There are a few harsh realities to face if you’re anti-DH in the National League as I am. First, there stands a chance this is actually disadvantageous for the Cardinals (and every other NL team) if the ultimate goal of each season is to win the World Series. Second, while the change doesn’t seem to be right around the corner like I presumed earlier this year, it does seem inevitable that the days of pitchers batting in the NL are likely numbered. And third, and probably most obvious, pitchers are lousy hitters.
Bob Gibson is regarded as one of the better hitters for pitchers because he was. His 24 home runs are tied for third for pitchers with Carlos Zambrano since the league was integrated (Warran Spahn’s 35 lead the pack). Yet, he also had a .545 career OPS. And that same Carlos Zambrano? He won a Silver Slugger for pitchers in 2006 with a .557 OPS and a wRC+ of 24.
Not a single pitcher in 20106 with at least 40 plate appearances (sample size: 50) has a wRC+ above 100 and only 22 are above zero. (Jake Arrieta is leading this sorry bunch with 98.) According to FanGraphs Leaderboards, in 4,658 plate appearances this season, pitchers in the NL are averaging a .341 OPS. That’s actually up ten points from 2015, but so is OPS all across the league (.721 in 2015 vs. .740 in 2016 - yeah, the ball is probably juiced). The truth is, not only are pitchers bad hitters but they’ve been progressively getting worse.
This brings us to Adam Wainwright, who is also not a good hitter. He has struck out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances (65) while only drawing a walk 3.1% of the time. His batting average (.224) is nothing to be excited about. And his wRC+ sits at 89.
That’s the bad part. The good part is when he has hit the ball, he’s hit it very far, or hit it where the fielders aren’t, or both (all relative to pitchers, of course). And that’s why he’s in contention for a Silver Slugger, which would guarantee him an extra $25,000 (although he’s likely to be justifiably edged out by Arrieta). After Tuesday’s 2-2, four RBI day, Wainwright has 13 total hits this season and only three have fallen for singles. He leads all pitchers with seven doubles, his two home runs trail only Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner’s three, and he’s one of eight pitchers to hit a triple this season. For context, a pitcher hitting a triple can only be topped in excitement by Yadier Molina hitting a triple.
Wainwright is slugging .483, which leads all pitchers from the sample culled from above, and that puts him ahead of Brandon Belt, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, and Curtis Granderson to name a few. If Wainwright had the at-bats to qualify for a batting title, his slugging would be in the top-25 in the NL. His. .259 ISO also leads pitchers (Syndergaard is second at .218) and is hilariously tied for the sixth in the NL with Yoenis Cespedes and ahead of the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Braun, Yasmany Tomas, and Matt Carpenter. As Mike Axisa noted yesterday, Wainwright is the first pitcher to have more than ten extra-base hits since Micah Owings in 2007, and his 18 RBIs are the most by any pitcher in 45 years (Fergie Jenkins had 20 in 1971) and the most since the DH was introduced.
This is easily the best he’s hit for his career. You have to go back to 2007 to find an OPS in his career above .636 (he’s at .733 this year) and from 2012 through 2014 (I’m leaving out last year when he went hitless in ten plate appearances), his OPS never rose higher than .476 and sunk as low as .356. According to Wainwright, his newfound success started by standing a bit closer to the plate. Following Tuesday’s game, he also said this:
“My whole career, I’ve fought trying to pull the ball and tried to stay up the middle and hit the ball to right field. It just doesn’t work for me very well. If it’s a pitch in the strike zone, I’m going to swing at it.”
That’s what he did in mid-June when the bench was getting thin and he was called on to pinch hit in the 12th inning in Pittsburgh with the score tied at three and with two on and two out:
Does all of this really mean all that much or offer a cogent argument as to why there should never be a DH in the NL? Not really. These samples are small. It would take an everyday player about three weeks to amass Wainwright’s total number of plate appearances this year. The Cardinals likely haven’t benefitted all that much in the standings from Wainwright’s fun at the plate this year. And, as before, pitchers overall are still dreadful hitters. Wainwright could very likely return to his old non-hitting form next year and 2016 will be remembered as a giant outlier.
And that’s fine. But as for now I’m perfectly content watching Adam Wainwright hit the ball to Edwardsville.