Marcus Stroman’s first career big-league home run stands as one of the most memorable Toronto Blue Jays moments since their back-to-back postseason runs. I loved watching Stro when he was with the Jays, and as good of a pitcher he was during his time here I think he loved being a batter more than anything. He was always bugging John Gibbons to put him to pinch-hit or pinch-run, and I can remember how happy he was coming back to the dugout following that oppo taco in Atlanta. I was in attendance when he recorded his first base hit, a double in St. Louis and he eventually rounded the bases and crossed the plate in the game that will forever be remembered by Chris Coghlan’s leap over Cardinals’ catcher Yadi Molina to safely touch home. What a game that was.
— Norm Kelly (@norm) May 19, 2017
As fun as it was to watch Stroman at the plate, the reality is that pitchers are pretty useless with a bat in their hands. Other than Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke, you won’t find many instances where pitchers provide any sort of offensive contribution. There are two reasons why the discussion of implementing a universal designated hitter has gained serious traction lately: (1) pitchers shouldn’t risk injuring themselves by doing something they spend 0.1% of their time, focus, and energy on, and (2) most baseball fans would rather throw a baby down a well than watch a pitcher try to hit. The majority of pitchers are an automatic out as soon as they step into the batter’s box, and it’s probably best if we let them do what they’re employed to do, which isn’t easy in the first place.
— Nick Reid (@NicklausRe1d) May 12, 2021
With that being said, I love when the Blue Jays play at a National League ballpark so we can see our hurlers try their luck at the plate. Most of the time it ends terribly, like Robbie Ray‘s bunt attempt from last night, but seeing our pitchers come up to bat is fun simply based on the novelty of the whole thing.
In the spirit of the Jays being visitors in an interleague matchup for the first time this season, I ranked the club’s pitchers based on how good they are as hitters. Most of it is based on statistical evidence (albeit a rather limited sample size), but there are also some assumptions made on who I think could preserve their dignity after a trip to the batter’s box. You can find my best guesses organized in the tiers below.
Tier 1: Pitchers Who Rake (Sort of)
Steven Matz – 3 HR, 13 RBI, .172 BA, .456 OPS
Hyun Jin Ryu – 1 HR, 3 RBI, .157 BA, .453 OPS
Robbie Ray – 1 HR, 9 RBI, .146 BA, .344 OPS
Tommy Milone – 1 HR, 7 RBI, .156 BA, .431 OPS
These are the best-hitting pitchers on the team simply based on the fact that they’ve all hit a homer in the Majors. That’s not a very high bar, but it is in this scenario because hitting a bomb as a pitcher is like trying to survive an alligator attack only to come away with its head like Happy Gilmore. You never expect a pitcher to do anything productive apart from a sac bunt every once in a while, so given the context, a home run is pretty damn impressive.
All jokes aside, Steven Matz can actually kinda rake. You don’t just stumble into hitting three home runs, and he hit two of them in back-to-back starts in 2018. The second one was a wall-scraper, but there was no doubt about the first one which was retrieved by foul ball guy Zack Hample and returned to Matz after the game. It’s too bad he won’t be getting a start in this week’s series against the Braves, but maybe Charlie Montoyo will put him in to pinch-hit? He can’t possibly do much worse than Danny Jansen, whose April was worse than Matz’s all-time hitting numbers.
Even if the other three guys have just one career big-league bomb, it’s more than any of us have so we can’t say anything. Hyun Jin Ryu is expected to make the start Wednesday and I can’t wait to watch his at-bats. I’d love to see him hit one into the bleachers and flip his bat the way his home country’s pro league, the Korean Baseball Organization, is known for. KBO bat flips are electric.
Tier 2: Pitchers who Might Not be the Worst hitters?
Tyler Chatwood – 0 HR, 17 RBI, .206 BA, .488 OPS
Trent Thornton – 0 HR, 0 RBI, .667 BA, 1.333 OPS
Ryan Borucki – 0 career at-bats
These arms have varying levels of plate experience but are all guys you could argue may have a chance of reaching base if given an at-bat. Tyler Chatwood’s lack of dingers kept him out of Tier 1, but he leads all Blue Jays pitchers in runs batted in thanks to having spent seven years of his career as a starter in the NL which has allowed him to collect 241 plate appearances. He would also have the highest batting average, and on-base percentage + slugging percentage among the Jays’ pitching staff if it weren’t for Trent Thornton hitting a pair of singles in three career ABs. While Thornton’s placement in Tier 2 is based on him having stepped in the batter’s box as many times as Bo Bichette does in seven innings, going 2-for-3 is nothing to turn your nose up at.
Why did I put Ryan Borucki in this tier when he has never stepped to the plate in the big leagues? I’m not quite sure. He spoke to Hazel Mae of Sportsnet before Tuesday’s game and said he practiced his drag bunting in the offseason, and that was good enough for me to think he could potentially do something useful with the bat if he got a chance. Sometimes a bit of hope is all it takes.
Tier 3: Pitchers who Are Helping Accelerate the Universal DH movement
Ross Stripling – 0 HR, 4 RBI, .092 BA, .226 OPS
Everyone else – probably suck
Mr. Stripling exemplifies why pitchers trying to hit is one of the most excruciating aspects of baseball. This guy has no business having a bat in his hands, and after doing relatively nothing over 122 career plate appearances he probably wants to be hitting even less than the fans do. Unfortunately for us, the man whose nickname is inspired by an eight-year-old’s Applebee’s order is the Blue Jays’ starter for Thursday’s game, and I’d be shocked if he doesn’t go 0-for. I just hope he can do something on the mound as he’s been serving up batting practice in his first four starts and I’m losing patience.
As for every other pitcher the Blue Jays have, I can’t find one who gives me any reason why they might be able to hit. But with all things considered, having four pitchers on this roster that have a home run under their belt is pretty impressive, and I doubt many National League teams have that many pitchers who rake. Let’s hope we won’t have to rely on our pitching to carry the offensive load the rest of this series, or we could be in for some trouble.
Tune in Wednesday for 7:20p EST first pitch to see if we’ll get a bat flip from Ryu. I don’t care if he only gets a single, RYU BETTER FLIP THAT BAT.