Cubs' 15 best hitting pitchers since 1900, from Hippo to Zambrano

Cubs' 15 best hitting pitchers since 1900, from Hippo to Zambrano

Seven years ago Saturday, Travis Wood crushed a grand slam in a start against the White Sox, the first by a pitcher at Wrigley Field since 1972. But with the universal DH likely coming to MLB in 2020, the days of seeing Cubs pitchers rake might be gone, at least this season.

Thus, we looked back at some of the Cubs best hitting pitchers since 1900. To qualify, players had to have at least 100 at bats with the Cubs and had to have played at least 90 percent of their games as a pitcher.

15. Rick Sutcliffe — 3 HR, 29 OPS+, .173 BA

Sutcliffe has the second-lowest batting average of any pitcher on this list but he made up for the lack of consistency with a few big moments at the plate. In Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS, he led off the bottom of the third inning with a home run off Eric Show. Sutcliffe also hit three regular season home runs with the Cubs, despite hitting just one in his previous 124 major league at bats.

Sutcliffe’s final home run came in 1988 against the Houston Astros. The pitcher that day? Future Cubs broadcaster Jim Deshaies.

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14. Hippo Vaughn — 3 HR, 39 OPS+, .180 BA

Vaughn won 20 games five times with the Cubs but he could also swing the bat a little bit. He homered three times with the Cubs, and his third and final long ball came off Hall of Fame Cardinals pitcher Jesse Haines in 1921. Vaughn also hit an impressive 21 doubles and posted an OPS+ of 39.

13. Tex Carleton — 3 HR, 40 OPS+, .190 BA

All three of Carleton’s home runs with the Cubs came against the Boston Bees in 1936. Before he joined the Cubs, Carleton (then with the Cardinals) hit a home run off Charlie Root at Wrigley Field in 1933. Carleton hit .190 with a 40 OPS+ during his tenure with Chicago.

12. Lon Warneke — 3 HR, 42 OPS+, .219 BA

Warneke pitched on some very good Cubs teams from 1930-36, reaching the World Series twice (1932 and '35.) He was the only pitcher to win a game for the Cubs in the ‘35 Fall Classic, going 2-0. He also collected a hit on a second inning single in his Game 5 win. He hit three home runs and had a 42 OPS+ in his Cubs career.

11. Jim Bullinger — 3 HR, 54 OPS+, .180 BA

All three of Bullinger’s home runs with the Cubs came on the road, but the first one was special. On June 8, 1992 (in the first game of a doubleheader) Bullinger homered on the first pitch he faced, in his first career major league at bat. Those are the types of moments that earn you a reputation as a good hitting pitcher, and Bullinger lived up to those expectations with a career OPS+ of 54.

10. Pat Malone — 9 HR, 28 OPS+, .200 BA

Malone was a key piece of the Cubs starting rotation from 1928-34 before being traded to the Cardinals. He helped pitch the Cubs to the 1929 World Series but wound up on the losing end of the clinching game, despite doubling to right field in his first at-bat. Four of his nine career home runs came in 1930, when he posted a league-high 20 wins.

9. Charlie Root —11 HR, 28 OPS+, .182 BA

Root played for the Cubs for a long time (1926-41), so it comes as no surprise that no Cubs pitcher since 1900 has more RBIs than him (93). Only three players on this list have more home runs than Root, and he’s one of two players on this list to homer off of another player on this list (Carleton in 1934.) Root also leads all Cubs pitcher with 46 doubles.

8. Jake Arrieta — 5 HR, 30 OPS+, .178 BA

Arrieta homered five times in just 259 career at bats with the Cubs. Only Travis Wood has more home runs in fewer at bats among Cubs pitchers. Arrieta helped himself out at the plate in both of his no-hitters, going 1-for-4 against the Dodgers in 2015 and 2-for-4 against the Reds in 2016. He also famously hit a three-run homer off Madison Bumgarner in the second inning of Game 3 of the 2016 NLDS.

7. Claude Passeau — 12 HR, 36 OPS+, .185 BA

Only two Cubs pitchers (Carlos Zambrano and Fergie Jenkins) have more home runs than Passeau. He was a five-time All-Star with the Cubs, winning 20 games in 1940 and finishing in the top-10 in MVP voting in 1942. Passeau had four seasons with at least two home runs from the plate. He also hit 20 doubles and three triples during his time with the Cubs.

MORE: How the Cubs became unwilling symbols in union's fight against MLB owners

6. Pete Alexander — 6 HR, 53 OPS+, .230 BA

Alexander is a Hall of Fame pitcher with 373 wins and five ERA titles to his name, but he was also a solid hitter. He homered 11 times in his MLB career, six times as a Cub. He’s one of two pitchers on this list to hit a walk-off homer. Alexander finished his MLB career with 378 hits and a .209 average.

5. Paul Minner — 6 HR, 58 OPS+, .221 BA

Minner was a consistent member of the Cubs starting rotation from 1950-56. The left-hander finished his Cubs career with 64 complete games, but he could also swing the bat. He hit six home runs and posted a 58 OPS+ with the Cubs. The Cubs didn't post a winning season during his tenure, but Minner hit at least one home run in every season from 1950-54.

4. Travis Wood — 7 HR, 50 OPS+, .197 BA

Wood is the only player on this list with a grand slam on his resume. He’s also one of just three players listed here to hit a home run in the playoffs (2016). Considering Wood pitched 200 innings just once during his Cubs career, it’s astounding he wound up with seven homers. Just imagine the long ball totals he would have if he were a consistent member of the starting rotation. Wood is also easily the best left fielder of this bunch.

3. Tony Kaufmann — 8 HR, 70 OPS+, .243 BA

Kaufmann was a Chicago native who pitched for the Cubs from 1921-27. He has the highest OPS+ of any Cubs pitcher in franchise history (70) and also hit eight home runs with 20 additional extra-base hits in his career. His .243 average is the second-best among Cubs pitchers with at least 100 at-bats since 1900. He homered twice in the same game on the Fourth of July in 1925 against the Cardinals.

2. Fergie Jenkins — 13 HR, 23 OPS+, .165 BA

Jenkins is one of just five Cubs pitchers ever to homer twice in the same game, which he pulled off on Sept. 1, 1971 against Montreal. His first career home run actually came in his Cubs debut against Don Sutton and the Dodgers on April 23, 1966. Fergie notched his first Cubs win, first Cubs strikeout, first career hit and first career home run all in the same day (and it was a relief appearance.)

Jenkins is the only player on this list to take two Hall of Famers deep (Sutton and Tom Seaver.) His 13 home runs and 85 RBIs both rank second in franchise history among pitchers since 1900.

1. Carlos Zambrano — 23 HR, 64 OPS+, .241 BA

Zambrano has more home runs than any pitcher in Cubs franchise history (23) and finished with a career OPS+ of 64. The list of pitchers Big Z took deep is impressive by any hitter’s standards: Tom Glavine, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buerhle, Johnny Cueto and Aaron Harang, just to name a few.

In 2006, the same season he finished fifth in Cy Young voting, Zambrano smashed six home runs and earned his first of three Silver Slugger awards. His .395 slugging percentage is the highest of any Cubs pitcher since 1900 (with a minimum of 100 at bats.) Zambrano finished his career with a .718 OPS against lefties. That’ll play.

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Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

If Yu Darvish thinks baseball can pull off this high-risk, three-month season during a pandemic, maybe there’s reason to dream on the long shot coming in.

Then, again, the Cubs’ potential Opening Day starter has not ruled out changing his mind about playing — which underscores the daily fragility of the thread holding this 30-team, 30-site process together.

“Definitely, I came here to make sure everybody’s doing the right thing,” Darvish said through a translator. “I had in my mind if they’re not, I was ready to go home.”

Darvish was the first player in the majors last spring to publicly express fear of the COVID-19 spread and lethality of a virus that was blamed for fewer than 10 American deaths at the time — weeks before major sports were shut down across the country.

Four months and more than 130,000 U.S. coronavirus-related deaths later, he made the “tough” decision to play — with plenty of reservations.

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“Yes, definitely, I still have concerns,” he said Sunday, two days after Giants star Buster Posey became one of 11 players without a pre-existing, high-risk condition to decline to play this season.

MORE: Tracking MLB players who have opted out or declined to play in 2020

Under rules in the COVID-19 health and safety Operations Manual, players with high-risk conditions are allowed to change their minds in either direction when it comes to the opt-out decision. And they earn full service time for the year and prorated salary for the 60-game season if they don’t play.

Those such as Darvish who are not in that category don’t get service time or pay for the year if they decline to play and are not allowed to return once that decision is made official.

Asked if he still is leaving open the possibility of opting out of the season, he said, “Maybe. But at this point no, I don’t think so.”

In a baseball vacuum, Darvish offers the Cubs’ their best chance to have success during a 60-game season and any playoffs that might follow.

“The way he finished the season last year, how good he was for us, that’s the guy we’re counting on,” manager David Ross said, referring to a second half that included a 2.76 ERA and a 118-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts.

But Darvish, a native of Japan, hasn’t viewed baseball in a vacuum since the year began — approaching Cubs officials upon his arrival for informal work before spring training began in February to address concerns about reporters who might travel from possible virus hot spots in Asia to cover him.

“I’m really worried about it,” he said then.

And then on March 5 he left the Cubs’ spring facility to see a doctor for a test after experiencing a cough, out of a fear he might expose teammates if he had the virus.

By the time MLB and the union agreed last month to terms for a season, the thought of playing during a pandemic had only become more serious for Darvish and many others throughout the game.

“It was tough because I have small children,” Darvish said of the decision. “During the spring we had a lot of thoughts about that, and it was tough decision.”

He said seeing teammates with similar family dynamics and concerns choose to play made it “a little easier to make the decision to play.”

But it’s a discussion among players and their families across the majors that isn’t going to go away — and figures to only intensify every time another batch of test results shows up late or another player tests positive somewhere.

MORE: Cubs COVID-19 tests return negative, Theo Epstein cautions against complacency

Not to mention continued spikes in new cases and deaths in cities and states across the major-league map.

“I think we’re all a little nervous. Nobody wants to get this thing,” Cubs veteran Jon Lester said. “You have to just believe in the testing process; you have to believe in kind of the bubble community we’re trying to create here; you have to believe in these things.”

That’s when Lester held up a mask during the Zoom session with reporters.

The Cubs — the only team in the league without a player testing positive through the first two weeks of intake and monitoring testing — have shown a commitment to safety protocols from top to bottom in the organization. Third baseman Kris Bryant wore his mask again while taking ground balls at third base Sunday, despite plenty of safe distance from the nearest player or coach.

“I know that some of the players are uncomfortable wearing it, but they do wear it,” Darvish said. “So it’s nice to see. I used to wear [masks] all the time in Japan so I’m very comfortable with this.”

Getting comfortable with the larger experiment, especially when teams begin to travel and inherent risks increase, could be an ongoing adjustment — for everyone from
Darvish, Lester and Bryant to Angels superstar Mike Trout, who continues to express concerns with his first child due next month.

“There’s a lot of stuff where you’re putting yourself out there and just kind of hoping,” said Lester, whose successful battle with cancer more than a decade ago qualifies him for a high-risk exemption to opt out.

“My own personal health really wasn’t my concern,” said Lester, who said the team doctor consulted with his oncologist in Chicago on the issue. “We do have some family stuff we’re trying to stay away from. But I think you just have to dive into this head-first and go with the protocols and wash your hands and be careful.

“You really have to concentrate on that and hopefully everything else kind of takes care of itself.”


Why David Ross is 'excited' about umpire crew joining Cubs Summer Camp

Why David Ross is 'excited' about umpire crew joining Cubs Summer Camp

The days of Cubs mental skills coach John Baker holding an armchair cushion between him and the catcher as he calls balls and strikes may be over.

Professional umpires will soon take over the responsibility of calling the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmages. Crew chief Tony Randazzo and his umpire crew will embed themselves at Cubs Summer Camp, manager David Ross announced Sunday.

“I think it’s going to affect the mental skills department too,” Ross said, laughing. “Yeah, I’m excited about getting real umpires up here. Bake’s been doing a good job for us, but every chance we get an opportunity to turn up the dial and make it as game-like as possible, the better.”

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From his playing days as a catcher, Ross is familiar with Randazzo. Ross said he’s excited about using the umpires as a “sounding board" for questions. 

The introduction of MLB umpires, which is expected to be implemented across the league, is also set up to give umpires practice before the regular season.

The Cubs’ earliest scrimmages, as well as Sunday’s intrasquad game, featured catchers calling balls and strikes, which Ross called, “fun and unique.”

“Being in that situation in the past,” the former catcher said, laughing, “you’re not going to make anybody happy when you punch them out.”

In the middle of the week, Baker took over umpiring duties. Baker has Tier 1 clearance – the Cubs deemed his role a priority, especially in the midst of a pandemic – so he has on-field access.

“Well, after umpiring 5 ½ (innings) tonight,” Baker posted to Twitter on Thursday, “I can say that that job is much harder than it looks on TV. I’m exhausted.”