By In Stuff

Baseball Thoughts, April 8


Madison Bumgarner pitches today against the San Diego Padres which also means that Madison Bumgarner hits today against the San Diego Padres.There is a group of us — I call the group “Baseball fans” — who can’t get enough of watching pitchers who can hit the long ball.

Statcast™ lists the five hardest hit batted balls by pitchers since 2015:

1. Madison Bumgarner, 112.5 mph (Opening Day), home run

2. Madison Bumgarner: 112.1 mph (Opening Day), home run.

3. Madison Bumgarner, 111.0 mph (2015), home run

4. Madison Bumgarner, 110.7 mph (2015), lineout.

5. Noah Snydergaard, 110.3 mph (Opening Day), single.

Nobody I know thinks that Bumgarner could make the Babe Ruth move and become a dominant every day hitter. And certainly nobody thinks the Giants would ever consider such a thing. I suspect Maddy will get a chance to DH some in Interleague Play, which is fun, but that’s the extent of it.

But here’s the question: HOW GOOD would Madison Bumgarner have to be as a hitter for the Giants to make him an everyday hitter? This is still the part of the Babe Ruth story that blows my mind. Look:

Bumgarner entering this year: 100-67, 1,397 innings, 2.99 ERA, 123 ERA+.

Ruth in Boston: 89-47, 1,190 innings,  2.19 ERA, 125 ERA+.

They were essentially the same pitcher, in context. They were obviously very different, you know, because of the differences in their times. Bumgarner strikes out way more batters. Ruth gave up nine home runs in almost 1,200 innings (NINE!). Etc. But they were both big lefties who dominated and were, by the way, ridiculously good in the postseason.

Ruth was definitely a better hitter than Bumgarner, even in context, but that’s the point. What would Bumgarner have to do to basically force the Giants to hit him every day? If Bumgarner hit .325 and continued to hit with power — the way Ruth did in 1917 — would the Giants even CONSIDER moving him off the mound? What if he led the league in slugging the way Ruth did in 1918 (though by then Ruth was already splitting time more or less 50-50)?

Just fun to think about. I suspect that Bumgarner has just run into a few balls — no one questions his power — but realistically he’s not a better hitter than any number of Class AA and AAA sluggers who can absolutely mash the ball but do not make enough contact to be every day Major League hitters. But maybe I’m wrong. And for now, every Bumgarner at-bat is pretty much must-see television.

* * *


In yesterday’s Twitter poll, 49% of you said that the Los Angeles Angels should go back to being the California Angels. Another 35% said “Are you kidding? YES!” the Angels should go back being the California Angels.

Only 13% said they should not go back — I suspect almost all of these want them to go back to being the Anaheim Angels.

Three percent said going back to the California Angels was the Worst Idea Ever, which is amazing in a world that gave us the WaxVac.

Twitter Poll of the day:

* * *

Random baseball history for April 8:

I randomly chose the Boston Red Sox and randomly chose the year 1972. On this day in 1972 … the Red Sox didn’t play. It’s easy to forget that teams started their seasons much later forty years ago and beyond.

So I rechose 1983. On this day in 1983, the Red Sox beat Texas 8-5 to take a share of first place (after three games). The two hitting stars were a 25-year-old kid named Wade Boggs, who went three for five with a couple of doubles (in the leadoff spot! Give it up to Red Sox manager Ralph Houk for putting the slow but brilliant Boggs in the leadoff spot).

The other hitting star was Dave Stapleton, who cracked four hits. There’s a great irony to Dave Stapleton’s career. He is generally remembered, if remembered at all, as the defensive replacement the Red Sox did not use in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. But Stapleton really came on the scene as a good right-handed hitter — he hit .321 in 106 games his rookie season and finished second to Super Joe Charboneau in the Rookie of the Year balloting.*

*As a Cleveland fan, it did not occur to me that ANYONE could beat out Super Joe for Rookie of the Year that year, but looking back you could argue that Stapleton had a better year (and it’s almost inarguable that Britt Burns, who went pitched 238 innings, went 15-13 with a 2.84 ERA was better).

Stapleton then had a decent offensive year for the Red Sox in the strike season of 1981 — he didn’t walk but he hit for average with some extra base power — and then he became the Red Sox everyday first baseman for reasons that remain unclear.

“Did you realize,” Bill James wrote in the 1984 Baseball Abstract, “that if you graph Dave Stapleton’s career you get a drawing of a ski slope? When the Red Sox got off to a hot start in 1982, Stapleton got a lot of credit for it; everybody said that he had moved over the whole infield. They’ve been cold for a year and four months now, and Stapleton’s still in there. Give me Willie Aikens, any day.”

Stapleton stuck around as sort of a handyman for a few years after Boston got Bill Buckner … and to the best of my knowedge he, at no point, distinguished himself as some sort of defensive wizard at first base. He was just a versatile guy. It is true that McNamara had been using him as a defensive replacement in the postseason (including in Games 1, 2 and 5 of that World Series). McNamara’s decision to not use Stapleton in that game remains bizarre and unclear and has left the impression that Stapleton was basically Wes Parker out there. I don’t think that’s right. He was 32 years old already and, after that World Series, he did not play another game in the Major Leagues.

No, not Wes Parker. There was a time, though, when Stapleton could hit a bit.



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21 Responses to Baseball Thoughts, April 8

  1. invitro says:

    “Nobody I know thinks that Bumgarner could make the Babe Ruth move and become a dominant every day hitter.” — Whoa, whoa… maybe we need to think about whether he’d be an AVERAGE every-day hitter first, and talk about dominant later?

    “Ruth was definitely a better hitter than Bumgarner, even in context” — But just barely!

    “Give me Willie Aikens, any day.” — Presumably the Red Sox didn’t want their clubhouse to become a crack house.

  2. Gwp says:

    Random thoughts for the Astros in 1984 on this day- poor dickie thon. Never the same after the beaning from mike Torrez.

  3. BobDD says:

    . . . and random thought from this day in 1986 – Sophia Loren is the hottest 50-year old alive! She had a magnificent VORP, great FIPs, and an unmatched launch angle. I consider this one of my most defining sports memories.

  4. steve adey says:

    Madison Batgarner! Joe, you sound ready to join us fans who think the designated hitter is the worst thing that ever happened. At least the worst thing, or one of the worst things, that ever happened in baseball. A pitcher who enjoys hitting is a fine thing to watch, Cliff Lee, Don Drysdale. Yeah, there aren’t many of them, especially since Cole Hamels went to Texas. But NL pitchers today have to hit, run, throw, and catch, which makes them real baseball players, not designated ______ (insert your own derogatory term – toadstools, maybe.)

  5. KHAZAD says:

    Most of us hate seeing pitchers hit. That includes NL managers. The entire basis of NL strategy is to manipulate the lineup to keep the pitcher from hitting as often as possible. Pitchers receive over two PAs less per game than the other positions in the NL, because the NL manager does everything they can to have the bottom of the roster hit instead.

    The rest of NL strategy is taking the bat out of pitcher’s hands whenever there are runners on. Pitchers had 5.4% of NL PAs last year, and 61.9% of the sacrifice bunts, which means pitchers are nearly 30 times as likely to be asked to bunt.

    There are four specific base out situations that garner over 90% of Sac Bunt attempts. Position players make bunt attempts about once every 44 times they come up in these situations (2.3%) Pitchers make actual bunt attempts over 65% of the time in these situations (This of course doesn’t even count the times they make bunt attempts and switch it up after two strikes)

    The idea of Bumgarner DHing is laughable. His lifetime OPS+ is 56, about the same as a bad backup catcher or an all glove fringe AAAA utility infielder at best. He is only good compared to pitchers because they suck.

    There is only one guy in since 1901 with more than 220 career PAs who played 70% of his games at pitcher who was league average as a hitter, and he played in the dead ball era. Last year NL pitchers hit .135/.166/.173 It is horrible to watch.

    • The Other Kevin says:

      Was/Is it fun to watch Shaq or Dwight Howard attempt a free throw? No, but they don’t allow someone else to come in just for that purpose. Pitchers are in the lineup to pitch. If they can get you some positive outcomes with the bat, good on them. I hate the #$$%^%# DH.

      • KHAZAD says:

        The entire reason for NL “strategy” is to limit the times the pitcher comes to bat. The #9 spot comes up in NL games an average of 4.42 times per game. In NL games with pitchers in the hitting lineup, pitchers get 2.18 PAs per game. The NL is 51% of the way to the DH already, by their own choice.

    • invitro says:

      Well, I don’t hate watching pitchers hit. I enjoy the contrast against the real hitters. Now, I did grow up almost exclusively an NL fan, but I appreciate the AL and their mostly poor DH’s somewhat now, and I sorely hope MLB sticks with the correct solution: one league with the DH, and one league without it.

      Bumgarner’s lifetime OPS+ is low (bb-ref says 54 right now), but it was 113 in 2014, 100 in 2015, and of course he’s well on his way to a >100 OPS+ in 2017. So it’s possible that he made real progess as a hitter, and is actually way above that 54 now.

      I don’t understand your 70% qualification. If a pitcher is even a decent hitter, he’ll be used as a pinch hitter a lot, presumably pushing his games at pitcher under 70%, which means you might be excluding a lot of pitchers for a reason that seems wrong to me. I’d be curious to see the top OPS+ for players with something like 10% games at pitcher. (I don’t know how to find it myself. 🙁 )

      • KHAZAD says:

        I didn’t use a number like 10% because I wanted guys who were actually pitchers, not position players who pitched a few times. If you play 10% of your games at pitcher you are not primarily a pitcher. That being said I looked at the most career pinch hitting appearances for players who were considered pitchers, and then looked at every one in the live ball era who had more than 30 career pinch hitting appearances. (Because my cutoff was 100 PAs, which is already an extremely small sample – Bumgarner has over 500)It did not take long, because only 38 pitchers in the last 97 years have accumulated 30 career PH appearances.

        95% of those guys still had played 70% of their games at pitcher and were in the original list. I did find one league average pitcher besides Owings though, who did not make the original cut.

        Wes Ferrel played from 1927 to 1941 with a 100 OPS+. He played 548 career games, 374 at pitcher (68.2%, just missing the original cut) 138 career pinch hitting appearances, and 36 games as an outfielder. So, OK after exhaustive research, I did find one other guy. That is two out of 1566 pitchers (lowering it to 50%)or out of every 783 guys.

  6. Knuckles says:

    I hate when 1 pitcher gets hot for one game. People use this as an example of how exciting NL baseball is and that the DH should either be abolished or as is… Also not used in even the freaking All-Star game and worst of all making pitchers hit in NL parks in the WS.

    Pitchers hitting like fans 99% of the time makes NL baseball boring and predictable. No strategy added, pointless endeavor. If the NL has decided to punt on pitchers developing any ability to hit what’s the point?

    • Patrick says:

      “If the NL has decided to punt on pitchers developing any ability to hit what’s the point?”

      This is the point that’s often overlooked. National League teams do not care if their pitchers can’t hit. Sure, they’ll happily take Bumgarner’s HRs. But I always reference Doug Davis’ 2004 season: 1-for-64, one walk, 43 strikeouts, one double play, six sac bunts. Davis was, almost literally, a guaranteed out. And not only that, he could barely *make contact* with the ball. The Brewers could not have cared less.

      As an aside, Davis’ walk came from Kip Wells, who after a solid start to his career (4.9 WAR in 2003!), went 27-59 from 2004-2012, with an 81 ERA+, and a -1.7 WAR. I like to think that the shame of walking the inept Davis is what sent his career on a downward spiral

      • KHAZAD says:

        They don’t care. Pitcher’s fielding and hitting prowess mean nothing. It has nothing to do with how much they get paid, or whether they get or keep their pitching job.

        Also, Some guys will argue that the DH has ruined pitcher hitting. I will point out that in 1972 before the DH (and certainly before their were any other leagues where the pitcher did not hit) MLB pitchers hit .146/.184/.184. I suppose that is marginally better, but it is still a big bowl of suck.

  7. Tom Geraghty says:

    On the ’72 Red Sox – in 1972 wasn’t there a strike at the beginning of the season that caused the start of the season to be delayed by a week or so?

    • invitro says:

      Yes. The strike was from April 1 to April 13 (from Wikipedia). The Red Sox’ first game in 1972 was on April 15. Their first game in 1971 was April 6, so Joe’s statement of “It’s easy to forget that teams started their seasons much later forty years ago and beyond” is incorrect. (The Red Sox’ first game in 1961 was April 11, but their first game in 1960 was April 18. So you have to go back to the 154-game schedule, 57 years ago, to get to a later season start.)

  8. Lang says:

    Change the name to the Anaheim Angels Of Los Angeles In California and change the MLB style guide so that they must be at all times referred to by the full name.

    • Hamster Huey says:

      Or translate the Spanish to English and “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” becomes “The The Angels Angels of Anaheim”. Now _that’s_ a team name.

  9. casey bell says:

    One day last summer, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a photo of a right-handed battter standing in the batter’s box as the pitcher was just about ready to release the pitch. The batter’s stance, the way he held the
    straight up, the physical energy he seemed poised to release, all reminded me of another batter I’d seen many times striking the same pose.

    It took a second and then I realized the batter whose stance I recognized was, of course, Henry Aaron in his prime. And the batter whose picture I
    was looking at? No joke, I checked the caption and saw that it was Madison Bumgarner. Really.

    Next you see him at the plate, see if you can’t see a more than casual
    resemblence between Bumgarner and Henry Aaron from the early 60’s.

  10. Otistaylor89 says:

    The big difference between Ruth and Madison Bumgarner is that Ruth had just turned 23 in 1918 when they began using him as more as a hitter whereas Madison will be turning 28 in a few months. I would think age 23 is the last chance period to make the change to 100% hitting and the horse is out of the barn at 28.
    It still blows my mind that Ruth went #2 in WAR for pitchers in 1916 at 8.7 (Behind Walter Johnson’s 9.7) to the most dominate hitter of all time (including leading in WAR for 10 years(!!). The only guy in my lifetime that I would think had that exceptional talent above everyone else in the league, including a great arm, would have been Bo Jackson and he never pitched and his overall play was probably hurt by playing football.

  11. Dano says:

    I’d take Koufax in his prime. Tons of innings, tons of strikeouts and just as good, if not better, in the post season as regular season.

  12. Marc Schneider says:

    Comparing Madison Bumgarner to Babe Ruth is silly. But the question is how good of a hitter would Bumgarner have to be to make it worthwhile for the Giants to make him an everyday hitter? It’s not just whether he could hit or not, it’s also what you would be losing as a pitcher. He has a lot of value as a great lefthanded pitcher so it seems to me he would have to be a truly dominant hitter to make it make any sense. Assuming that he couldn’t pitch and play a position, it wouldn’t make much sense if he were say, a slightly above league average hitter. Because then you have to replace him in the rotation.

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