Recently, some of the best arms in the game have set their sites on the batter’s box. In an effort spearheaded by San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, a number of pitchers have voiced their interest in participating in the homerun derby. In addition to MadBum, Cubs ace Jake Arrieta and Cardinals hurler Adam Wainwright have made public their willingness to partipate.
All this attention being placed on the batting exploits of pitchers got us thinking about some of the best hitters the position has seen in the recent-ish past.
- Carlos Zambrano: In the early 2000s, the fiery Venezuelan managed to strike fear in the opposition both on the mound and at the plate. When he wasn’t frustrating batters with his devastating sinker or brushing hitters back (20 HBP in 2004!), Zambrano was busy swinging for the fences. Over the course of 744 plate appearances, Big Z went yard 24 times, topping out at six in 2006. His best season at the plate came in 2008 when he hit an eye-popping .337 with four homeruns en route to a 127 wRC+ (an offensive performance 27% better than league average). Though he didn’t have much patience, recording just 10 walks (1.3 BB%), Zambrano will always be remembered for his ability to make the ball leave the park.
- Mike Hampton: Baseball’s second $100 million arm (Kevin Brown signed his record breaking deal two years prior), Mike Hampton never quite lived up to such a lofty billing. As a hitter, though, he excelled. In 1999, he rode a .311 average to his first of five consecutive Silver Slugger awards. His offensive output really took off in 2001 after signing with Colorado. That season he would hit seven homeruns (the first seven of his 16 career bombs). Though much of the rest of his career was marred by injury, Hampton would go on to his over .300 three more times before hanging it up in 2010.
- Pitchers turned Position Players: Though it would be unfair to lump these guys in with the players who remained pitchers, a number of pitchers shown enough promise at the plate to attempt the transition to position player. Among the recent players to make that switch, Rick Ankiel is probably the most successful. After an impressive debut in 1999 at age 20, Ankiel seemingly lost the ability to throw strikes. When his control issues became too great, he made a comeback attempt as an outfielder, breaking back into the majors in 2007. He would go on to play seven seasons as a big league outfielder. In addition to Ankiel, both Micah Owings and Brooks Kieschnick made the jump from the mound to everyday player.
While it remains to be seen if a homerun derby for pitchers will ever actually happen, it seems that hurlers are tired of the notion that they are an automatic out. Watching Josh Hamilton hit the ball out of Yankee was entertaining, sure. But I’ll Bartolo Colon swinging out of his shoes any day of the week.