Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB History
By Liam McKeone
In 2022, the universal DH rule was introduced. Both the American and National Leagues now have a lineup spot dedicated to a designated hitter. It marks the end of hitting pitchers, which is both good and bad. It's good because, by and large, a pitcher stepping up to the plate was an automatic out and saved many a team's bacon. It's bad because watching pitchers hit was always enjoyable and the joyful surprise when a pitcher would come through in the clutch was a truly unique feeling.
In honor of the hitting pitcher era, let's look at some of the best hitting pitchers to grace Major League Baseball.
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Honorable Mention: Bartolo Colón
Bartolo Colón was not a good hitting pitcher but any time we have the opportunity to relive his stunning home run while with the New York Mets, we're going to take advantage. What I said above about joyful surprise is embodied in this clip.
Is it too early to consider Shohei Ohtani an all-time great when it comes to being a hitting pitcher? We think not. Ohtani has been compared to Babe Ruth for a reason. Nobody in MLB history has been as good a pitcher while dominating at the plate to the degrees Ohtani has. To this point, he's hit .263 from the plate with 113 home runs and boasts a career ERA of 3.28. The fact that there are legitimate arguments to be made as to whether he's more effective as a batter or pitcher says it all.
Madison Bumgarner's prowess both at the plate and on the mound have waned in recent years but one need only travel back seven or so seasons to remember a dominant ace who was a threat to go deep. He famously jacked a homer off Clayton Kershaw and has 19 career home runs. In the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Bumgarner hit .252 with nine home runs and 24 RBI. Remarkable numbers considering the era.
Tom Glavine is a fascinating case to study from this angle because he wasn't a good "hitter" per se but he was an excellent bunter. Not exactly what you'd expect from a Hall of Fame pitcher with over 300 career wins. He even led the league in sacrifice bunts in 2001. Glavine famously came up clutch in Game 7 of the 1996 NLCS with a bases-clearing triple.
The older brother of George Brett, Ken Brett was a decent pitcher and a threat at the plate. He hit .281 in the 1973 and 1974 seasons with a .766 OPS. He was like a very diet Ohtani back in that era-- capable of throwing and hitting at a similar level.
If we had to guess, there is maybe no pitcher more disappionted with the universal DH rule than Zack Greinke. He managed to hit over .300 one season with the Dodgers back in 2013 and had his best overall season at the plate merely three years ago, when he posted a .280 batting average with a .888 OPS.
Some may quibble with Babe Ruth's inclusion given he spent less than half his career as a pitcher. BUT! He was the original dual threat in baseball and thus deserves inclusion. Ruth famously hit 714 home runs and hit a career .342 from the plate while managing a 2.28 ERA in the 10 years he spent on the mound. All while chugging beers and eating hot dogs between innings. Respect to the OG.