NL Debate: Should Managers consider hitting abilities of Minor League Pitchers?

Kevin LuchanskyAnalyst IMay 15, 2008

The recent at-the-plate successes of Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano and Arizona’s Micah Owings raises the question: Should NL Managers factor hitting ability when bringing up, or drafting, a young pitcher?

The 9th spot in the batting order was once reserved for an automatic out and a chance to rejuvenate yourself at the nearest concession stand.

If you got up and left your seat, the most exciting play you might miss was a sacrifice bunt. If you hang around and watch the sac-bunt, you’ll ultimately be disappointed that you didn’t pay a visit to the Budweiser guy, who always manages to deliver a refreshing American lager.

In some NL ballparks, this might still be true. Some managers seem to accept the 9thslot as a “K” or the ever-exciting weak groundout.

This year, Big Z and Owings are changing all that.

Zambrano’s power on the hill may only be challenged by his power at the place. The 6’5, 255 pound hurler has a vicious swing. Just ask Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who surrendered an opposite field home run to Zambrano on May 1st. The home run was the 13thof Zambrano’s career, tieing a franchise record for a pitcher wearing Cubbie blue. You can also ask former Cubs catcher Michael Barrett, who fell victim to a different type of swing that landed him in San Diego.

So far this season, Big Z is putting up some big numbers at the plate, for a pitcher of course. The 2006 Silver Slugger Award winner has eight hits in 27 at-bats, hitting .296 – not too bad for the ace of your pitching staff. Of the eight hits, three have gone for extra bases (2 doubles and HR).

Carlos’ two RBI’s this season brings up his career total to an impressive 35. In Zambrano’s eight year career, he has eclipsed five RBI’s in five of them. The stat includes Big Z’s first two seasons (2001-02) where the hurler managed to garner only 32 at-bats, and this season, which is far from over.

In the NL West, the 26 year old Owings is gaining attention not only on the mound, but for his performance at the dish.

Owings is as good a hitter as Zambrano, if not better. The only category Owings needs to improve to trump Big Z in the hitting department is his power, according to Zambrano.

Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin has shown a lot of confidence in the Gainesville, Georgia native, using him as a pinch hitter sparingly this season.

Owings has the highest batting average among pitchers this season (.370) with 10 hits in 27 at-bats. Last seasons’ Silver Slugger Award winner has five career homers and 18 runs batted in – including one jack this season and three runs driven in. 

Not since the days of a young Tom Glavine, a healthy Mike Hampton or the now non-existent Steve Avery have we seen pitchers with this much presence at the plate. Zambrano’s teammate Jason Marquis, 2005 recipient of the Silver Slugger award, can also hold his own at the plate. It should also be noted that the word “healthy” and “Mike Hampton” have not been used in the same sentence since his 1993 debut with the Seattle Mariners.

More importantly for Owings, Zambrano and their respective ball clubs, they’ve been dominant on the mound. Pitching is, after all, the reason these hurlers made it to the big show.

Zambrano is 6-1 in nine starts this season and has been virtually unhittable, allowing just 14 earned runs in 62 innings of work.

Owings has a similar stature (6’5 – 225) and similar stats in the young marathon season. Micah’s 5-1 record and 3.81 ERA are often overshadowed by teammate Brandon Webb’s explosive 8-0 start.

This article is in no way suggesting that NL talent scouts should pass on young talents that have had no success at the plate. But in the small-ball league that is the NL, a hit here and there from your pitcher could just make the difference in a game.