When the Giants sign new pitchers, I instinctively check out their hitting stats to see if they're going to help the team in a Madison Bumgarner kind of way. I don't know why I bother. The stats are never good. They're never even close to good. Pitchers can't hit.
Hold on there, DH-loving goons. I'm not done yet. No, Jeff Samardzija didn't have the genre-bending stats of Bumgarner. He didn't have especially impressive stats at all:
- 2012 - .267 OPS
- 2013 - .321 OPS
- 2014 - .431 OPS
- 2015 - 1.000 OPS (2 AB)
Actually, you can see where that trend is leading.
- 2016 - 1.132 OPS
- 2017 - 1.248 OPS
- 2018 - 1.339 OPS
- 2019 - 2.019 OPS
Steady increases, followed by a fourth-year spike into the stars. If you can't see where this is going, you're virulently afraid of math.
Okay, fine, that's probably not going to happen. Samardzija has a .366 career OPS. He's struck out 67 times in 168 at-bats. As far as pitchers go, his hitting is pretty pitcher, I figured.
And then Tuesday night happened. In his first at-bat, he gave the ball quite a ride.
"Say," you might have thought. "That was a good swing for a pitcher." And that's where it would have ended. You get those kinds of swings every few weeks.
In his second at-bat, he did the same thing.
He was a little off-balance, yes. And at AT&T Park, maybe that ball is caught closer to second base than the outfield wall. But it was still a good swing for a pitcher. That's two good swings in the same game, which is about two more than the typical pitcher.
In his third at-bat, he finally got his revenge:
That's basically a Matt Duffy swing, just a foot taller. It was the most impressive non-Bumgarner swing of the year.
In his fourth at-bat, Samardzija struck out on three pitches.
So it's not all fun and opposite-field doubles. But if we're going to have to watch pitchers all season, we have Madison Bumgarner putting the fear of Bonds into Clayton Kershaw. We have Samardzija with a chance for consistently solid swings. We have Matt Cain, who was the pitcher who could hit before Bumgarner showed up. We have Johnny Cueto, who swings hard and hustles perilously down the line. And we have Jake Peavy, who plays guitar really well and donates a lot of his time to charity.
Apparently, Samardzija isn't so happy that he's on the JV team of bat-swinging pitchers.
Samardzija and Bumgarner have gone head to head in BP over the last couple of weeks, so much so that a member of the coaching staff wondered aloud last week whether Samardzija’s power shows were keeping him from working on an approach that could make him a threat at the plate.
He's never going to catch up with Bumgarner. But he'll at least give the Giants much better at-bats than they usually expect from their pitchers. It's a long season, and we'll have to watch a ton of pitchers hit. At least now there's one more who seems to have sense of what he's doing.