StaTuesday: Brewers’ Woodruff a pitcher who rakes
Anyone who saw last year’s National League Championship Series knows Brandon Woodruff can rake. After all, how many left-handed hitters take the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw deep, like Woodruff did in Game 1?
(The answer is not many: Kershaw has allowed just 39 homers in 1,585 at-bats to lefties in the regular season over his career to date and Woodruff is the only left-handed hitting pitcher to ever homer off Kershaw.)
Woodruff began this season on a four-game hitting streak – which included a pinch-hitting appearance. That might seem trivial, but in Brewers history it’s tied for the ninth-longest hitting streak by a pitcher. The record is six games, by Yovani Gallardo and Marty Pattin, although the latter did it with the Seattle Pilots. Six pitchers own five-game hit streaks: Gallardo, Junior Guerra, Taylor Jungmann, Chris Narveson, Wes Obermueller and Jamey Wright.
Over those four games, Woodruff went 5-for-7. He’s tailed off a bit since then, but,entering Tuesday night’s game in which he is scheduled to start, he’s batting .353 on the season.
Can he keep up that rate over the course of the entire 2019 season? Only two other pitchers in Brewers history have batted over .300 (minimum 15 at-bats). Woodruff currently has the second-highest average.
For those who might clamor about Kieschnick’s appearance above, in 2004 the only position he played in the field was pitcher. He wasn’t even used in the outfield or as a designated hitter that year, as he did in 2003, but did pinch hit.
Woodruff’s batting average isn’t just a nice accomplishment in Milwaukee history. In the DH era (since 1973), his .353 batting average is tied for 15th among pitchers over a single season (min. 17 AB).
No one has hit as high as Woodruff’s current.353 since 2011, when Cincinnati’s Dontrelle Willis, in the final year of his major-league career, hit .387 and San Diego’s Wade LeBlanc batted .364.
Willis was known as a good-hitting pitcher during his career, and finished with a .244 batting average. Most of the others, though, have that one good season and fade away back into the, well, category of most pitchers. Obermueller, for example, was 7-for-54 (.130) combined in every other season except for hit .385 year in 2004.
Woodruff is an exception. He’s always hit.
In 2016 in Double-A Biloxi he batted .292 and counted a double and home run among his 11 hits. In 2018 with Triple-A Colorado Springs he hit a respectable (for a pitcher) .231.
In his first year with the Brewers, in 2017, Woodruff went 2-for-10 with a walk. In 2018, he was 2-for-8 with a home run and a walk. And then of course there was his postseason HR off Kershaw (he’d come to bat three times that series and reach base twice).
In 2019, manager Craig Counsell has batted him eighth once and, as mentioned, used him as a pinch hitter.
Entering Tuesday’s game, Woodruff is hitting .286 over his career (with a .342 on-base percentage and .429 slugging percentage). Since the major leagues has consisted of the American and National leagues back in 1901, among pitchers with at least 30 career at-bats, Woodruff ranks 19th all time.
And of the others in the top 20, only seven (including Woodruff) played after World War II and none since 1986.
Woodruff is hardly the only Brewers pitcher who can hit. Milwaukee hurlers are batting .189 combined this year. Jhoulys Chacin is 3 for 12 (.250) with a homer, Corbin Burnes 2-for-6 (.333) and Aaron Wilkerson homered in his only at-bat.
Maybe it’s time to bring back #pitcherswhorake.
Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns