clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Yovani Gallardo is the American League's best hope

The American League is in the midst of a three-year slump when it comes to pitcher home runs, but the man to break that slump may have just arrived from Milwaukee.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

When interleague play was first introduced in 1997, it was one of the biggest changes in the history of a game that values tradition. Fans got to see unfamiliar players and matchups, and the league began to bend over backwards to try and create crosstown or regional rivalries where none had previously existed.

One of the minute but comical things that got added to the game as a result of this change was American League pitchers hitting. National League hurlers are already inept enough with a bat in their hands — compared to professional hitters, that is — but pitchers from the Junior Circuit have been even worse.

This is not a surprise, given how little time and attention American League pitchers give to developing their hitting, a skill they need perhaps 10 times per year. There is little reason to believe that National League pitchers are naturally better batters, they simply have more practice and the resulting difference between how the two produce is tangible.

For example, the chart below compares the hitting numbers of pitchers from both leagues last season:

League BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+
AL 1.7% 39.7% .086 .109 .105 -41
NL 3.0% 36.4% .125 .156 .156 -17

Even though pitchers from the AL are normally especially atrocious at the dish, they often have one or two shining moments each year. One example that springs to mind is Felix Hernandez's grand slam off Johan Santana in 2008, at a time when getting a home run off Santana meant something.

The next year, veteran southpaw Mark Buehrle covered himself in glory with an impressive shot at Miller Park.

Unfortunately for fans of the absurd and unpredictable, there hasn't been a moment like this in a couple of years. In the first 15 years of interleague play there were 17 home runs by AL pitchers, but there hasn't been one since this bomb of the bat of Orioles closer, then-starter Zach Britton.

Fun fact #1: Britton is 5-for-8 with nine total bases and only one strikeout in his career as a hitter.

Fun fact #2: It has been 1298 days since an American League pitcher has put a ball over the wall.

There is no way to have a serious opinion on this matter, but in my view, that's just too long. Luckily, the AL's knight in shining armor may have arrived in the form of Yovani Gallardo.

Gallardo is famous for his home run swing — compared to his peers, of course — and his 12 round-trippers rank second in baseball among pitchers since he debuted in 2006. The only man above him is Carlos Zambrano, who retired in September.

It's a shame to seen one of the most prolific hitting pitchers in the game leaves the Senior Circuit, but he could have a higher calling breaking the longest slump in interleague play history.

It should of course be noted that the odds are stacked against Gallardo. Even if he leads the AL in plate appearances by a pitcher, he's looking at something in the range of 10-12. So far the right-hander has  hit home runs in 2.6% of his career trips to the plate. That math makes him about as far from a lock as you can imagine.

That being said, there hasn't been a pitcher in the American League with Gallardo's slugging chops in a long time, if ever. This is a man with three home runs over 400 feet to his name according to ESPN Home Run Tracker, one of them against Randy Johnson (San Francisco Giants Randy Johnson, but still).

His longest career bomb was this majestic shot off Ian Snell.

Will Gallardo help AL pitchers snap a three-year skid this season? Any smart bet would be against it. Does anyone really care in a meaningful way? Definitely not. But is it worth checking out the Rangers-Rockies series at Coors Field July 20-22nd if Gallardo is pitching? Probably.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and ESPN Home Run Tracker

Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.