The top pitchers to watch hit this season

March 15th, 2021

After a one-year switch to the universal designated hitter, all signs are pointing toward pitchers stepping back into the batter’s box in games played at National League parks in 2021.

As a whole, they may not be very successful. (Hitting big league pitching is hard!) But when pitchers do manage to come up big at the plate, it’s usually pretty memorable.

Here are the pitchers we’re most excited to see take some hacks again.

, RHP, Cubs
Madison Bumgarner is one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever, so any time someone takes him deep in October, it’s a big deal. Arrieta did just that in Game 3 of the 2016 NL Division Series, ripping a second-inning rocket to left field for a three-run shot that stunned the crowd in San Francisco. Arrieta also has six career homers in the regular season, and he leads all active pitchers with four triples.

, LHP, Pirates
Brault recorded a .333 average in 2019, which is tied for the seventh-highest mark by a pitcher (min. 50 plate appearances) in the Expansion Era (since 1961). The Pirates lefty hasn’t had a chance to defend his pitcher batting title due to last year’s rule change, but he’ll get that opportunity in 2021.

, LHP, D-backs
Bumgarner is the current standard-bearer for pitchers at the plate, leading active hurlers by a wide margin with 19 home runs -- the second most for a pitcher who debuted during the Expansion Era, behind Carlos Zambrano’s 24. The list of pitchers he’s taken deep includes Clayton Kershaw (twice), Zack Greinke (twice), Jacob deGrom, Hyun Jin Ryu and Chris Bassitt, and he has seven of the 15 hardest-hit balls by a pitcher in Statcast history (since 2015).

, RHP, Giants
Among active players, nobody has more plate appearances without a home run than Cueto, who has come to bat 618 times without going yard. On at least one of those occasions, he broke out the baseball equivalent of Happy Gilmore’s golf swing. How great would it be to see the master of the mound shimmy get into one after all these years of futility at the plate, a la Bartolo Colon in 2016?

, RHP, Padres
Darvish suggested in February that pitchers older than 33 (he’s 34) should be able to choose whether they want to bat or not, saying that he’s “not very fond of hitting.” But opposing pitchers should be careful when Darvish is up to bat. Throw him a cookie, and he just might hit it out of the park, like he did against the Reds’ Tim Adleman in 2016.

, RHP, Cardinals
Gant has two hits in 44 career at-bats. Both left the park. There’s history at stake here -- former Cardinals second baseman Keith McDonald is the only player ever to retire with at least three career hits, all of them home runs. Does Gant have some non-homer hits lurking in his bat? Or can he keep up the 1:1 hits-to-home runs ratio in perpetuity?

, RHP, Astros
The lone AL pitcher on this list, Greinke has set a career goal for himself: 10 homers and 10 steals, with one more needed in each category. Just three pitchers who debuted in the Modern Era (since 1900) have joined the 10/10 club: Walter Johnson, Bucky Walters and Bob Gibson. The Astros play only two games at a National League park (April 20-21 at Colorado) before the All-Star break, so we may have to wait to see him make a run at those marks. But knowing Greinke, it will be worth the wait.

, LHP, Nationals
Lester famously (or perhaps infamously) set a record for the longest hitless streak to start a career, going 0-for-66 before collecting an infield single off John Lackey in 2015. But since he got that monkey off his back, the 37-year-old has been a fairly successful hitter, at least relative to other pitchers. The veteran lefty had a 109.9 mph double in 2016, and he homered in 2017, ’18 and ’19.

, RHP, Reds
The Reds have taken advantage of Lorenzen's athleticism in recent years by occasionally using him in a two-way role, which has included pinch-hitting, pinch-running, playing all three outfield spots and even starting six games in center. Meanwhile, Lorenzen's biceps seem to get larger every season, and it's not all for show. He had a 1.043 OPS over 34 plate appearances in 2018, and he's slugged seven career home runs.

, RHP, Rockies
Márquez doesn’t hold anything back when he comes up to bat. The Rockies righty has taken a cut on 59.9% of the pitches he’s seen in his career, one of the highest swing rates in Statcast history. Also, the fact that he once turned the tables by crushing a 447-foot jack off a position player makes him a legend in the pitcher fraternity.

, RHP, Mets
Like Thor with his hammer, Syndergaard is comfortable with a bat in his hands. The 6-foot-6 righty has blasted six career homers, including two against the Dodgers in 2016 -- the first multi-homer game by a pitcher in nine years. He's expected back from Tommy John surgery at some point this summer.

, RHP, Cardinals
Wainwright is still going strong on the mound, posting a 3.15 ERA over 10 starts in 2020, but at the age of 39, it’s possible '21 could be his final season. The veteran is second among active pitchers behind Bumgarner in home runs, having belted 10 dingers in his career, and he’s first in hits (136), RBIs (71) and runs (54).

, RHP, Brewers
Before the 2020 rule change, Woodruff was building a reputation as one of baseball’s best hitting pitchers. Woodruff had two home runs in 2018 -- including a 407-foot blast off Kershaw in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series -- and he followed it up by posting a .267 average over 45 at-bats in ’19. We’ll see if he can keep it up after a year away from hitting.