Wednesday, June 08, 2005

« Pitchers at the plate ... who never bat »

By Suss
If you are desensitized by interleague games, you have to at least be mildly amused by American League pitchers when they go to a National League ballpark. That means they have to hit.

Watching the tail end of the Tigers' pre-game show, I caught the Tigers' pitching coach Bob Cluck toss B. P. to the pitching staff.

These guys never hit, and they're gonna have to. The NL pitchers know how to lay down a bunt and last year 23 pitchers had at least 5 RBI, Livan Hernandez leading the league with 10 in 81 at-bats. This year Jason Marquis already has driven in 6, including a homer and a .379 average (11-for-29).

So how are those American League pitchers doing at the plate so far? Not many have bat, but interleague play will continue for a little bit, so the lightly-touted crown of Best Hitting AL Pitcher has yet to be crowded. As you'll read, good hitting doesn't necessarily mean getting a base hit, although it helps.

With the exceptions of great-hitting pitchers such as Marquis, Hernandez and Mike Hampton, all a pitcher is expected to do is advance a runner on a sacrifice. Getting a hit is a pleasant surprise, but the bottom line is to advance any runners, or at least see a lot of pitches and hopefully put the ball in play, rather than strike out.

C.C. SabathiaWith statistics accurate by the end of June 7's games, AL pitchers are going a super 3-for-55 (.055) at the plate. That's a worse percentage than Gibsonburg baseball. The three hits go to three different pitchers: The Yankees' Kevin Brown, the A's Danny Haren and the Indians' C.C. Sabathia (right). Brown is the only one of the three who played in the National League before. And C.C.'s hit was more than just a hit -- it was a two-run homerun, making him the only AL pitcher with an RBI or a run thus far.

What's even odder is that both Brown's and Haren's hits were both doubles. So the entire fleet of AL pitchers have yet to record a single.

What about reaching base? The White Sox's Jose Contreras and the Angels' Jarrod Washburn have both drawn walks. Good eye.

But the cornerstone of a good batting pitcher is bunting. Let's look at the numbers:
Freddy Garcia, White Sox: 2 bunts in 7 plate appearances
Casey Fossum, Devil Rays: 1 bunt in 2 plate appearances
Gustavo Chacin Toronto: 1 bunt in 3 plate appearances
Or you can see how many pitches you saw. It may be a minor stat, but a one-swing-and-yer-out or a three-pitch strike out are both unproductive and really a gift for the guy on the mound. Pitchers should know that more than anything else. Of pitchers with at least two at-bats:
Brandon McCarthy, White Sox: 13 pitches in 2 AB (6.5)
Hideo Nomo, Devil Rays: 11 pitches in 2 AB (5.5)
Randy Johnson, Yankees: 26 pitches in 5 AB (5.2)
Jose Contreras, White Sox: 10 pitches in 2 AB (5.0)
But the bottom line is: don't strike out. At least put the ball in play and make the fielder throw you out. The sad strikeout-numbers:
Randy Johnson, Yankees: 2 in 5 AB
Carl Pavano, Yankees: 2 in 2 AB
Gustavo Chacin, Blue Jays: 2 in 2 AB
Brandon McCarthy, White Sox: 2 in 2 AB
And the most plate appearances without a strikeout goes to:
Freddy Garcia, White Sox: 7
John Lackey, Angels: 4
Barry Zito, A's: 3
C.C. Sabathia, Indians: 3
Cliff Lee, Indians: 3
Jerrod Washburn, Angels: 3

But a K is not the worst at-bat. The worst is a double play. (OK, it's actually a triple play, but those require sheer horrible luck and something about the waxing and waning of the moon, so let's just forget about triple plays). Only one pitcher grounded into a double play so far: the A's Joe Blanton. Let's all laugh at him for now, but I guarantee another pitcher will do it before interleague play is over.

Right now the Team Award would go to the White Sox for the performances by Garcia and Contreras (McCarthy saw lots of pitches but struck out both times), but with just one hit (it was a big one though), Sabathia is my early choice for Best Hitting AL Pitcher.