The only thing more fun than a tater getting mashed, a dinger getting dinged, or Bob going ‘See. You. Later,’ is when a pitcher hits that kind of home run. So talk of a pitchers-only Home-Run Derby at this year’s All Star Game sparked our interest.
And we at RPFP are firmly in favor of anything that makes the All Star Game #fun for the first time, particularly given that the All Star game ranges from simply dull to soporific. (Much in the same way a position-player pitch-off or a bat flip contest would possibly liven up the game.)
There are pitchers who can rake, but getting on base and putting one over the wall are different skills. How many pitchers are honestly that good at hitting homers?
To find out, we did some digging on Play Index, looking at the most home-run-hitting pitchers of the past 20 years. (This search specified that pitchers had to appear in at least 20 games per season and have at least 10 plate appearances in any given season, and then examined home run totals per season.) After that, home runs per plate appearance were calculated as a rate, and pitchers were sorted by that rate, considering lefties and righties separately.
Among lefties, Gabe White, who hit one homer in 10 plate appearances in 2000, topped the HR/PA ratio, with a rate of .1. (As a note, he hit that as a Rocky in a Rockies-Rangers 12-6 game in Colorado.) Next on the list was former National Zach Duke who hit two home runs in 23 plate appearances with Arizona. (Neither of them was in Arizona - one in Houston and the other in Miami.)
Mike Hampton makes a pretty good case for being a pitcher who can ding some dingers, having hit 16 career homers, seven of them in the same year (2001), with an HR/PA ratio of .081. He did hit four of these in Colorado, though, and given that this was a year before the Rockies started storing their baseballs in a humidor, perhaps park conditions contributed to such a high dinger rate. (He did hit nine more homers in the remaining nine years of his career, which is respectable but perhaps not Home-Run Derby material.) Randy Keisler also hit one homer in 15 PAs, though in Cincinnati, so didn’t get the Colorado bump.
Which brings us to noted homer-hitter and bunny rescuer Madison Bumgarner. MadBum is the best home-run-hitting lefty pitcher of the past 20 years - the only lefty to exceed MadBum’s 2014 four homers is MadBum’s 2015 five homers, with a rate of .051 and .061 HR/PA respectively. (And as a note, even though he has hit homers against Colorado, he has not hit any in Colorado.)
Among righties, the picture is fairly similar: In the top five, Felipe Lira hit two homers in 21 plate appearances for the Expos; Jorge Sosa hit three in 32; and Chris Brock hit one in 11. Brooks Kieschnick hit seven in one season, but this is mired by his also having spent much of his career as a position player.
Carlos Zambrano makes a case for being the best home-run-hitting righty of the past 20 years, with 24 home runs in 12 years, none in Colorado, with a HR/PA rate of .075 in 2006 with the Cubs, better than either of MadBum’s spectacular seasons. The MLB could do worse than drafting Big Z for a return during the Home-Run Derby. (Or maybe to pitch to MadBum during the Home-Run Derby for maximum hashtag fun.)
At a team level, Nationals pitchers are … not good at hitting home runs. The Expos righties had the highest rate of HR/PA in the past 20 years with .049 HR/PA, and the Nats are almost at the bottom - though above St. Louis (ha!) with a rate of .017 with righties, an eyelash above the Cards’ rate of .015. Lefties are somewhat better, with a rate of .016 that puts the Nats above the Mets, Bucs. Dodgers, Expos, and Padres. (The Nats have the lowest total sum of lefty and righty HR/PA, with a rate of .0325, almost half of the Expos rate of .063.)
Among Nats pitchers, only Livan Hernandez and Gio Gonzalez have more than one home run, with four and three, respectively. Hernandez had 10 total career, and Gio has only three, though Gio played in the AL prior to donning the Curly W. Save one homer from John Lannan, Gio is the only lefty pitcher for the Nats to ever hit a home run. (The Post dubbed him the Babe Ruth of the Nationals pitching staff.)
The only solution, of course, is #GioforHRDerby.