To the surprise of no one, left-handed pitcher Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants won the Silver Slugger award this past Thursday for the second consecutive year. There is little to no debate that Bumgarner is the best hitting pitcher in the game. It is a generally accepted fact about baseball, kind of like how St. Louis Cardinals are always good or how the Oakland Athletics will never actually move to San Jose.
The question then becomes not whether or not Bumgarner is the best hitting pitcher, but rather how good he really is from a normal hitter’s perspective?
Call to the Pen
The answer is shocking. If he were able to maintain his batting numbers for an entire 162-game season, not only would he be a passable everyday player, he would be worthy of All Star Game consideration. If Bumgarner’s .468 slugger percentage held for an entire season, it would have been good for 18th in the National League, (ironically, right behind Buster Posey and right before Brandon Crawford: the other Giant’s Silver Slugger winners.)
Moreover, Bumgarner has hit 9 home runs in his last 143 at-bats dating back to the beginning of 2014. If Bumgarner sustained these power numbers across a full season, in approximately 550 at-bats he would hit a total of 34 home runs–more than any Giants player since Barry Bonds in 2004.
To gain a greater understanding of Bumgarner’s dominance at the plate, one can look at a comparison between Bumgarner and Zack Greinke—the consensus second-best hitting pitcher. Greinke is no slouch with the bat either. Along with his 2013 Silver Slugger award, he has an career .220 batting average with six home runs in a little over 300 at-bats. However, in the past two years the comparison between him and Bumgarner has not been close.
“My wet newspaper is 34 inches, 33 1/2 ounces, and I’m waiting on some new ones right now. I take [hitting] just as serious as I do pitching.”
In 2013 and 2014, Greinke trailed Bumgarner in on-base percentage by 24 points and 43 points, respectively. In the same time frame, Bumgarner has three-times the home runs (9-3) and four-times the RBIs (24-6). The key difference is that Greinke has been a solid hitter for a pitcher, but Bumgarner has been a solid hitter, period.
Bumgarner’s value as a hitter transcends his position. Earlier this year, manager Bruce Bochy pinch-hit Bumgarner in consecutive games against St. Louis where he smoked a single up the middle in his first opportunity and struck out in his second. Overall, Bum tallied two hits with a walk in his three pinch-hitting situations on the year. Bumgarner’s value as a “pitch-hitter” cannot be underestimated. Because of Bumgarner’s prowess, Bochy has a virtual 26th man on their roster. A 26th man who who can launch a Clayton Kershaw fastball 415 feet.
Bumgarner is fearlessly competitive and proud of his hitting ability. In fact, He was irate after Max Scherzer was traded to the Washington Nationals and then suggested the NL to incorporate the Designated Hitter. According to Des Bieler of the Washington Post, when Scherzer compared NL pitchers to hitting with a “wet newspaper,” Bumgarner replied by calmly pointing out that “my wet newspaper is 34 inches, 33 1/2 ounces, and I’m waiting on some new ones right now.” He then added, “I take [hitting] just as serious as I do pitching.”
Luckily for San Francisco, with a couple Silver Slugger awards, World Series MVP award, and three World Series championships, evidently he is pretty good at both.