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Inspecting the value pitchers provide at the plate

Madison Bumgarner is a great hitter when compared to other pitchers. But how much does their hitting impact their overall value?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets
Noah Syndergaard’s bat makes his case for the 2016 Cy Young a lot more interesting.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Because you are reading this website, I’d guess you enjoy watching baseball. So, chances are, you know that Madison Bumgarner hit two home runs on Sunday, making him the first pitcher to homer twice on Opening Day. That shouldn’t be news to you, but if it is, I’m glad to have caught you up.

No player — pitcher, batter or otherwise — has a better “position player” fWAR than Bumgarner, whose 1.000/1.000/4.000 slash line and 976 wRC+ have resulted in him already being worth 0.3 wins above replacement on the offensive side of the ball. Add in his pitching fWAR (also 0.3) and Bumgarner has already been worth over half a win. That’s ridiculously impressive.

Now, this got me thinking: How much can pitchers help their overall fWAR due to their bats? Minimum 10 plate appearances, here are the top 10 pitchers in offensive fWAR from 2016:

Best-hitting pitchers, 2016

Pitcher PA wRC+ Offensive fWAR Pitching fWAR Combined fWAR
Pitcher PA wRC+ Offensive fWAR Pitching fWAR Combined fWAR
Madison Bumgarner 97 71 1.0 4.9 5.9
Jake Arrieta 70 91 0.9 3.8 4.7
Adam Wainwright 69 89 0.9 2.9 3.8
Noah Syndergaard 67 83 0.8 6.5 7.3
Patrick Corbin 53 88 0.6 0.5 1.1
Jason Hammel 69 44 0.5 1.4 1.9
Francisco Liriano 42 78 0.5 0.4 0.9
Jose Fernandez 61 46 0.5 6.1 6.6
Bud Norris 38 78 0.4 0.7 1.1
Joe Ross 44 58 0.4 2.1 2.5
Carlos Martinez 65 31 0.4 3.3 3.7
FanGraphs’ “Offensive WAR” includes a player’s defensive contributions, though pitchers generally do not have the opportunity to be particularly valuable in the field.

Some of these pitchers are actually pretty valuable hitters. Take Patrick Corbin, for instance. Corbin’s .306/.320/.408 slash line actually made him worth more WAR at the plate than on the mound, where he posted a 5.15 ERA, 4.84 FIP and 4.23 xFIP over 155 23 innings. Overall, he wasn’t a particularly valuable player, though this isn’t discounting his prowess as the plate by any means.

Of course, Noah Syndergaard is the name that pops out the most to me here. Syndergaard finished with a .190/.227/.397 slash line. But he hit hit three homers and posted a .290 wOBA, a good 118 points above the league-average pitcher. Syndergaard’s hitting becomes even more relevant when discussing his 2016 Cy Young case, when he finished eighth in the NL, receiving 7 percent of the vote share.

Syndergaard finished tops in the league in fWAR from a pitcher last year, with a 6.5 mark. Max Scherzer, who won the award, posted a 5.6 fWAR and just 0.2 offensive fWAR. The fWAR race was definitely close enough to justify giving the hardware to “Mad Max,” but what about when you add their offensive contributions in?

In fact, the spread between the two becomes much more pronounced. Below is a list of the top pitchers in the Major Leagues by fWAR, combined with their offensive fWAR:

Best pitchers with offense

Pitcher PA wRC+ Offensive fWAR Pitching fWAR Combined fWAR
Pitcher PA wRC+ Offensive fWAR Pitching fWAR Combined fWAR
Noah Syndergaard 67 83 0.8 6.5 7.3
Jose Fernandez 61 46 0.5 6.1 6.6
Max Scherzer 85 5 0.2 5.6 5.8
Johnny Cueto 84 -35 -0.2 5.5 5.3
Rick Porcello 5 -5 0.0 5.2 5.2
Justin Verlander 5 -1 0.0 5.2 5.2
Chris Sale 6 -21 0.0 5.2 5.2
Corey Kluber 6 91 0.1 5.1 5.2
Madison Bumgarner 97 71 1.0 4.9 5.9
Jose Quintana 2 -100 0.0 4.8 4.8
FanGraphs’ “Offensive WAR” includes a player’s defensive contributions, though pitchers generally do not have the opportunity to be particularly valuable in the field.

Of course, there are American League pitchers here, and their offensive production is even more irrelevant than their National League counterparts. So, I’ll do the dirty work for you. Let’s take out the AL pitchers and rank the Top 10 NL pitchers by fWAR, checking out their offensive production to get a better look.

Best pitchers with offense, NL-only

Pitcher PA wRC+ Offensive fWAR Pitching fWAR Combined fWAR
Pitcher PA wRC+ Offensive fWAR Pitching fWAR Combined fWAR
Noah Syndergaard 67 83 0.8 6.5 7.3
Jose Fernandez 61 46 0.5 6.1 6.6
Max Scherzer 85 5 0.2 5.6 5.8
Johnny Cueto 84 -35 -0.2 5.5 5.3
Madison Bumgarner 97 71 1.0 4.9 5.9
Kyle Hendricks 68 -23 -0.1 4.5 4.4
Jon Lester 75 -9 0.0 4.3 4.3
Jake Arrieta 70 91 0.9 3.8 4.7
Jon Gray 55 -21 -0.1 3.7 3.6
Carlos Martinez 65 31 0.4 3.3 3.7
FanGraphs’ “Offensive WAR” includes a player’s defensive contributions, though pitchers generally do not have the opportunity to be particularly valuable in the field.

This is much more interesting. Even the worst hitter on this list, Johnny Cueto, did not see that much of a loss in fWAR as compared to his best counterparts. This is likely the case because Cueto, while still 135 percent worse than league average at creating runs, still accumulated enough plate appearances to keep his value at about replacement level.

Now, those pitchers that hit relatively well are the real beneficiaries here. Scherzer, who posted a putrid 5 wRC+, was still worth 0.2 offensive fWAR because of his positional adjustment. The league-average pitcher last year posted a -15 wRC+. As long as a pitcher manages to post a wRC+ above 0 — a literal zero with the bat — they can be worth a positive fWAR offensively.

Observations aside, let’s go back to the Scherzer-Syndergaard comparison. Syndergaard, per FanGraphs’ WAR, was the best pitcher in baseball, but his “traditional numbers” (just 14 wins) didn’t quite add up, and that’s likely why he didn’t take home the Cy Young award. But if you add Syndergaard’s offense into his fWAR and Scherzer’s into his, he becomes 1.5 wins better than Scherzer, making the conversation much more interesting.

Doing this, though, adds in another variable — Jose Fernandez. Worth a respectable 6.1 fWAR last year on the pitching side of the game, Fernandez moved up to 6.6 fWAR with his offensive stats added in, also surpassing Scherzer by a pretty hefty margin.

I’m not saying that we have to start evaluating pitcher’s hitting when discussing how good they are, let alone when discussing awards that can make-or-break a player’s Hall of Fame case. However, I think it’s another way to look at the value pitchers can provide, especially National Leaguers. It’s clear that a good-hitting pitcher has an obvious advantage over his regular-hitting counterpart. It can change games, because that No. 9 spot in the lineup is no longer just a free out.

And, as the Diamondbacks are now well aware of, a pitcher could just be the best hitter on his team … and even the best hitter in the league.

. . .

Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @DevanFink.