It is somewhat likely that 2021 will be the last year with no designated hitter in the National League. It might not be. The owners appear to view the DH as a bargaining chip, and want to give the players it in return for something, but it seems pretty clear the players don’t view that as a very valuable chip (rightfully so I might add). This disconnect could continue and the NL may remain a no DH league longer. But I would be surprised.
I know a lot of people are not a fan of pitchers hitting. They are very bad at it. Like the best hitting pitchers are still worse than the absolute worst MLB hitters. I understand that. But it occurred me, watching these games the last few weeks, that the Cardinals... have a lot of fun hitting pitchers. Like, i don’t know if we’re just lucky, or if any fan could craft an article such as this, but this particular group of starting pitchers actually add to my enjoyment of watching baseball, despite being (nearly) an automatic out.
This has, as far as I know, not been pointed out by anyone. That the Cardinals seem to have an especially fun group this year. But you don’t want to take my word for it. Let’s look at the evidence.
This one is easy. Adam Wainwright specifically set out a goal to get his .199 average over .200 by the end of the year. It... has not worked out. He’s only had 12 PAs, but he looks about as bad as I’ve ever seen him at the plate. But he is going to get a hit at some point, probably multiple ones.
He has 10 career home runs! He has a .104 ISO. That’s better than actual MLB hitters in this league right now! He once had back-to-back seasons of an 89 wRC+ and 90 wRC+. That actually happened. Wainwright, in there somewhere, can hit the ball. He can certainly get a hold of one and knock it out of the park. Here’s a short highlight reel of Wainwright hitting:
First off, wow does young Adam Wainwright look like Matt Morris and wow does his uniform not fit him at all. Secondly, when Waino connects, he CONNECTS. Those home runs were not cheap. How can you watch this video and then want to take the bat out of his hand? Yeah he’s had a tough start, but maybe, just maybe a ball will connect and he’ll hit the hell out of the ball a few more times yet.
Flaherty is a lot more obvious after his most recent game, and is probably the single biggest influence on why I wrote this article. Flaherty’s numbers do not sparkle like Wainwright’s, but Flaherty seems to consistently have good plate appearances. He struck out in 38.5% of his plate appearances in his first full season in the big leagues. But since 2019, it’s 25.3%. Yeah yeah small sample and I’m pretty sure it includes sacrifice bunts, but I can think of a few Cardinals players who’d kill for that strikeout rate right now. In fact, I’d probably need both hands to list them all. He has also walked 4.3% of the time in his career, an absurdly high number for a pitcher.
And like Wainwright, he is perfectly capable of hitting the ball hard. His home run was not the only example. I have once again compiled a short highlight video of Jack Flaherty hits. This comprises a little less than a third of his career hits, which gives you an idea that when he hits the ball, it’s usually well struck.
That double off Yamamoto was hit on a day where he shut down the rest of the offense and he hit it pretty far. Flaherty seems perfectly capable of crushing a not well located fastball which is all I can really ask of a pitcher hitting. Although there’s also a nice opposite field hit off a Stephen Strasburg curveball that wasn’t like his best curve or anything, but it wasn’t a bad pitch either.
Okay I’ll be perfectly honest with you. I care not one iota how good of a hitter Carlos Martinez is. He could strike out every time and I’d love watching him bat. He comes to the plate with the absolute confidence that he’s going to get a hit. He looks like he’s ready to destroy a pitch every time he bats. When he steps into the batter’s box, I fully believe he thinks he’s getting a hit. And I love that.
Most pitchers do not seem to want to bat, or at least they just come to the plate knowing they have no chance. Not Carlos. He wants to bat. It’s great. He comes to the plate ready to hack.
Look at that. That’s a man who wants to be in the starting lineup as a hitter. Another game where the Cardinals are being dominated - by Lucas Giolito - and a pitcher comes up and probably has the hardest hit of the game. In this case, it was a home run. I want a Carlos Martinez home run before the year is over.
Gant has probably one of the weaker cases, but he’s also probably not going to be in the rotation for long. Also, he has two career hits. Both are home runs. That’s absolutely bananas. He has 59 PAs. And the only time he’s gotten a hit was a home run. I mean I’m almost rooting against him to get a normal hit to keep this intact.
I sense great potential with this one, if he’s allowed to realize it. He did not get to hit for himself in the KBO for as long as he played there. With his first opportunity to bat here, he looks like he can be an extremely frustrating to opponents slap hitter. I like pitcher home runs as much as the next guy, but I never think a pitcher is going to homer. That’s why they’re great. But when Kim bats, I think he’ll slap a single the other way. I really believe this. Let’s look at his lone hit so far. I’ll post the entire plate appearance.
Okay so he should have struck out looking here. Fine. And that hit was lucky. But was it? Was it really? Does it not seem like he will do this again at some point. He seems to have a swing engineered for the swinging bunt. And he’s pretty fast. I mean I do not have access to his sprint speed, but there is no throw Sonny Gray could have made that would have been in time. He also has the benefit of being left-handed and his swing takes him into the path of the basepaths so it feels like he has a running start before he even starts running.
Very fun pitcher to watch hitting.
I sense great potential with Oviedo, but in a completely different way than Kim. Kim is just fun to watch, but doesn’t seem all that likely to be actually good at hitting for a pitching. Oviedo though seems like he knows what he’s doing. One could be mistaken for not knowing he was a pitcher at all when watching him bat. In the following highlight video, I post the entire PA of his first RBI and then his first ever hit.
Wasn’t that a great plate appearance with the bases loaded. Very nearly emptied the basepaths too with a double. What we got was a weak groundout, but it was actually a very tough pitch to hit and he still made contact, which gave him the RBI. Real missed opportunity here if we can only see him bat this year.
Seriously, isn’t this a fun group? Miles Mikolas slides perfectly in the Gant role of having two career home runs and not being all that great to watch otherwise when he returns. But the rest of the guys? It’s a weirdly exciting group.
You know what my theory is for why? Because they all take it seriously. It’s pretty obvious when a pitcher comes to the plate just because he has to and when a pitcher comes to the plate with the intention of trying to get on base. And with the exception of Gant, these guys all really try to get a hit. Hell, maybe Gant does too, it just does not usually look pretty.
For evidence they care, though I won’t post any more video, Wainwright actually yelled when he struck out yesterday. He was pissed. Kim in the above video shows emotion not only when he fouls the ball off, but he seems kind of annoyed with himself that he didn’t swing at the get-me-over strike one too. Martinez is mad when he doesn’t get hits. Flaherty and Oviedo don’t, so far, necessarily show the same emotion when hitting, but they seem locked in with every pitch in the same way an actual hitter would be.
So here’s to pitchers hitting and specifically this fun group of pitchers. I’ll be bummed if the DH comes around next year for this very reason. But I’ll enjoy this season while it’s still around.