Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB

July 30, 2008 by Tom Ferda · Leave a Comment 

Published in Baseball Digest Daily July 15, 2008

Originally from Detroit, Tom is a Los Angeles based sportswriter. His material has been published in several newspapers including The New York Daily News, Detroit Free Press and Washington Times. Magazines that have published his features include Men’s Book, The Hockey News (Canada), USA Hockey Mag, 360 Hawks and 360 Thrashers. For clippings or inquiries contact him at tom@tomferda.com

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Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB

Written by TOM FERDA

ARIZONA – It’s the bottom of the 6th inning with two outs and a man¬† on base for the Arizona Diamondbacks who trail the visiting Houston Astros 7-5. Diamondback’s Manager Bob Melvin decides to call on a right-handed pinch hitter. Houston manager Cecil Cooper makes a trip to the mound and counters Melvin’s move by making a pitching change, bringing in reliever Dave Borkowski to come in to get the important final out of the inning.

The raucous crowd of Diamondback fans at Chase Field rise to their feet as the pinch hitter digs in, staring through Borkowski awaiting the delivery. Borkowski, confident, rears back and fires the ball, challenging the hitter.

The ball is greeted with a solid crack of the bat and the crowd erupts as the ball sails into the right field seats for a two-run pinch hit homer to tie the game.

In a matter of seconds, one pitch, one crack of the bat. . . and two runs on the board for the Diamondbacks.

Unusual? This time it was.

The pinch hitter was Micah Owings, a member of the Diamondback’s starting rotation. A pitcher who many believe may be the purest hitting pitcher ever to play the game.

Last year while playing in front of friends and family at Turner Field in his home state, Owings had a record-breaking night at the plate going 4 for 5 with 2 home runs, 6 RBI’s and 4 runs scored while earning the win against the Atlanta Braves. His 11 total bases for a pitcher is a feat that had not been accomplished in nearly 50 years. Those are numbers A Rod would call home about.

Owings went on to hit .333 last season with 20 hits, including 4 home runs, 15 RBI’s and a .683 slugging percentage in 60 at bats. It’s no wonder Bob Melvin felt confident to give Owings the call at a crucial time in that tight game against the Astros earlier this season.

In addition to Owings, baseball fans expect a solid at bat whenever Chicago Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano steps to the plate. At the time this article was written, Zambrano was hitting an astounding .362 this season with 17 hits including a home run, two doubles and a triple. Zambrano exhibited a solid swing throughout the 2006 season when he belted 6 home runs escalating his major league career total to 13.

Zambrano and Owings have both compiled impressive stats and have proven they are not automatic outs like most other pitchers. When these great hitting pitchers step up to the plate, it seems to turn up the volume of the hometown fans and create uncommon pressure for the guy on the mound, adding a unique element to the game.

Before being traded to the American League where the DH is used, Dontrelle Willis ran up some great numbers at the plate for the Florida Marlins while being placed as high up as 7th in the batting order. Like Owings, he once hit two home runs in the same game. He did it in 2006, the same year he connected for a grand slam in another contest. During the 2007 season, his final year on the Marlins, he hit .286 with an on-base percentage of .348.

Rick Wise is another member of this elite group. In 1971, the Phillies starter pitched a 4-0 no-hitter against the Reds while hitting two over the fence at Riverfront Stadium. Again in the same year, he added a second two home run game to his record.

Throughout baseball’s long history, other pitchers have evolved into serious threats at the plate. The Los Angeles Dodgers have had a few, like Orel Hershiser who batted .356 in 1993 and Don Drysdale who hit .300 and connected on 7 long balls in 1965.

In recent history, Jason Marquis now pitching for the Cubs accrued some real impressive numbers when he batted .292 in 2004 followed by .310 in 2005; both seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals while winning 28 games as a starter during that same span.

When these great hitting pitchers are in a game, opposing pitchers have the task of studying an additional hitter in the line-up. Today, pitchers have learned not to throw three quick fastballs over the plate to Owings or Zambrano or they may end up on the bad end of an ESPN highlight reel.

When these starters get the call, NL managers Melvin and Lou Piniella have the luxury of having the additional bat in the lineup; like having a DH. In fact, during spring training Melvin used Owings in the DH slot during some inter-league games.

These athletes are MLB’s rare breed of hitters. A strong hitting pitcher adds an exciting element to the game and pumps up the volume when they step to the plate in front of their hometown fans.

Makes some baseball fans wonder, how great is the DH rule?

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