The baseball world has collectively gathered this season to lose its mind of the offensive output of one Madison Bumgarner. The ace of the San Francisco Giants has been impressive on the mound and with the stick in his hands this season. He’s hit five home runs, the most for a pitcher in a single season since Carlos Zambrano hit six in 2006. These haven’t been wall-scrapers hit on awkward swings either. When Bumgarner catches one, you know it.
In case you’ve forgotten, number-22 for the Los Angeles Dodgers is Clayton Kershaw. As in best pitcher on the planet Clayton Kershaw. Yeah, that guy.
For all his home run power this season, Bumgarner is still just a .181 career hitter with 139 strikeouts in 360 at-bats and 11 home runs in 188 games. He’s a good hitter for a pitcher, but in the grand scheme of things, Ryan Lavarnway is more competent with a bat in his hands than Bumgarner has been his entire career.
Zack Grienke, the likely Cy Young winner in the National League has also done some fun things with the bat this year. He’s hit two home runs and batted .234 while again making the request to play in the field on his off days. Greinke is a .222 career hitter, and will play shortstop for a Major League Baseball team when I win the Powerball and buy a Major League Baseball team.
Home runs hit by pitchers are celebrated with gusto, and will become more celebrated as they become an even rarer occurrence. There have been only 23 hit in the National League all season, and Bumgarner and Greinke have seven of them. One team, the Arizona Diamondbacks has not even had a pitcher record an extra base hit. No NL team has its pitchers batting over .200 as a collective unit, and across the board, pitchers have struck out at a 43-percent clip. Jon Lester recorded a base hit and ended a running joke in the process (he’s also picked off a runner this season, so there goes another running joke).
Home runs by pitchers will become even more rare as specialization reaches into the lower levels of the game. Increased specialization will be a double-whammy for pitcher offense. As pitchers work harder to perfect their primary craft, fastballs will become faster with more movement, curveballs will break more sharply, and sliders will have even more bite. Good luck trying to make contact with those pitches if the last time you really worked on hitting came at the age of 12. Minor leaguers rarely hit, and as interleague play takes over the full season, American League pitchers who do even less hitting will be forced to do more of it. There are a lot of Lester-esque plate appearances coming in the next few years.
The designated hitter is coming to the National League. I don’t know when, but it is. The league needs offense. It does not need automatic outs in the nine-hole for every National League team. If that angers the staunch supporters of the double switch and the sacrifice bunt, so be it. It has become painfully evident that the league can no longer continue playing by two sets of rules. The player’s union will never allow the DH to be terminated. That leaves only one real option — no more Madison Bumgarner home runs.
That’s a price the league should be willing to pay. For every Bumgarner home run, there are five pathetic trips to the plate. Most pitchers coast through their counterparts’ at-bats. When a pitcher comes to the plate, it is the very definition of a low-leverage situation, a chance to collect oneself and give the arm a few stress-free pitches. There is very little strategy in mowing through a player who would rather be anywhere but in the batter’s box. You could argue that the only reason Bumgarner is able to homer off Kershaw is the inherent let-up that comes with seeing a pitcher stride to the plate.
The DH will eventually come to the National League. I don’t know when. Enjoy the pitcher home runs while you can. I will always remember seeing Robert Person hit two home runs in a game for the Philadelphia Phillies. Shawn Estes hitting a home run off Roger Clemens remains the number one example of perfectly extracted revenge in baseball history. There have been some great moments at the plate delivered by pitchers. Baseball will always have these memories, but the time has come for baseball to move into a new era with one set of rules for both leagues. I will miss the #pitcherswhorake movement, but it’s time to move on.
I promise, you won’t hate it as much as you think.