Pitchers who made hardest contact at the plate in 2015
By Paul Casella
The seemingly endless debate surrounding whether or not to utilize designated hitters in both leagues heated up again last week, though no changes appear to be imminent.
That last part should come as welcome news not only for traditionalists, but also for a few National League pitchers. Though many struggled and as a whole had one of the worst-hitting seasons of all-time for pitchers last year, Statcast™ indicates that there were some who more than held their own at the plate.
Here are five other pitchers whose average exit velocities in 2015 suggest they might support keeping DH talks on the back burner. (To keep those sample sizes from getting too small, only pitchers who had at least 25 batted balls tracked by Statcast™ were considered for this list.)
After spending his first nine seasons in the American League, Shields elected to sign with his hometown Padres last offseason. Though he hit only .132/.145/.162, Shields registered a higher average exit velocity than the likes of Evan Gattis, Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Turner, among many others. In fact, Ross and Shields finished with higher average exit velocities than every San Diego position player, including Wil Myers (90.5 mph) and Matt Kemp (89.7).
Shields' average launch angle of 6.27 degrees -- where anything below 10 degrees is a ground ball -- suggests he was hitting the ball into the ground more often than not, which might explain why his batting line wasn't better. But check this: AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa had an average launch angle of 5.74 degrees.
Liriano certainly isn't regarded to be one of the better hitting pitchers, yet he put up some truly mind-boggling numbers at the plate. He had three extra-base hits, including a home run, despite entering the season with only 10 hits -- and none for extra bases -- in 129 career plate appearances. While those stats may be surprising, they're nothing compared to the fact that Liriano finished with an identical average exit velocity as three-time All-Star and former NL Most Valuable Player Buster Posey.
That's not all, though, as Liriano's batted balls traveled an average distance of 218.3 feet, which placed him ahead of Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion, among others. Encarnacion, who hit 39 homers, registered an average distance of 217.8 feet. Certainly the sample size is a factor -- Liriano had only 26 batted balls tracked by Statcast™ -- but the fact remains that his average distance on balls in play ranked third on the Pirates, behind only Andrew McCutchen (225.4 feet) and Aramis Ramirez (223.2).
Bumgarner has connected for nine homers over the past two seasons, all while hitting a combined .252/.280/.469 during that span. He hit a career-best five homers last year, joining Carlos Zambrano and Mike Hampton as the only pitchers since 2000 to hit at least five home runs in a single season. Bumgarner's hardest-hit ball of the year was on Aug. 21, when he crushed a 111-mph homer off Pirates lefty Jeff Locke. That was just one of 11 hits by Bumgarner that registered an exit velocity of at least 100 mph. The most memorable of the bunch, however, was hit on May 21, when he teed off for a 104.9-mph homer off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
The D-backs not only added a much-needed ace when they swooped in to sign Greinke this winter, they also landed one of the game's better hitting pitchers. Though Greinke hasn't come close over the past two seasons to matching the .328/.409/.379 line he put up for the Dodgers in 2013, he has recorded 11 extra-base hits, including three home runs. He hit multiple homers in a season for the first time in his career last year, first crushing a 106.1-mph blast off Phillies righty David Buchanan ad adding a 102.4-mph homer off of Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani just 10 days later. Overall, Greinke registered 10 batted balls that surpassed the 100-mph mark.
Yes, that Bartolo Colon. Amazin'-ly, the 42-year-old Mets hurler finished last season tied for seventh in average exit velocity among pitchers. Colon recorded just the second double of his career on May 31 against the Marlins, when he roped a 96.2-mph liner to center field that rolled all the way to the wall. He finished with a career-high eight hits and four RBIs, all while logging a higher average exit velocity than All-Star hitters such as Ian Kinsler (87.21 mph) and Yadier Molina (87.17). Full disclosure, however: Colon finished with an average launch angle of -1.19 degrees, meaning he was still prone to hitting the ball into the ground more often than in the air.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.