San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner is baseball's best hitting pitcher, and now he'll get a chance to prove it again when he bats for himself in an American League park on Thursday night.
Madison Bumgarner has already lobbied to be included in the Home Run Derby, and while Bruce Bochy has yet to give that idea his full stamp of approval, the Giants manager is throwing his ace lefty a bone. For Thursday night's game against the A's in Oakland, the team will forgo the designated hitter, allowing Bumgarner to bat—the first time in 40 years a team has voluntarily waived the DH option at the start of a game.
Bumgarner is one of the game's top-hitting pitchers. He leads all active hurlers in career home runs (13) and has hit .235/.276/.443 with 11 homers in 205 plate appearances over the past three seasons, good for a 97 OPS+. He's at just .175/.261/.350 this year for a 64 OPS+, but his three extra-base hits and five walks in 46 PA still serve as reminders that he can do some damage, even if his status as the game's top-hitting pitcher isn't unchallenged. Here’s a supercut of some of his best homers:
The last time a starting pitcher batted for himself in an AL park came on May 17, 2009, when Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine was forced to bat third due to a lineup card mixup by manager Joe Maddon, who had written in two third basemen, indicating that one of them was also his DH. Sonnanstine went 1-for-3 with a double, and the Rays won, 7-5. The last time such a situation occurred intentionally was on Sept. 23, 1976, when the White Sox's Ken Brett went 0-for-3 in a 3-0 loss against the Twins; he also did so in a 4-0 loss to the Red Sox on July 6 of that year. Brett, the older brother of Hall of Famer and 3,000-hit club member George Brett, was an excellent hitter for a pitcher, batting .262/.291/.406 with 10 homers and a 95 OPS+ in 373 career plate appearances, 28 of them as a pinch-hitter.
Via the San Jose Mercury News' Andrew Baggarly, since the DH rule was adopted in 1973, the only other pitchers to take their hacks in AL parks under such conditions were the Rangers' Fergie Jenkins (1-for-2 with a run scored against the Twins on Oct. 2, 1974) and the A's Ken Holtzman (0-for-2 against the Angels on Sept. 27, 1975). Other pitchers have batted in AL parks under the DH rule, but only when the they had to after the DH was moved to a defensive position in mid-game.
Beyond the fact that San Francisco won’t get to revert to using the DH in the event that Bumgarner is removed from the game, Bochy’s decision isn’t just a celebration of Bumgarner's batting. It's also a way for the Giants to deal with a shorthanded bench. Already with four infielders (starting second baseman Joe Panik, third baseman Matt Duffy and utilitymen Kelby Tomlinson and Ehire Adrianza) on the disabled list, the team added Ruben Tejada to the roster for Wednesday's game, only to lose Ramiro Pena to a sprained left ankle via a costly collision before Tejada took his first plate appearance. Pena’s injury will likely keep him out five to seven days, not long enough to justify a DL stint.
Barring a roster move, if Tejada starts at second and Conor Gillespie at third, only two other players on the active roster have professional experience at an infield position besides first base: backup catcher Trevor Brown and starting shortstop Brandon Crawford. Brown, who played an inning at the hot corner on Tuesday night, has 97 games of experience at second base in the minors, all but two innings of which came in 2013 and '14. For what it's worth, before moving to catcher in his sophomore year at Florida State, Posey played shortstop as a college freshman in 2006 and then in the Cape Cod League that summer. It’s difficult to imagine a set of circumstances where the Giants would be better off with him playing out of position and Brown behind the plate than vice versa.
As for the Home Run Derby, in the wake of Bumgarner's request, which hasn't entirely been ruled out by the Giants, other pitchers including the Cubs' Jake Arrieta and the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright came forward to say that they would like to participate as well. That led to MLB discussing the idea of a modified, all-pitchers derby, but according to the San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea, "[S]olidifying all the details this close to the event makes it a long shot, at least this year."