding college hitter, like for example, Mica Owings.  Coming up in today’s game, Babe Ruth much more likely than not would remain a pitcher throughout his major league career.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This 2016 update ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average at or above .160 or a career OPS at or over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball their entire lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

1.  Madison Bumgarner (.182 career batting average and .521 career OPS as I write this).  The big-swinging Bumgarner has forced me to change the way I do my rankings.  In previous iterations of this post, I ranked pitchers-as-hitters strictly based on best career numbers for pitchers with at least 100 career plate appearances.  However, despite some poor hitting seasons early in his major league career, MadBum has clearly and pretty much indisputably been the best hitting pitcher in each of the last two seasons, so it’s safe to say that entering the 2016 season, Bumgarner is the best hitting pitcher in MLB at this point in time.  Of course, I reserve the right to drop Bumgarner down more than a few notches next year if he isn’t one of MLB’s 10 or 15 best hitting pitchers in 2016.

Bumgarner has hit nine HRs in 159 plate appearances the last two seasons with 24 RBIs, and that probably goes a long way in explaining why his record was 36-19 over those two seasons, compared to going 13-9 in 2013, when he didn’t hit a lick, but had a lower ERA.  All things considered, Bumgarner probably pitched as well or better last year than he did in 2013, but not enough to explain the much better won-loss record in 2015.

2.  Zack Greinke  (.223 BA, .603 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have  for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

3.   Mike Leake (.212, .545).  Leake’s hitting has dropped off substantially the last two seasons, but I still rank him as third above Yovani Gallardo because of his higher OBP (.235 to .223).

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.198, .556).  His 12 career home runs make him one of the best power threats among today’s pitchers.

5.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567) & CC Sabathia (.219, .551).  These two deserve to be ranked together because their career numbers are very similar and they both just barely clear the 100 at-bat threshold.  They would rank higher based on the raw numbers except: (1) since Hudson blew out his elbow tendon in 2012, he worked his way back to the majors as a reliever and has had only one plate appearance the last three seasons; and (2) Sabathia hasn’t gotten on base since 2010.

Sabathia has only played one-half of one season in the National League in his long MLB career.  As an American League hurler who has been hurt a lot in recent seasons, he only gets to hit about one or two games a year (roughly two to five plate appearances a year) during inter-league play, but he’s still gotten enough hits to make this list.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher (although that certainly describes an older Babe Ruth and Buzz Arlett), but obviously he’s just a great all-around baseball player.  I’ve long wondered what kind of batting numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.  His career is now winding down, so we’ll never know.

7.  Adam Wainwright (.197 BA, .508 OPS).  Wainwright’s hitting has dropped off at bit in recent seasons, but I rank him above Travis Wood because of the Wainwright’s better career on-base percentage (.225 to .206)

8.  Travis Wood.  (.182 BA, .525 OPS) Wood hit poorly in 2015, and he’s been moved to the bullpen, so he won’t have many more opportunities to improve his career batting numbers, particularly on a Cubs team loaded with talented potential pinch-hitters.

9.  Tyson Ross (.201, .482).  Ross hit extremely well for a pitcher last year (.250 batting average and .640 OPS) as a full-time starter for the Padres.

10.  Jacob DeGrom (.200, .458).  Even with no power and few walks, hitting at exactly the Mendoza Line after 105 career MLB at-bats makes DeGrom MLB’s tenth best hitting pitcher entering the 2016 season.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Taylor Jungmann (.270, .614), Michael Lorenzen (.250, .576), Noah Syndergaard (.209, .530), and Jose Fernandez (.190, .498) are the sweet-swinging young hurlers to keep an eye on.

Of the four, Michael Lorenzen, if he can prove himself to be an MLB starter [remember pitcher first, pitcher first, pitcher first], is the best bet to move quickly up my list in future years.  Someone posted a comment last year tipping me off to him.  Lorenzen was a fine college hitter (.872 career college OPS in three seasons at Cal State Fullerton, one of the many excellent Cal State University system baseball programs in Southern California).  He started his college career as a position player, but became the team’s closer as a sophomore.  In his case, as opposed to the aforementioned Mica Owings, his college numbers much more strongly suggested his development as a pitcher in the professional ranks, mainly due to his lack of power as a hitter.  If he ends up back in the bullpen, so much for his being a great hitting pitcher.

What is interesting about Taylor Jungman is that he pitched three seasons as the ace of the University of Texas Longhorns (Hook ’em, Horns!) without receiving even a single plate appearance (see my comments at the top of this post).  He had only 65 plate appearances in the minor leagues before hitting strongly in 38 plate appearances for the Brewers last year.  In short, there is really no way to tell at this moment what the future holds for him as a major league hitter.

As a final note, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad as major league hitters almost immediately.  Since I started writing these posts about five years ago, I’ve noticed a steady deterioration in the best-hitting major league pitchers just in that short time.  If this trend continues, I would expect the National League to adopt the designated hitter in as little as ten or fifteen years from now.

The Ty Cobb Baseball Card Find

March 13, 2016

Here’s a nice article from the NY Times regarding the recent find of seven T-206 Ty Cobb baseball card in exceptionally good condition.  I collected baseball cards avidly from 1978 until 1983, and then less regularly until about 1990.

As a kid, I wasn’t particularly concerned about condition, I just wanted the cards.  It was a fun hobby, in part because it was so seemingly impossible as a kid to get all of them.  Every new card to the collection seemed like something of an accomplishment once I had most of each Topps set starting with 1976.  Even now that I’m much older, it has to take some serious effort and money to have a relatively complete collection of baseball cards from circa 1869 until now.

One of the things the Times article points out is that every so often someone still makes an earth-shattering (for the baseball card world) find.  Every so many years, you hear about one.  The 1869 Reds team card was found in Fresno, CA, of all places, only around 2009.

I have a T-206 Cy Young in lesser, but not bad, condition, and a near mint 1958 Ted Williams card and Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays All-Star Cards from the same Topps year.  I’m hoping they will provide some likely much needed funds when my now 2 1/2 year old daughter is ready to go to college.

Opt Out Clauses Are Here to Stay

January 13, 2016

You probably knew that already.  However today’s signing of Wei-Yin Chen by the Marlins for five years and $80 million, with Chen having the ability to opt out after two seasons at a total of $28M into the deal, represents something new.  As far as I am aware, this is the first time that someone who cannot be considered an elite free agent has received an opt-out clause.

No doubt that Chen is a valuable major league starter.  However, mlbtraderumors.com ranked him as only the seventh best free agent starter (although his contract is roughly equal to Mike Leake‘s — Leake gets a no-trade clause while Chen gets the opt-out for the same years and guarantee — so it’s fair to call Chen a tie for sixth) means that a broader class of free agents will be getting opt-out clauses in the future.

The deal makes complete sense for the Marlins.  A no-trade clause is worth more to them than an opt-out, because if things go bad for the team, they will dump contracts like Chen’s, while if Chen performs well enough to exercise the opt-out, it’s highly unlikely the Fish will re-sign him going into his age 32 season unless they are threatening to or have already won their division, and the Fish will already have received two years at what is now a bargain price of $28 million for a potential No. 2 starter.

All things being equal, meaning not taking into account everything I have not taken into account, I think I’d rather have Chen, at least for the next two seasons, than Leake.  Chen’s career ratios are definitely better.

 

The Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2015

April 11, 2015

As everyone knows, modern pitchers as a group can’t hit a lick.  The rise of the designated hitter, not only in the American League, but also it’s wide-spread use in the minors and in the college game, is perhaps the biggest factor for the demise of pitchers who can hit, but it’s hardly the only one.

Pitchers simply don’t get as many opportunities to hit today because of the steady trend of using more and more relievers throwing more and more innings, which means starting pitchers get fewer opportunities to hit, and there are more opportunities for professional hitters to be used as pinch hitters.

Also, no matter what the old-timers might say, the level of major league play has gradually and steadily improved since the professional game started in the 1870′s, which means that pitchers, who make the major leagues solely based on their ability to pitch (this has been the overwhelming norm since at least the early 1880’s, and probably a lot earlier) have undergone a slow but steady decline as hitters by virtue of the relative improvement of pitchers (as pitchers), fielders and professional hitters, even though most major league pitchers were great hitters in high school and many were fine college hitters.

Nevertheless, there are always a few pitchers in any era who can hit.  This 2015 update ranks current pitchers with at least 100 career major league at-bats in order to weed out the pitchers who just haven’t had enough at-bats for their career hitting stats to mean anything one way or another.

By today’s standards, a good-hitting pitcher is any pitcher with a career batting average above .160 or a career OPS over .400.  That’s really pretty terrible as hitters go, and it shows just how hard it is even for professional athletes who have played baseball their entire lives to hit major league pitching if the players have not been selected for the major leagues based their ability to hit.

All that said, here is my non-scientific list of the best hitting pitchers currently playing as we start of the 2015 season:

1.  Zack Greinke.  (.217 career batting average, .599 career OPS)  I now rank  Zack Grienke as the best hitting pitcher in baseball, based mostly on his career .599 OPS, which is the best among pitchers with at least 100 at-bats.

One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have  for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and having spent his minor league time or his entire career for a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season.

2.   Mike Leake. (.233 BA, .585 OPS)  Leake switches places with Greinke as MLB’s best hitting pitcher this year, but he’s got the career numbers to put him in the conversation.  Leake’s best hitting years were years one and three of his major league career.  He’s cooled off the last two seasons, but is still a well better than average hitting pitcher.

3.  Daniel Hudson (.229 BA, .573 OPS) & CC Sabathia (.225, .565).  These two deserve to be ranked together because their career numbers are very similar and they both clear the 100 at-bat threshold.  Because of arm injuries, which have turned him into a relief pitcher when he’s healthy enough to pitch, Hudson hasn’t had a plate appearance since 2012.  He’s still active, though, so he remains on the list.

Sabathia is one of the most interesting players on this list.  Unlike all the other pitchers on this list, he’s only played one-half of one season in the National League.  As an American League hurler, he only gets to hit about two games a year (roughly four or five at-bats) during inter-league play, but he’s gotten his hits when he’s had the opportunity.  Although he hasn’t had a hit in the last four seasons (in all of 14 plate appearances), he’s still hitting .225 with a .565 OPS in 111 career at-bats.

Sabathia is tall and heavy set, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good-hitting pitcher, but obviously he’s just a great all-around baseball player.  I’ve long wondered what kind of batting numbers he would put up playing three or four full seasons in a row in the NL.

5.  Travis Wood.  (.191 BA, .555 OPS)  According to fangraphs.com, Travis Wood was the second best hitting pitcher in MLB has year, just ahead of Zack Greinke and Mike Leake.  Wood has hit six home runs over the last two seasons, which is terrific.

6.  Yovani Gallardo.  (.195 BA, .550 OPS) While Gallardo’s career batting average dropped below the Mendoza Line during a very poor hitting 2014 season, his 12 career home runs and 32 career extra base hits in 416 at-bats still makes him one of the best power threats among active major league pitchers.

7Dan Haren.   Haren has a .209 lifetime batting average and .530 career OPS in 368 major league at-bats despite spending much of his career in the Junior Circuit.  Greinke, Haren and CC Sabathia are the best arguments against the designated hitter.

8.  Adam Wainwright. (.201 BA, .517 OPS)  Wainwright’s hitting has dropped off at bit in recent seasons, but he still has a career batting average above .200 and an OPS above .500 in roughly 500 major league at-bats.

Honorable Mentions.   Madison Bumgarner was the best hitting pitcher in MLB for the 2014 season, batting .258 with .755 OPS, four HRs, 10 runs scored and 15 RBIS.  However, Bumgarner was merely a better than average hitting pitcher his first three major league seasons and was dreadful as a hitter in 2013.  His career numbers (.164 BA, .458) aren’t good enough to get him onto the list.  Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Bumgarner really is one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball or if 2014 was merely one great fluke season.

It’s worth noting that Cole Hamels (.174 BA, .412 OPS) and Clayton Kershaw (.156, .376), like Bumgarner, have improved dramatically as hitters the last few seasons after inauspicious starts to their major league batting careers.

Manny Parra (.188 BA, .507 OPS); Jason Marquis (.197, .494) and Andrew Cashner (.200, .493) all deserve mention.  As you can see, however, the best hitting pitchers get bad in absolute terms pretty quickly.

Young Hitting Pitchers to WatchTyler Chatwood (.275 BA, .610 OPS in 69 ABs) and Jose Fernandez (.197 BA, .482 OPS in 66 ABs) are trying to get healthy enough to resume their pitching and batting careers.  Jacob DeGrom, who hit .217 with a .495 OPS in 46 at-bats last year, is the most promising 2014 rookie I found.

The 2016 Update to this post is here.