Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner is not only one of the best pitchers in baseball today--and the best post-season pitcher of all-time, according to some statistical categories--but he's also one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball history.
His home run last Friday night in Pittsburgh gave him nine homers in 122 at bats over these last two seasons. That homer per at bat ratio is better than that of nearly every position player in the majors.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy recently used Bumgarner as a pinch-hitter in back-to-back games, the first time that's happened in the majors since Micah Owings did it for the Reds five years ago.
It's no secret that having a great hitting pitcher gives the Giants a significant advantage in nearly every game Bumgarner starts, because his counterpart on the opposing team is nearly always a marginal hitter at best. Bumgarner even may be a more dangerous hitter than some of Bochy's other pinch-hit options off the bench. And yet, I would prefer that Bochy err on the side of caution and not get carried away with the idea of using Bumgarner as a frequent pinch-hitter.
Did you see him swing through two fastballs thrown by Cards' closer Trevor Rosenthal last week, one at 98 miles an hour, the other at 97? Bumgarner was swinging for the fences, but he couldn't catch up to either one. When I see Bumgarner swing that hard, I immediately worry that he's going to pull an oblique muscle, which could sideline him for at least a month. And when I see Bumgarner hit yet another fastball into the stands, I think that opposing pitchers are inevitably going to stop throwing him fastballs over the plate that he can extend his arms on, and instead throw off-speed pitches off the plate, and fastballs inside, where he runs the risk of getting hit on his left shoulder, left bicep, left tricep, left elbow, left forearm, left wrist, left hand, left thumb or one his four left fingers.
The Giants can't afford to lose their best pitcher. It's great to see him hit when he's the starting pitcher, but I can't help but feel that the reward is not worth the risk when he's not. In short, less is more for the Giants when Bumgarner is not pitching. It's better to leave him on the bench, than unnecessarily run the risk of injury, unless Bochy is out of other options.