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September 20, 2013

Raising Aces

The Top 10 Homers Hit by Pitchers in 2013

by Doug Thorburn

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By design, Raising Aces is pitcher-centric, using a multifaceted approach involving mechanics, stuff, and stats to study the game from the hill. But for the next two weeks, we are going to shift the focus from the pitcher's mound to the batter's box, taking a moment to pay homage to the under-appreciated art of pitcher offense.

We start with the long ball. There have been a total of 20 home runs hit by pitchers this season, all of which were clubbed by hurlers from the National League. There is nothing cooler than a pitcher who helps his own cause by flashing the lumber, so with a hat-tip to Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, here are the top 10 homers that were hit by pitchers in 2013:

10. Andrew Cashner
Hit off of Josh Collmenter on July 27

Cashner entered this game versus the Diamondbacks with a slash line of .286/.286/.286 on the season, with eight singles in 28 at-bats, before turning around a Josh Collmenter cutter for a line drive over the left-field wall at Chase Field. It was not just the first career homer for Cashner, but also the first extra-base hit of his brief tenure in the majors. He had worked a walk while batting against Tyler Skaggs two innings prior—Cashner's first free pass of the season with a bat in his hands—and the two plate appearances shook up his slash line to differentiate any identical decimals.

9. Edwin Jackson
Hit off of Curtis Partch on September 10

Jackson is one of four Cub pitchers who have left the yard this year, and the team's total of six pitcher bombs is twice that of any other club, representing 30 percent of the total hurler homers that have been hit in 2013. The shot occurred in Jackson's second at-bat versus the hard-throwing Partch, who had fired five consecutive fastballs averaging 97 mph in their initial match-up. Partch went back to the well with a 96-mph heater on the first pitch to Jackson, but the veteran was ready for the smoke and pulled the pitch deep into the left field stands to give himself and the Cubs an eighth-inning, 9-0 lead that would not be relinquished.

8. Shelby Miller
Hit off of Matt Reynolds on June 6

Miller had two hits in his first three major-league at bats last season, but this year the rookie has a paltry .078 batting average, with just four safeties on the campaign. Miller entered the June 6 contest versus the Diamondbacks with zero hits on the season, but he got off the schneid with a second-inning single off of Ian Kennedy before clearing the wall to lead off the bottom of the fifth frame. He was the first batter Reynolds faced, and the second would find the same result, as Matt Carpenter made it back-to-back homers to extend the Cardinal lead to 11-2. Miller saw five pitches from Reynolds, with a third-pitch curveball breaking the monotony of high-80s fastballs, but Miller was able to pull an outside pitch to the power alley in left-center field to instantly quintuple his slugging percentage on the season.

7. Wade Miley
Hit off of Ryan Vogelsong on April 22

Vogelsong's pitch to Wade Miley was supposed to be low and away to the left-handed batter, but he badly missed his target with an 89-mph fastball that ended up on the border of numbers one and two on the strike-zone keypad. Throwing elevated pitches is the quickest route to giving up home runs, but surely Vogelsong assumed he would get away with mistakes against the opposing pitcher. Alas, Miley launched a high-arcing flyball out of the yard, nearly adding to the splashdown count at AT&T Park.

6. Yovani Gallardo
Hit off of Matt Cain on April 18

Gallardo is one of just two pitchers with multiple home runs this season, and both of his bombs were hit within an 11-day span in April. An accomplished hitter, Gallardo has cleared the fence in every full season of his career, with a total of 12 homers to his credit in six full seasons in the bigs. He touched 'em all four times in the 2010 season alone, on his way to a .254/.328/.504 line in 72 plate appearances, and that prowess with the lumber helps to explain how Gallardo was able to do yardwork against an All-Star such as Matt Cain. Two starts later, Wandy Rodriguez and the Pirates would assume the victim role against Gallardo's bat.

5. Henderson Alvarez
Hit off of Travis Wood on September 2

Alvarez entered the season with just one plate appearance on his resume, having spent his entire career in the American League. He has amassed 28 plate appearances this season with a slash line of .348/.333/.585, and though such a limited sample size makes it nearly impossible to draw any conclusions about his bat-wielding skills, it is worth noting that he has already collected twice as many hits on the season as Shelby Miller (in less than half the opportunities). His long fly off of Travis Wood is notable for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: A) Wood himself is legit with the lumber (more on this later); B) the blast was hardly a cheap shot, having cleared Wrigley's ivy by at least five rows; and C) the bleacher bum who caught the ball ranged far to his right to make the play, only to re-deposit the baseball immediately back onto the field. I don't know if it qualifies as a web gem, but the fan certainly earned a round of Old Style Lager from his fellow Cubbie faithful.

4. Tim Hudson
Hit off of Zach Duke on April 30

Huddy had a reputation as a bat-smith in college, splitting time between the outfield and the mound as a two-way player at Auburn University, but his numbers have not been much better than par for a pitcher at the plate. Hudson found his stroke against the Nats, lacing a double and a homer in their match-up on April 30 of this year. His opposite-field knock off of Zach Duke would carry extra significance when all was said and done, as the Braves would go on to beat the Nationals 8-1 and Hudson would be credited with the 200th win of his career. Bonus points go to Bryce Harper, who ensured that this moment would survive on highlight reels for years when his attempt at a leaping catch went sour, watching the ball pop out of his glove and into the crowd for Hudson's third homer in nearly 500 career at-bats.

3. Travis Wood
Hit off of Jake Peavy on May 30

Say hello to the 2013 leader in pitcher home runs. Wood's three bombs on the season are tied with the second-highest team total (Phillies and Padres), and the southpaw with the Rickey Henderson curse has hit at least one home run in each of his four seasons in the majors, clubbing six total in 181 career at-bats. The rocket that Wood hit off of Jake Peavy gave the Cubs a 6-1 lead and an eventual victory against the crosstown ChiSox, giving the north siders a three-game sweep in the home half of the Windy City series. The bases-loaded jack was the only grand slam hit by a pitcher this season, and it was made all the more impressive by Wood's aggressiveness out of the batter's box on contact.

2. Clayton Kershaw
Hit off of George Kontos on April 1

Kershaw entered this season with 332 career plate appearances and no home runs. In fact, the only extra-base hit that he had managed over his first five years in the bigs was a double that he hit in May of 2012. So it only made sense that Kershsaw would ignite the fireworks on Opening Day, launching a 414-foot blast to dead-center field in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead versus the rival Giants. Los Angeles would score three more times in the frame, and Kershaw would dispose of the San Francisco hitters in the top of the ninth to complete the shutout and beat Matt Cain in front of a home crowd of more than 53,000 fans. The Kershaw homer has all of the elements of a no. 1 ranking for this list, including the impressive distance, the rarity of occurrence, and most importantly, the impact on the ballgame. However, it must serve as the primary bookend to the 2013 tale of pitcher prowess at the plate, due to a rookie ace whose overall impact on the baseball world cannot be denied.

And now, the no. 1 home run hit by a pitcher in 2013:

1. Jose Fernandez
Hit off of Mike Minor on September 11

Big Fern” is the best story of the 2013 season, hands down, and he put an exclamation mark on his debut campaign with a bang, not a whimper. With the decision already handed down that the September 11 start would be his last, Fernandez brought a supersaturated dose of his contagious energy to the mound against the Braves. The fiery Fernandez drew contempt from the Atlanta hitters, including a stare-down from Evan Gattis following the cleanup hitter's long drive in the top of the sixth inning as well as some choice words from Chris Johnson later in the frame.

(Special thanks to Harold Reynolds and MLB Network for the graphics.)

Fernandez was incensed by the exchange, and he strode to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with fire in his eyes. In what would be the final at-bat of his remarkable season, Fernandez roped a 1-0 changeup well out of the yard for the first homer of his career, extending the Marlins' advantage over the division leaders to 5-1.

The rookie stood at the plate and took a long look at his shot, watching the ball for its entire flight before he started to trot around the bags. The veterans on the Braves did not take too kindly to the kid's showmanship, and catcher Brian McCann reminded Fernandez of baseball's etiquette when the right-hander finished his ride on the home-run carousel.

Chris Johnson decided that it was on, so he came sprinting from third base to join in the fray. The spat between Fernandez and Johnson was literal, as Fernandez had hocked a loogy in Johnson's direction upon rounding the hot corner, though replays showed that Johnson had in fact initiated the exchange-fire of saliva and that Big Fern was merely the second spitter.

Getting beyond the alleged breach in baseball courtesy, the competitive circumstances of Fernandez's blast vault him to the no. 1 ranking for pitcher homers this season. Every kid's dream is to hit a home run in the final at-bat of the season, and though most of those fantasies involve hoisting a World Series trophy, even the dreamers fail to imagine what it would be like to do so as the game's winning pitcher. Fernandez completed an epic rookie campaign by defeating the National League East's best team with his arm as well as his bat, getting the best of the Braves on both sides of the ball. In his shoes, most of us would also stop to admire the rocket's flight path, knowing that there are few better ways for a last-place team to get under the skin of the division's top dog.

Doug Thorburn is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Doug's other articles. You can contact Doug by clicking here

Related Content:  Jose Fernandez,  Home Runs,  Pitcher Hitting

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