The pending agreement between the players and union would include a designated hitter for the National League, both this year and next. With a new agreement needed past that point, it seems the writing is on the wall for #PitchersWhoRake. To honor those who will now spend their half-inning sitting in the dugout, wearing a jacket, let’s look at the highs and lows of those who have stepped onto the mound and up to the plate, over the first 22 seasons of Arizona Diamondbacks baseball.
Best hitter: Jose Valverde
Yes, Papa Grande sports a meaty 3.000 OPS as a hitter in a Diamondbacks uniform. Admittedly, this is over a sample size of... one plate-appearance. Actually, one pitch. But let’s not split hairs. That trip to the plate came as a rookie, on September 20, 2003. in Milwaukee. He’d got the final out in the bottom of the eighth, and with Arizona holding a five-run lead, was allowed to bat for himself with one out in the ninth. He promptly lined the first pitch he saw from Leo Estrella to deep center, and found himself standing on second-base, subsequently scoring on an RBI single by Steve Finley. He’d never hold a bat for Arizona again, ending with a line of 1.000/1.000/2.000.
Sadly, he was not able to repeat the performance after being dealt to the Astros (then in the National League). He got a second trip to the plate with them on April 22, 2008 against the Padres, and was struck out by future D-back Heath Bell. But Valverde did get the W in that game. Honorable mentions: David Hernandez, Keith Hessler and Vincente Padilla, all of whom singled in their one plate-appearance for the Diamondbacks. For Hessler, it was his only career PA.
Best hitter (reasonable sample size): Micah Owings
Among those with more than a single PA, the best average is Nick Bierbrodt, who went 4-for-6. Also worth a mention: Zack Duke’s .300 average over twenty AB, including a pair of home-runs. But there’s no doubt who the winner is. Owings has 141 PAs for Arizona, and a line of .298/.331/.496 in that time, for an .827 OPS. Few can forget his amazing performance in Atlanta (above), going 4-for-5 with two home-runs and six RBI. That was a peak, but no aberration: he had five HR in 131 at-bats here, as a genuine two-way player. Just a shame his pitching was a less credible threat as his hitting. There, he’s best known for setting up Ryan Roberts’ 2011 walk-off slam against the Dodgers, by allowing five runs in the top of the 10th.
Honorable mentions. You might expect Zack Greinke to be runner-up here, especially after joining Owings to become the only other pitcher with a two-homer game for Arizona. But in the 25+ PA crowd, he ranks third by OPS, though with a respectable .600 OPS. Second place instead goes to (as he mentioned on Twitter yesterday!) the last major-league pitcher ever to have a four-hit game (below), Dan Haren. He batted .265/.285/.382 over 229 PA here, for a .667 OPS. For context, that’s almost the same OPS as Chris Owings put up as a D-back (.669). And there are 14 position players who had a lower OPS than Haren, in 229 or more PA for Arizona. That includes names like Jarrod Dyson, Cliff Pennington and Augie Ojeda.
Worst hitter: Merrill Kelly
58 pitchers have a zero OPS with the Diamondbacks, but the vast majority had a handful or fewer of chances. Only three did so with double-digit PAs: Allan Webster (11), Armando Galarraga (16) and Geraldo Guzman (23). But the one man who was celebrating harder than anyone the news he won’t have to hit anymore, is Merrill Kelly. Before last year, only one regular pitcher has posted an OPS below .100 for a season with Arizona: Chase Anderson managed .087 in 41 PA in 2014. Kelly, coming from the DH-enabled Korean leagues, eclipsed that by going 1-for-52 with two walks and twenty-five strikeouts, for a .075 OPS over 60 PA. Among pitchers with 50+ PA last year, it was the lowest OPS in the majors, by 69 points.
Honorable mentions. On the career list (min 60 PA), Kelly just edged out Yusmeiro Petit and his .088 OPS. There’s then a big gap as we climb up, to Anderson’s career figure of .168 - more than twice as much as Kelly. If we increase the qualification to a hundred plate appearances, the biggest “rabbit” [a cricket term I feel is appropriate here!] is Zack Godley, who hit .079 over his five years here, with an OPS of only .213. Trevor Cahill and Doug Davis round out the podium spots there. The names you might think of, Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson, are comparatively competent. Webb batted .113 with a .270 OPS, while Johnson hit .132 with a .326 OPS. And the Big Unit did have this...