From Jon Lester’s walk-off-bunt to Kerry Wood’s homer in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS, Chicago Cubs pitchers have given us plenty of huge moments at the plate over the years. But this season, it’s all coming to an end. Forever. Love it or hate it, the universal designated hitter is officially here to stay. And that means no more pitchers hitting on the regular.
The Cubs did their best to eulogize the moment.
You can take their at-bats.
But you'll never take the memories. 💔 pic.twitter.com/ChxoIwIvHS
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 1, 2022
Now that it’s over, let’s have a little fun looking back at the history of Cubs pitchers batting.
176 pitchers have stepped up to the plate at least 100 times as a member of the Chicago Cubs, and the best among them? Scott Stratton … who played from 1888-1895. Buuuut nobody knows many players from 1888, when the game was entirely different, so we’re going to shrink the field to after MLB lowered the mound in 1969. This way it’s a little more apples-to-apples.
Best Career Hitting Pitchers
Okay, resetting. Since MLB lowered the mound in 1969, 57 pitchers have taken at least 100 PAs as a Chicago Cub, and the best hitter of the group is exactly who you’re thinking: Carlos Zambrano at .241/.251/.395 (60 wRC+). Yes, the Cubs’ best hitting pitcher in modern baseball history was 40% worse than the league average batter. Such is the nature of pitchers hitting in the modern era!
Here’s a look at the rest of the top-10:
1. Carlos Zambrano: 60 wRC+
2. Jim Bullinger: 51 wRC+
3. Travis Wood: 51 wRC+
4. Mike Krukow: 41 wRC+
5. Shawn Boskie: 36 wRC+
6. Kevin Foster: 29 wRC+
7. Lynn McGlothen: 29 wRC+
8. Mark Prior: 28 wRC+
9. Rick Sutcliffe: 25 wRC+
10. Jake Arrieta: 22 wRC+
As you can see, even the very best hitting pitchers in Cubs history are … horrendous hitters overall. But we don’t have to do them dirty like that. Careers are long. Examining some individual seasons is a little more friendly, and probably more fun for the nostalgia bone.
Best Single-Season Hitters
With a benchmark of at least 50 PAs in a single season, three Cubs hitters have finished above-average overall at the plate for a given year: Dave Roberts (131 wRC+, 1978), Carlos Zambrano (127 wRC+, 2008), and Fergie Jenkins (103 wRC+, 1971).
And the nice thing about wRC+ is that it’s adjusted for the era in question, so these actually are fair comparisons.
And because I’m sure you’re wondering, Travis Wood’s 2014 campaign ranks 4th (96 wRC+), Carlos Zambrano pops up for a second time in 2005 (5th, 92 wRC+), and Jake Arrieta’s memorable 2016 effort ranks 7th: .262/.304/.415 (90 wRC+).
The Worst Hitters
Among the 57 pitchers with at least 100 PAs in their Cubs career, 32 had NEGATIVE wRC+, which, yeah, I don’t even know the math on that. Mark Clark (-64 wRC+) is the worst among them, but Jose Quintana (-60 wRC+) is not far behind. Unsurprisingly, Kyle Hendricks (-37, 9th) and Ryan Dempster (-36, 10th) are not too far away, and even Greg Maddux (-2, 30th) was a negative wRC+ guy.
But the worst single-season hitting performance by a Cubs pitcher? That’s Kyle Hendricks with a .050/.066/.067 (-77 wRC+) slash line in 2015.
Homers, Homers, Homers
Carlos Zambrano is the clear home run champ among Cubs pitchers, with three of the top-4 single-season records (and he’s tied for first): Fergie Jenkins (6, 1971), Zambrano (6, 2006), Zambrano (4, 2008), Zambrano (4, 2009).
Zambrano and Fergie are the only two Cubs pitchers with double-digit homers, but Zambrano has more than double Fergie overall:
1. Carlos Zambrano: 23 HRs
2. Fergie Jenkins: 11 HRs
3. Travis Wood: 7 HRs
4. Kerry Wood: 7 HRs
5. Jake Arrieta: 5 HRs
6. Milt Pappas: 4 HRs
t-7. Rick Sutcliffe: 3 HRs
t-7. Jim Bullinger: 3 HRs
t-7.Greg Maddux: 3 HRs
t-7. Jason Marquis: 3 HRs
t-7. Jon Lester: 3 HRs
t-7. Dennis Eckersley: 3 HRs
Yeah, that’s Jon Lester (who always did have a sweet looking swing, despite the complete lack of success early on), tied for the 7th most home runs for Cubs pitchers all-time. That’s fun.
Also random fun? Three of the Cubs best home-run hitting pitchers tossed no-hitters with the team (Arrieta, Zambrano, Milt Pappas).
Some of the Best Moments
I’ve been on the internet long enough to know that I won’t make everyone happy with the moments I pick if I try to exhaust the list, so here are just THREE of my PERSONAL favorite Cubs pitchers hitting memories over the years. I’d love if you shared more in the comments.
Kerry Wood’s HR in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS:
Jon Lester’s walk-off bunt:
Four years ago today, Jon Lester and Jason Heyward gave us the walk-off bunt. pic.twitter.com/DBVyMEbkol
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) July 31, 2020
Jake Arrieta’s 3-Run HR Off Madison Bumgarner in the 2016 NLDS:
5 years ago today, Jake Arrieta hit a 3-run home run off Madison Bumgarner to give the #Cubs the lead in Game 3 of the 2016 NLDS. 💪🏼
Arrieta was first pitcher to homer off Bumgarner in his career.
— Cubs Zone ™️ (@CubsZone) October 10, 2021