St. Louis Cardinals: Bidding farewell to pitchers who hit

Pitchers will likely never step to the plate again, but we’ll always have the memories of St. Louis Cardinals pitchers of the past.

The designated hitter has been confirmed for the 2020 season, and it’s a logical conclusion that it will continue when seasons return to normal. And that’s a shame, because the St. Louis Cardinals always got the most out of their pitchers in the box.

The pros and cons of the designated hitter have been exhausted in discussions. I don’t like the DH, but I’ll probably have to accept it. The hitting pitcher has been slowly dying for years, with high school and college teams all utilizing the DH. MLB was bound to catch up to the changes one day.

The Cardinals have always looked for athletes in their drafts, and it’s paid off with pitchers at the plate. According to FanGraphs, the Cardinals are historically the best team when it comes to pitchers hitting, with an overall fWAR of 9.2. The Cleveland Indians are second at 8.1, and third are the New York Yankees at a meager 1.7.

Pitchers coming through in the clutch were always unexpected and enjoyable moments, and those will be going by the wayside. Looking back, we can remember and appreciate the pitchers who did it best.

Any topic about Cardinals pitchers in history usually involves one of the greatest of all time, Bob Gibson. We all know what he did on the mound, even if we didn’t see it ourselves. But he was no slouch at the dish either, with a career batting average of .206 and 24 home runs, the latter an all-time team record for a pitcher. He also threw in 13 stolen bases.

The Cardinals’ batting average leader by a pitcher, though, was Allen Watson, who pitched for the Cardinals from 1993 to 1995 and had an average of .270 in 115 plate appearances. The leader in on-base percentage was Todd Stottlemyre at .306.

Adam Wainwright recently tweeted that he will miss the days in the batter’s box. It makes sense, as Wainwright has been the Cardinals’ best-hitting pitcher for years. His batting average is at the Mendoza line — .200 — which is a respectable number for a hurler. He is also third in home runs in the team’s history with 10, trailing only Gibson and Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Forsch.

There were also a few Cardinals pitchers who had reputations as good hitters but didn’t quite cut the mustard statistically. Jason Marquis had a very strong two years at the plate with St. Louis, hitting .292 and .310 in 2004 and 2005, but he dropped to a more pitcher-like .179 in 2006. He carried the reputation as a solid hitter throughout the rest of his career, but he never came close to replicating his first two years with the Cardinals.

The other pitcher who comes to mind in this category is Mike Leake. The first three years of his career showed him to be solid with the stick, hitting .333, .200 and .295 in a total of 195 plate appearances for the Cincinnati Reds. When the Cardinals acquired him, he was continually touted as a pitcher who could hit, despite the fact that he had only hit .190, .176 and .116 the three following years. The stats proved accurate, as he hit .143 and .170 in his time with the Cardinals.

People often like what is unique. Pitchers who can hit fit into that category, and it’s too bad that baseball will be stripped of some of what makes it different. I’m happy to be a fan of the National League and to have been able to see the moments I saw from pitchers hitting. It was a good run.

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And we’ll always have the home run from Bartolo Colon.