Pitcher banging is dead, long live jug banging

David Robertson
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Many FanGraphs articles over the years have started with an author clicking around the leaderboards looking for something interesting. The really great articles, however, only come about when the writer distractedly clicks on the wrong leaderboard because he’s baking adorable mini cakes. With this promising start, let’s talk about hitting pitchers in the era of the universal designated hitter.

We’ll start with a simple question: who was the best pitcher in 2022?

Did you think it was Shhei Ohtani? Oh sweet naive reader. You make me laugh. It wasn’t Ohtani. That would have been the correct answer if the question had been, “Who was the best pitcher in 2022 (at least two plate appearances)?” But that wasn’t the question, and you fell right into my trap. (Don’t worry; nothing bad will happen if you fall into the trap. In fact, there are candies down there.)

Best Hitting Pitchers – 2022

player PA BB% K% avg OBP SLG wRC+
Shhei Ohtani 666 11% 24% .273 .356 .519 142
EvanPhillips 1 100% 0% .000 1,000 .000 360

Minimum PA: 1

Evan Phillips is the new pitcher king. He earned his 360 wRC+ the old-fashioned way: coming onto the plate with an 11-run lead and standing there with a clearly equal racquet ChrisTaylor used three batters early and earned a five pitch walkoff, a very frustrated one Caleb Smith. Do you want to be better than Ohtani? As simple as that.

Before Phillips took his place in the circle on deck, manager Dave Roberts gave him a rousing, encouraging speech. According to Kirsten Watson, Roberts said, “You don’t need batting gloves. just get out there Whatever you do, don’t hurt yourself.” Don’t be fooled by the fact that Phillips showed absolutely no desire to take the borrowed racquet off his shoulder. He was full and ready to swing. Just take a look at these vicious exercise cuts.

Phillips wasn’t the first pitcher to hit in the universal DH (non-Ohtani Division) era. If you ever need that obscure piece of baseball trivia, look no further than Reiver Sanmartinwhich struck twice on April 19. A total of five pitchers appeared that year, although only one was better than Ohtani.

hitting pitchers – 2022

Surname PA BB% K% avg OBP SLG wOBA xwOBA wRC+
Reiver Sanmartin 2 0% 50% .000 .000 .000 .000 .050 -100
EvanPhillips 1 100% 0% .000 1,000 .000 .689 .689 360
Tyler Anderson 1 0% 100% .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 -100
David Robertson 1 0% 100% .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 -100
Jose Alvarado 1 0% 100% .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 -100

Phillips’ spot was ranked because the Dodgers moved DH Edwin Rios to first base and he actually had to hit because the play was so lopsided it didn’t matter.

Anderson also came to the plate during a one-sided game for the Dodgers, but the difference is he was really there to do damage. He has two career home runs and he somehow convinced Roberts to let him for a pinch hit Freddie Freeman 8-0 against the Padres with a positional player on the mound. Anderson didn’t want to admit the fact that infielder Matthew Batten sat 52 mph, preventing him from getting his money’s worth. Watch him swing out of his shoes on this 1-1 pitch:

The Dodgers had a lot of fun with the at-bat. Orel Hershiser, himself a .201 career hitter, chided Anderson for being so far off the record. The Dodger Stadium organist, clearly prepared for a reverse pitcher-hitter situation, played “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)”.

Another such matchup took place on June 22nd. In his 14th season in the big leagues, Robertson finally got his debut on the record, and he was ecstatic. Pittsburgh infielder Diego Castillo was its opposite in almost every way; Although a freshman, this was his second pitching pitch. He wasn’t too enthusiastic either.

By the time Robertson got to batting, Castillo had gone over bases loaded and then gave up a grand slam and a single. The single was a sighted-eye grounder who somehow found his way through a displaced infield, forcing Castillo, who had already started walking toward the dugout, to turn and keep pitching. However, Robertson had enough enthusiasm for the two:

I hope no one in Pittsburgh attempted to host a candlelit dinner that night. Robertson worked a full count before embarking on three powerful hacks that powered wind turbines across western Pennsylvania. Even more impressive, he finally cheered Castillo up:

Listen to the crowd! Sensing the importance of the moment, the Pittsburgh show relied on split-screen throughout the at-bat. On the right, Robertson was smiling from ear to ear. On the left, Castillo kept his head down, trying in vain to remember where they held the attacking zone. As he made his way back to the dugout, cameras caught Robertson glowing as he hit his teammates with a double negative: “I didn’t mean to swing.”

While most pitchers only pitched during blowouts, Robertson’s prospective team had bucked that trend just five days earlier. The Phillies and Nationals were tied 6-6 in the 10th inning Garret Stubbs in a circle on deck to meet José Alvarado. After a single and an interference call gave the Phillies a two-run lead, manager Rob Thomson pulled Stubbs back, gave Alvarado some lengthy instructions, and sent him to the plate. Thomson probably told him not to swing, but at least made him wear batting gloves.

For his part, Alvarado made an excellent impression of a man who wanted nothing more than to hit a ball all the way to Capitol Hill:

He totally fooled me, and I wasn’t the only one. As the Phillies’ show put it, Alvarado was “excited.” After striking, he almost made Thomson look very bad in just his 15th game as manager. The Phillies never made the second-place runner, and Alvarado finished the game, but not before giving up a double that put the winning run on the plate.

Our final pitcher came to the plate under less whimsical circumstances. Already in April an injury Tyler Stephenson forced backup catcher Aramis Garcia from designated hitter to catcher, meaning Reiver had to hit Sanmartin. Cameras caught him trying on several of his teammates’ batting helmets before finding one that fit. And despite looking extremely stiff in the batter’s box, he still managed the heroic feat of hitting the ball. Check out this majestic explosion:

Statcast clocked it at 74.5 mph off-bat at a distance of three feet. Despite hitting on his second plate appearance, Sanmartin, who had four hits in the minors, looked really comfortable in the box. Working at 2-2, he had an impressive take on a 1-1 fastball right off the plate:

His swing definitely leaves a lot to be desired, but I loved how competitive this shot was. I also loved that after his two bats, Sanmartin looked really upset that he didn’t reach the base.

In truth, all those record appearances were very funny to watch. In 2021, pitchers made 2.63% of all plate appearances; in 2022 they made 0.000033%, which is less. It might be a hair short for my liking, although I’m not trying to reignite the debate on universal DH. In addition, there were fewer and fewer mugs on the plate anyway:

This is a graph of pitcher plate appearances from 1903 to 2019. The numbers are obviously decreasing over time. Let’s extend this gray trendline and project what would have happened if the rules had never changed:

Here we go. Pitcher banging should subside on its own around the year 2091. I personally would have liked to wait that long, but I think some people are just impatient. For now, I’m glad we get to see pitchers question the universality of DH a few times each year.

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