The five of us here at Crashburn Alley will each pick our favorite moments of the 2012 season and look back fondly each day of this week, starting today. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the moments we select and suggest ones we may have forgotten in the comments below.
I’ll be leading off today with my favorite moment of the season: Matt Cain and Cole Hamels trading home runs with each other.
Pitchers homering is one of my favorite things in baseball. It’s just rare enough that it’s a treat every time you see it, but pitchers can always distinguish themselves over the course of a season. In 2012, the average NL pitcher posted a .136 weighted on-base average (wOBA). The league in general sat at .338. The difference between the two, in terms of runs over 600 plate appearances, is over 105 runs. Yes, 105 runs, or more than ten wins. That’s just how bad pitchers are at hitting.
Way back in March, Michael Baumann eloquently wrote about why he doesn’t like the designated hitter. Here is one paragraph of his that sums up my feelings:
Caveats aside, the fish-out-of-water element actually appeals to me a great deal. It’s the same reason that seeing Wilson Valdez pitch in person last year was the greatest live fan experience of my life. When a pitcher hits a home run, or even reaches base, the rarity of the even makes the payoff all the greater when it happens. When a pitcher, particularly a good one, happens to be anything other than a catastrophic incompetent at the plate, every plate appearance is cause for excitement and anticipation. The Phillies, in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, happen to have two such players. What Phillies fan doesn’t remember Joe Blanton‘s home run in the 2008 World Series with fondness? Letting the pitcher bat adds an element of chaos to a game that can, from time to time, be a little too orderly.
Cole Hamels is one of those good-hitting pitchers and had long been among the best, but didn’t have a home run to his name until that mid-July game against the San Francisco Giants. Dating all the way back to 2009, Hamels’ .173 wOBA ranked 16th best out of 60 pitchers who had taken at least 150 trips to the plate. Cain isn’t too far behind, at .150 in 25th place. ESPN provided a note which made the event even more special:
It was the first time pitchers homered off each other in the same game since Atlanta’s Kevin Millwood and Colorado’s Denny Stark did it on May 18, 2002. The last time it happened in the same inning was May 14, 1990 when Montreal’s Kevin Gross and Los Angeles’ Fernando Valenzuela went deep in the third inning.
The Cain/Hamels phenomenon was essentially a once-in-a-generation event, similar to Joe Blanton homering off of Edwin Jackson in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series. Prior to Blanton’s homer, the last pitcher to hit a World Series home run was Ken Holtzman of the Oakland Athletics way back in 1974.
The Phillies lost the game 6-5 and the game ended up being meaningless in the long run, but this game left an indelible mark on my memory.