The Oakland A’s are facing the Giants on Tuesday at Oracle Park, and Madison Bumgarner is taking the mound for San Francisco. Bumgarner is one of the best-hitting pitchers the league has seen in recent memory, and earlier this year he blasted his 18th career home run. He’s a shining beacon to crotchety old fans who think the DH is a bad idea. But tonight in the Bay, he might only be the second-most interesting pitcher to step up to the plate.
Squaring off against Bumgarner is Brett Anderson. The lefty is not known for his athleticism, and his career has not included any notable success with the bat. He’s a reminder that baseball is more of a skill-based pursuit than the other major sports, which require a higher minimum of physicality and where you’re less likely to find players shaped like Anderson (much less like Bartolo Colon).
And yet, Anderson has a shot at history tonight. Thanks to interleague play, AL pitchers do come to bat a few times per year, and Anderson has already made two starts in NL stadiums. Both times, he went 2-for-3, and his total of four hits is already something special. According to stats guru David Feldman, since the DH was adopted in 1973 (or, more relevantly, since interleague play began in 1997), the record for an AL pitcher is five hits in a season.
- 5 hits: Zach Britton (2011, BAL, 5-for-8)
- 4 hits: Eric Milton (1998, MIN, 4-for-9)
- 4 hits: Brett Anderson (2019, OAK, 4-for-6)
- 3 hits: 13 other pitchers, including Mike Mussina twice
Now he’ll get one more chance tonight to catch Britton, with the A’s visiting a Giants team against whom Anderson collected a hit just last year (off Jeff Samardzija).
In terms of A’s history, Anderson’s four hits are already the most in a season by any Oakland pitcher in the DH era. He beat out the total of two set by Dan Haren (2005), Edgar Gonzalez (2009), and Tommy Milone (2013). No other A’s pitcher has a hit this season, and only two other AL pitchers have two (Gregory Soto of DET, and Trent Thornton of TOR).
What’s more, while all of Anderson’s hits have been singles, they’ve mostly been solid ones. In May against the Pirates he beat out an infield hit off Joe Musgrove, and then snuck through another grounder against Nick Kingham. The latter (off Kingham) had a 97 mph exit velocity off the bat — it still registered as a low-probability hit via Statcast, but at least it was hard contact. Here’s the one off Musgrove:
We told you:— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 4, 2019
You simply can't stop Brett Anderson at the plate #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/KCzg94OxiO
Then last week, against Jon Lester and the Cubs, he knocked two clean liners to the opposite-field, one of them at 96 mph exit. Statcast loved both of them as almost sure hits.
The best hitter in @MLB, using the whole field#RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/iitmxzsGCt— Oakland A's (@Athletics) August 7, 2019
Anderson has responded to all of this with his usual good humor, via Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle after the Cubs game:
“The first two at-bats, the thought process was ‘Don’t look like an idiot,’ and I end up getting two hits and the third one was like, ‘All right, I might try to hit one hard,’ and I swung at one over my head,” said Anderson, adding that on his first two hits, he “blacked out and found a hole.”
And so, we enter Tuesday on the lookout for a piece of history that nobody would ever have guessed: Brett Anderson putting together the best hitting season of any AL pitcher of the interleague era. If he wants that record, he’ll ironically have to earn it against one of the best-hitting pitchers the sport has seen in decades. Your move, BABIP gods.