The San Francisco Giants are in the middle of the playoff picture in the National League. Currently, they sit two games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West, and three games back of the Chicago Cubs for the second wild card spot. With this in mind, you would probably consider manager Bruce Bochy's recent decision in the seventh inning of a tight game against the juggernaut St. Louis Cardinals rather odd.
With his team leading 1-0, two outs and nobody on base, Bochy decided to pinch hit for starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong. That decision in and of itself is not odd, in fact it should be applauded, but Bochy selecting Madison Bumgarner, another starting pitcher, as his pinch hitter is what was odd. Righty Lance Lynn was on the mound for the Cardinals, and Bochy had the following options on his bench:
|Player||Bats||Career PA v. RHP||Career wOBA v. RHP|
Pence, dealing with a left oblique injury, was unavailable so Bochy really only had the other three guys as options. Given the low plate appearance numbers, the wOBA values in the table need to be heavily regressed toward league average, but the picture is clear: Bochy did not have a great option to plug into the situation. So he went with Bumgarner (R, 262, .221), who ended up rewarding the decision by knocking a single to left, and later scoring the Giants only other run in their win.
While Bumgarner's batting numbers for his career are not all that impressive, in each of the last two seasons he has been doing damage in his trips to the plate. In his 78 PA in 2014, Bumgarner had a .329 wOBA (116 wRC+), knocked the ball out of the yard four times, producing 1.3 wins above replacement (by FanGraphs) as a batter. This season he is doing much the same. In 57 PA he has a .337 wOBA (122 wRC+), four home runs, all good for 1.0 fWAR. These are really small samples and basically anything can happen in ~60 plate appearances, but value is value and Bumgarner has given the Giants more than would ever be expected from a pitcher at the plate.
Including Bumgarner's batting value changes his standing amongst his National League starting pitching brethren who have thrown at least 120 innings pitched and accumulated 10 PA. It arguably provides a more complete representation of his contributions to the Giants. Beginning on the pitching side of things, Bumgarner has again been excellent this season (2.98 RA9, 2.86 FIP, 174/27 K/uBB).
To this point in the season he has produced 3.8 fWAR, which ranks sixth best in the league. I am only considering NL pitchers here because American League pitchers don't have the same opportunity to add (or subtract) value with the bat. Add Bumgarner's batting value to his pitching value and he jumps to a virtual tie with Max Scherzer as the third best pitcher in the league with 4.8 fWAR—Scherzer has only produced 0.2 fWAR with his bat. Here are the adjusted top five:
|Name||Team||Pitching fWAR||Batting fWAR||Total fWAR|
Running the same exercise for 2014 and we see similar results. As a pitcher Bumgarner was great (3.35 RA9, 3.05 FIP, 219/43 K/uBB), producing 3.9 fWAR, a total that ranked eighth best in the league. With batting value considered, Bumgarner's production jumps to 5.2 fWAR and into a tie with Zack Greinke for the fourth best total in the league. Again, here are the top five:
|Name||Team||Pitching fWAR||Batting fWAR||Total fWAR|
Thus, there is evidence here that the total of Bumgarner's value puts him in the highest tier of NL pitchers over the last two seasons. Obviously in the end teams will opt for the pitcher that is the better pitcher, as the hitting numbers come in small samples that are difficult to predict. But these pitchers do bat 2-3 times per start and as such we can consider their contribution.
Speaking of Zack Greinke; he is an interesting player for many reasons, for instance his interest in the business and analytical sides of baseball, and his relative openness to discussing the difficulties associated with his social anxiety. Another reason, and one that fits with the thread of this post, is his ability in the batter's box. In 325 PA Greinke has a .220/.264/.339 slashline, which is pretty good for a pitcher.
Since 1961, only eight pitchers have accumulated 250 PA and hold a batting average of at least .200, an on-base percentage of at least .250, and a slugging percentage of at least .330; Greinke is one of the eight. Bumgarner's batting proficiency has only emerged recently, so his career line of .180/.220/.294 in 400 PA is not good enough to join Greinke on the list. Over Greinke's last three seasons with the Dodgers he has produced 1.3, 0.8, and 0.6 fWAR with his bat. Those marks make him the only pitcher other than Bumgarner to contribute more than two wins cumulatively at the plate over the last three seasons.
One aspect of Bumgarner's season that is interesting is that he has a chance to get to the single season record for home runs by a pitcher since integration (with pitcher defined as someone who played at least 90 percent of his games as a pitcher). To date, Bumgarner has four home runs in 57 PA, so he is hitting a homer every 14 PA or so. The record of seven home runs is currently held by five players: Mike Hampton (in 2001), Earl Wilson (in 1966 and 68), Don Drysdale (in 1958 and 65), Don Newcombe (in 1955) and Bob Lemon (in 1949). Now Bumgarner is likely to only get another ~30 PA this season, so he will need to start hitting bombs at a higher rate, but he has a shot at the record. Well, at least the best shot of any pitcher this season.
Bumgarner's latest home run came on Sunday at home against the Washington Nationals; the tenth of this career. Coincidentally, Sunday was also when Greinke last went yard; his second on the year and sixth of his career. Statcast had Bumgarner's leave the bat with an exit velocity of 103.6 mph and travel 384 ft.. Greinke's left the bat at a slightly slower velocity (102.4 mph) but traveled considerably farther (407 ft). You can see Statcast coverage of these two home runs in the video below from MLB Central.
You'll also note that Mark DeRosa describes Bumgarner as a pterodactyl and suggests he likely wrestled a bear after the game. Good fun! Regardless of the animal humor, DeRosa is right that Greinke has a much better batflip game than does Bumgarner.
This is a flip of beauty:
Whereas this is more of a reserved, 'act like you've been there' job:
Bumgarner's post-homer bat placement makes sense given his well-documented dislike for players who enjoy a good batflip (see Puig, Yasiel). Thinking about all of this now, I wouldn't mind seeing Greinke take Bumgarner deep and then flip his bat in celebration. A pitcher 'showing up' a pitcher who has no tolerance for such things could lead to some fireworks. The takes would be hot.
All kidding aside, Madison Bumgarner clearly brings a lot of value to the Giants when he is on the mound, but, as shown here, he has also contributed plenty of value with his bat in each of the last two seasons. Consideration for Bumgarner's hitting alongside his already established pitching prowess pushes him into premier pitching ranks. His ability with the bat affords his manager another pinch hitting option on the bench, something of which most other managers do not have the luxury. Given that the pinch hitting decision worked on Tuesday night I suspect Bruce Bochy will make it again, unless he becomes more worried about his best pitcher incurring injury.
Including pitchers' batting value into their overall value often adds (or subtracts) very little (typically 0 - 0.5 wins), but there are cases, like Bumgarner and Greinke, where it is notable. It is fun to watch pitchers succeed at the plate, but ultimately those situations are rare. Instituting the designated hitter in the NL would certainly lead to more offensive production overall and is something I think will be better for the game.
. . .