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Brewers' pitchers a force with the bat

@_dadler
April 19, 2019

Think MLB needs a universal DH? Don't tell the Brewers. The Brewers' pitching staff is off to an unbelievable start to the season -- at the plate. Through Milwaukee's first 20 games of 2019, Brewers pitchers are hitting, well, like the opposite of a pitcher. As a unit, they have

Think MLB needs a universal DH? Don't tell the Brewers.

The Brewers' pitching staff is off to an unbelievable start to the season -- at the plate. Through Milwaukee's first 20 games of 2019, Brewers pitchers are hitting, well, like the opposite of a pitcher. As a unit, they have a slash line of .363/.417/.576 over 37 plate appearances, with two home runs and a .992 OPS -- that's more than double the OPS of 11 of the other 14 NL teams' pitchers.

Brewers pitchers were batting better than Mike Trout (.348). They're getting on base more than Bryce Harper (.415). They're outslugging Paul Goldschmidt (.563). Their OPS topped Javier Baez (.986).

Did you think that new Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal was off to a hot start in Milwaukee? Well, guess what? He's being outhit by his pitchers. Yes, that's right: Grandal is batting .350 with a .403 on-base percentage.

Let's take a closer look at these Brewers pitchers who rake.

Who's getting it done?
The Brewers are getting most of their pitcher hitting production from two starters: Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacín.

You might know Woodruff as "the pitcher who homered off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs." Well, he's kept it up in 2019. The 26-year-old right-hander is 5-for-7 with two doubles, three singles and a walk in his eight plate appearances -- that's a 1.750 OPS.

The 31-year-old Chacín has plenty of hitting experience in his career, with 65 hits in 336 at-bats and a pair of homers. This season, Chacín is 3-for-5 with a walk and a long ball.

There was also reliever Aaron Wilkerson's two-run homer on Wednesday -- his first career hit.

How do they stack up to the best hitting pitching staffs ever?
For where they stand now, the only pitching staffs that beat the Brewers' offensive production are American League teams with limited pitcher plate appearances. The 2011 Orioles' pitchers had a 1.045 OPS in 23 plate appearances; the 1997 Rangers had a 1.032 OPS in 20 plate appearances.

But for National League pitchers that bat for a whole season? The 2019 Brewers are lapping the field for now. As you might expect, even the best full-season pitcher hitting totals aren't much.

Here are the top five hitting pitching staffs among NL teams in the DH era (since 1973):

1) 2002 Rockies: .610 OPS
.255/.270/.340, 4 HR, 14 2B
These Rockies had a famously great hitting pitcher: Mike Hampton. Hampton put up a .344/.354/.516 slash line in 66 plate appearances with three of the team's four pitcher homers and an .869 OPS. He won his fourth of five straight Silver Slugger Awards that year. The 2002 Colorado squad also got a good hitting effort from Jason Jennings, who hit .306 with a .719 OPS in his 68 plate appearances.

2) 1974 Pirates: .563 OPS
.219/.280/.283, 2 HR, 14 2B, 4 3B
The Pirates got some pop from left-hander Ken Brett, who hit a pair of homers in 1974 and finished his only All-Star season with a .310/.337/.448 slash line and a .785 OPS in 95 plate appearances. Jim Rooker also had a good hitting year, with a .305/.337/.400 slash line and a .737 OPS in 106 plate appearances. He collected 29 hits, including five doubles and two triples, while Brett had 27.

3) 1982 Pirates: .554 OPS
.223/.251/.303, 5 HR, 15 2B, 1 3B
Another Pirates team comes in at No. 3. The 1982 team had two pitchers slug multiple homers -- Rick Rhoden hit three, and Don Robinson hit two. Rhoden had a .733 OPS in 89 plate appearances, while Robinson had a .723 OPS in 92 plate appearances. Both pitchers were also three-time Silver Sluggers in their careers, with Robinson winning the award in '82.

4) 2010 Brewers: .530 OPS
.207/.249/.280, 4 HR, 12 2B
It turns out the Brewers aren't strangers to good hitting pitchers. Their best one in 2010 was Yovani Gallardo, who crushed his way to a Silver Slugger Award. Gallardo hit four home runs that season, and finished the year with a .254/.329/.508 slash line and an .837 OPS in 72 plate appearances. The Brew Crew also got a good effort from Chris Narveson, who hit .327 in 59 plate appearances, and Randy Wolf notched a staff-high 19 hits in 83 plate appearances.

5) 2001 Rockies: .533 OPS
.192/.210/.323, 10 HR, 12 2B, 1 3B
These Rockies were basically a one-man show when it came to pitcher hitting, and that one man was Hampton. He had his best year at the plate in 2001 -- mashing seven home runs and hitting .291/.309/.582 with an .891 OPS. Veteran lefty Denny Neagle also knocked a pair of home runs, his only multi-homer season.

Of course, all pitchers used to bat. Here's a quick rundown of the top five hitting pitching staffs before the DH era:

1) 1938 Senators: .689 OPS
.290/.341/.348, 0 HR, 4 2B, 4 3B

2) 1926 Phillies: .657 OPS
.264/.309/.347, 4 HR, 14 2B, 1 3B

3) 1927 Reds: .642 OPS
.267/.296/.346, 1 HR, 13 2B, 9 3B

4) 1926 Reds: .630 OPS
.260/.303/.327, 0 HR, 16 2B, 8 3B

5) 1925 Indians: .622 OPS
.251/.287/.335, 5 HR, 17 2B, 5 3B

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.