Historically, pitchers in the MLB have been some of the most dismal hitters the game has ever seen. Some of the best pitchers in baseball history back this up, including Justin Verlander with a .149 batting average in 2017, and Greg Maddux’s career .191 batting average. Traditionally, pitchers haven’t so much as thought about being much of a hitting power, due to the fact that being a dominant pitcher requires hours upon hours of practice in order to compete against some powerhouse hitters like Jose Bautista or Barry Bonds. Recently, however, this has changed. Pitchers are training themselves as hitters now in hopes of gaining a leg up on the competition as well as allowing their teams to effectively use all nine spots in the lineup to their full potential.
The latest pitcher to hit the stage with this versatility is Los Angeles Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani, a recent draft pick by the Angels, has appeared in all-star fashion. Not only does he have an impressive resume, including the fastest pitch ever thrown by a Japanese pitcher (102.5 mph), but he also earned several awards as both a hitter and pitcher in Japan, and is able to run from the batter’s box to first base in as little as 3.8 seconds. Once he hit the MLB this season, Ohtani wasted no time, hitting home runs in three consecutive games in the first week of April, and then retiring 19 batters on the mound only two days after that.
National League star Madison Bumgarner was perhaps one of the first to start this trend. Bumgarner, who was recently moved to the 60-day disabled list, is one of the most dominant pitchers in the MLB, with a career .233 opposing batting average, and finishing most seasons with a sub 3.0 ERA. Bumgarner has almost maintained an impressive hitting career as well, with 17 home runs and 90 hits throughout his eight-season major league career.
While this isn’t an entirely a new phenomenon, pitchers have never been this productive on both ends. Carlos Zambrano finished his 11-season career with 24 home runs, but was a mediocre backup pitcher who didn’t focus enough on pitching.
The new part of this phenomenon is that today’s pitcher-hitters are dominant on both sides of the ball instead of just one. With pitchers like Ohtani and Bumgarner hitting the stage, the ninth spot in the lineup has become much more dynamic than those who do not have pitchers with such versatility. The modern day pitcher is no longer an easy out.