If you'd wagered back in March that Zack Greinke would have more hits this season than Ryan Ludwick, Cameron Maybin and Mark Teixeira ... well, then you should stop betting on baseball. But that's the reality of Greinke this season, as the Dodgers' $147-million man has turned himself into one of baseball's elite hitting pitchers.
Just how good has Greinke been? By going 1-for-2 with an RBI single, a walk and a sacrifice bunt against the Chicago Cubs on Monday, Greinke improved his season line to .340/.426/.383, or 16 hits in 47 at-bats. That's more hits than, as noted above, Ludwick, Maybin and Teixeira have picked up in 2013, and just three hits behind Alex Rodriguez.
Of course, Greinke won't stay within shouting distance of A-Rod this season (or at least, we hope for A-Rod's sake he won't), but he can already stake claim to being the best hitting pitcher in baseball this year. At .340, Greinke is nearly 100 points ahead of Chicago's Travis Wood (.255) in batting average among pitchers with at least 50 plate appearances. Though Wood has him beat in the power department (three homers to none), Greinke is tops among hurlers in plate patience, with six walks on the season. (Fun fact: Three Dodgers—Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Ricky Nolasco—are in the top-five in walks for pitchers.)
But Greinke isn't making his mark on 2013 alone. He can also say he's had one of the best hitting seasons for a pitcher in MLB history. His .426 OBP is the tenth-highest single-season mark all-time among pitchers with at least 50 plate appearances. The top-10, as provided by Baseball-Reference's Play Index:
.472 - Mickey McDermott, 1950
.464 - Earl Yingling, 1913
.455 - Walter Johnson, 1925
.447 - Jimmy Zinn, 1929
.446 - Jack Bentley, 1923
.446 - Clark Griffith, 1901
.434 - Don Newcombe, 1958
.429 - Johnny Lindell, 1953
.427 - Wes Ferrell, 1935
.426 - Zack Greinke, 2013
As you can tell from that list, it's been quite a while since a pitcher has gotten on base as well as Greinke has. In fact, only two pitchers since 1959 have posted an on-base percentage above .400 in a full season, minimum 50 plate appearances: Greinke this year and Mike Leake for Cincinnati in 2010. Greinke's average is good for 39th all-time; the leader in that category is Johnson in 1925, when he hit .433/.455/.577 in 107 plate appearances with two homers and 20 RBI. Likewise, Greinke is a ways off from the leader in walks for a pitcher in a single season: Griffith in 1901, who drew 23 free passes (against just five strikeouts!).
What's especially odd about Greinke's offensive prowess is that, prior to 2013, he'd hit like ... a pitcher. From 2004 to 2012, Greinke boasted a career line of .170/.191/.302. Granted, that's just 123 plate appearances, since Greinke spent the majority of his career in the American League before this season. But Greinke was no slouch at the plate before beginning his Major League career. As a high schooler in suburban Orlando, Greinke cranked 31 homers and drove in 144 runs over four years, hitting .400. As he told the Los Angeles Times back in June:
"I always wanted to be a hitter. Even when I was drafted I always wanted to hit," said Greinke ... "It's a lot more fun than pitching. You only play once every five days, so that gets kind of boring in between starts. I always wanted to hit and play a position every day."
Instead, Greinke was drafted as a pitcher, and has gone on to have a stellar career on the mound. Oh, and in case you were worried that his newfound hitting success had affected his pitching ability: Greinke shut out the Cubs on Monday over 8 2/3 innings before allowing a two-run double to Brian Bogusevic, striking out nine and allowing just five hits. In his last 30 innings, he's allowed just three earned runs, and his dominant effort Monday helped Los Angeles snap its two-game losing streak.