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Spring, When a Young Man’s Position Players Turn to Pitchers April 22, 2014

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Last week was an exciting time, because it marked the first instances of the year of one of the World’s Worst Sports Blog‘s favorite situations – a position player taking the mound.

Position players are ordinarily called on to pitch under very specific circumstances: either the team is losing in a blowout (see, e.g., Jose Canseco‘s hilarious outing in 1993 – which resulted in Canseco having Tommy John surgery) or the game has gone on so long that no legitimate relievers are available to pitch. The best example of the latter was the April 17, 2010, game between the Cardinals and the Mets, in which the former team used two position players – Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather – in a 20-inning losing effort. (The Mets used another favorite trick, using starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey to close the game, as well as starters John Maine and Jon Niese to pinch run and pinch hit, respectively.)

The first appearance of a position player on the mound this year was similar to that 20-inning game. On April 16th, the White Sox’ Leury Garcia engaged the rubber in the top of the 14th against the Red Sox. Though he pitched a full inning, Garcia did allow two walks and a crucial double to open the game up, and ended up taking the loss. Starter-turned-long-man Chris Capuano got the win for the Red Sox with Burke Badenhop covering the last out to take the save.

The second was the blowout-type, in which the Yankees turned the final inning of a brutal loss over to middle infielder Dean Anna on April 19th. When Anna got up, the Yankees were trailing 14-1; Anna allowed two earned runs on three hits and no walks. Anna moved from shortstop to pitcher, so the Yankees gave up their designated hitter in the process. This triggered a fascinating six position changes to start the inning:

Dean Anna moves from SS to P
Kelly Johnson moves from LF to 1B
Scott Sizemore moves from 1B to 3B
Yangervis Solarte moves from 3B to SS
Alfonso Soriano moves from RF to LF
Ichiro Suzuki replaces Carlos Beltran (DH) playing RF batting 3rd

Still, the World’s Worst Sports Blog has a new spirit animal; although Don Kelly is still our favorite position player, he was outdone last season by the magical Jake Elmore, who played every position including designated hitter during his 2013 season with the Astros. Elmore played mostly middle infield and came in (mid-inning!) to catch on August 19 after Carlos Corporan was hit by a foul ball (catcher Jason Castro was serving as DH), and then was asked to pitch the final inning of that game. Oddly, even though pitcher and catcher are the toughest boxes to check off, Elmore’s last position? The innocuous center field on September 10th.

In any just world, Elmore and Kelly will end up on the same team at some point in the future and be batterymates.

Skip Schumaker, Darnell McDonald, and Wesley Wright in a Utility Pitcher Roundup September 6, 2011

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August was a busy month for the occasional movement from the field to the mound and back. Occasionally, it even happened in the opposite order. Skip Schumaker, Darnell McDonald, and Wesley Wright each had a hand in a weird outing.

On August 23, Skip Schumaker took the mound for his St. Louis Cardinals in a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though Schumaker has started the majority of his games this season, he was on the bench that night and Tony La Russa used him in relief. Kyle Lohse, who ironically has played a bit of left field himself, only managed three innings as the starter and allowed eight runs, all of them earned. He was relieved by Mitchell Boggs, who allowed two earned and one unearned in two innings, followed by the competent Marc Rzepczynski for two scoreless innings on two hits, and a one-hit, one-K inning from Octavio Dotel. Skip came in to an 11-0 deficit, then promptly struck out Trent Oeltjen, walked Andre Ethier, and gave up a home run to the light-hitting infielder Aaron Miles. Rod Barajas flied out to deep center and relief pitcher Blake Hawksworth, batting for himself, struck out looking. The Cardinals scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth, but that wasn’t enough to save Skip. He hadn’t pitched since college.

Three days later, the Oakland As were visiting the Boston Red Sox and the game wasn’t going well for the home team. Journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald had started the game at right field, as is his custom. In the top of the ninth, the Athletics were leading 13-4. Terry Francona had only gotten four innings out of starter Tim Wakefield, followed by three competent innings from Scott Atchison and a painful four-earned-run inning from Matt Albers. Since Albers wasn’t really a good option to stay in the game, McDonald moved from the field to the pitcher’s mound. Of course, this being the American League, that meant the team had to give up its designated hitter, so David Ortiz had a seat and Josh Reddick came in to play right. McDonald finished the game, giving up two runs, both earned, on one hit and two walks. Unsurprisingly, a game started by a knuckleballer had two wild pitches; surprisingly, one was Wakefield’s and one was Atchison’s. The position player and the guy who gave up four earned runs? No wild pitches at all.

Finally, Wesley Wright did things a little backwards. On the 23rd, manager Brad Mills called on the left-handed Wright to pitch to the Rockies’ lefty outfielder, Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez popped out to catcher Humberto Quintero and was followed in the linup by right-hander Troy Tulowitzki. This season, Troy is hitting .288/.361/.518 against right-handers and .345/.415/.634 against left-handers, so Mills was faced with a strategic decision: after Tulowitzki came first baseman Todd Helton, whose splits are in the opposite direction (.314/.402/.491 against right-handers, .292/.356/.438 against left-handers), so it was nonoptimal to lift Wright for a right-hander and then have the righty face Helton. The only other lefty in the bullpen was starter Wandy Rodriguez. Mills took Brian Bogusevic out of right field, moved Wright to right, and put in right-hander David Carpenter to face the right-handed Tulowitzki. Troy grounded out to the middle infield, and then Mills brough Wright back in to face Helton (putting J.B. Shuck in right field to complete the switch). That’s mainly notable because of the density of words pronounced like ‘right’ in that description.

Quickie: Missed one. July 28, 2011

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Bryan Petersen of the Florida Marlins joined the ranks of the utility pitchers this year. Petersen was one of five position players called on to pitch this year, and like most of them, he was pitching on the losing end of a blowout. Specifically, the Padres were leading 14-3 going into the top of the 9th and Petersen, who had pinch-hit and moved to center field, got on the mound to finish off the game.

It wasn’t a perfect inning – he walked left fielder Chris Denorfia – but it was scoreless and he pitched reasonably well.

One reader found The World’s Worst Sports Blog by searching “Year of the Position Player Pitchers.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Last year, the number of left fielders alone who pitched was four. (That doesn’t count Roy Oswalt or Kyle Lohse, each of whom did spot duty at left field once last year.) Felipe Lopez, Andy Marte, Joe Mather, Kevin Cash, Jonathan Van Every, Joe Inglett, Aaron Miles, and Bill Hall were the eight position player pitchers last year; Petersen, Wilson Valdez, Mike McCoy, Michael Cuddyer, Don Kelly, and Mitch Maier are six players over about 64% of the season (based on games played). That works out to about 9 to 10 position player pitchers on the season, if they’re uniformly distributed (which they’re not). There was probably a dip in use of position player pitchers after Jose Canseco‘s famous bonehead inning (in which he blew out his arm and required Tommy John surgery), but it’s not that uncommon.

Big Doin’s This Week July 27, 2011

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Michael CuddyerWhen I was a baby sports economist, my father used to refer to busy days as ‘Big Doin’s.’ Well, Major League Baseball has been doin’ big things since my last entry, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to mention at least a few of them.

The Braves and the Pirates slugged out a marathon game last night. (Well, maybe not a marathon, but 19 innings is pretty close to 26.2 miles.) I can’t weigh in on the obviously blown call that ended the game, but I was thoroughly impressed with Cristhian Martinez, who pitched a career-high 6.0 innings in relief for the Braves. Martinez had previously pitched 4 innings twice. Scott Proctor got the win when converted starter Daniel McCutchen ‘allowed’ the winning run in the 19th during his 6th inning of work. Fifteen pitchers combined for both teams to get the 37.1 innings covered, all of whom pitch as their primary position.

That’s distinct from Michael Cuddyer, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Twins in their blowout loss (20-6) to the Rangers on Monday. He allowed two hits but maintains his career 0.00 ERA (since this was the first time he pitched professionally, even counting the minors). Since Cuddyer has DHed a couple of times for the Twins, he joins Mike McCoy and Don Kelly as a 2011 inductee into the prestigious* Spectrum Club (for players who play at both ends of the defensive spectrum in the same season).

Not to be outdone, Mitch Maier of the Royals (a career outfielder who’s also done time at first base and designated hitter) pitched a scoreless ninth against the Red Sox. Mitch has taken two at-bats as DH this year, so welcome to the Spectrum Club!

So, what do Maier and Cuddyer have in common with Reds starter Johnny Cueto? Neither of them allowed an earned run in their last appearance. Unfortunately for Cueto, while Mitch and Michael both had decent defense behind them, Cueto allowed SIX unearned runs in his start against the Mets. Errors by Joey Votto (1B, 1st inning), Brandon Phillips (2B, 3rd inning), and Miguel Cairo (3B, 6th inning) contributed, although Cueto plunking Daniel Murphy didn’t help.

Appendix A: 2011′s Spectrum Club, as of today

Appendix B: All starters since 2002 who have allowed at least 6 runs, all of them unearned

Photo credit: Keith Allison. Used under ShareAlike license.

* not a guarantee

Don Kelly, Utility King June 30, 2011

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Super utility dervish Don Kelly is this year’s second inductee into the prestigious* Spectrum Club, which loyal readers if any will recognize as the group of players who have played both pitcher and designated hitter in a given season. Kelly pitched a perfect third of an inning (for those keeping score at home, that’s one out) against the Mets last night during a 16-9 Tigers loss.

Kelly’s lifetime pitching statistics: 0.1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 BF. That batter was Scott Hairston, who flied out to Austin Jackson at center.

Kelly came in after David Purcey, the Tigers’ last arm in the bullpen, pitched the last out of the eighth and the first two of the ninth. In his one inning, Purcey gave up five hits, four runs (all of them earned), two walks (one intentional), and no strikeouts. Purcey’s ninth inning started promisingly when Justin Turner grounded out and Carlos Beltran flied out, but David then gave up a double to catcher Ronnie Paulino, walked Jason Bay, and then allowed Angel Pagan to double, scoring Paulino. At that point, Jim Leyland called on Kelly, who took care of Hairston to end the inning.

That makes three utility pitchers thus far this year. Of the position players who pitched, Wilson Valdez, Mike McCoy and Don Kelly have each played at least three non-pitching positions. Valdez has  played at second base, third base, and shortstop; McCoy has played second, third, shortstop, center field, and left field; and Kelly has played first, third, left, center, and right. They’re three of the four pitchers with fifty or more plate appearances. (Roy Halladay is the fourth, with exactly 50 PA this year.)

Over the course of his career, Kelly has been a utility ubermensch, playing every position except catcher. As a lifetime .242/.287/.341 hitter, Kelly needs to be versatile defensively to keep himself working. That’s essentially the same way Mike McCoy keeps his job. Kelly had never pitched professionally before.

*not a guarantee

Quickie: Mike McCoy, Utility Pitcher du Jour June 13, 2011

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The Blue Jays used seven pitchers in their 16-4 loss to the Red Sox on Saturday. One of those was utility player Mike McCoy, who pitched his first major league inning in the ninth. He managed no strikeouts but also no walks, and finished with an impressive perfect inning.

McCoy is unusual among position players who pitch in that he’s pitched before professionally. Most recently, he finished a AAA game for Colorado in 2009, but he’d also finished two games in A – one in 2004 and one in 2005. His pitching history in the minors is here.

McCoy is also the first inductee into the prestigious* 2011 Spectrum Club, which is a group of players who have both pitched and played designated hitter in the same season, showing off the full spectrum of their abilities from purely offensive to purely defensive. He’s made a few appearances as a pinch runner for the DH, but back on April 6, he played a complete game as the designated hitter and so became this year’s first member.

Of course, for position players pitching, nothing beats Wilson Valdez, Utility Pitcher Extraordinaire, or Andy Marte in the Best Game Ever, but if you’re especially curious, check out last year’s Utility Pitcher Roundup.

*not a guarantee

Chad Billingsley’s Home Run June 6, 2011

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Chad Billingsley had what was by all accounts an unremarkable start on the mound last night: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, all of them earned, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts, 1 HBP. Considering that the Dodgers have seven tough losses already (only the Rays and the Nationals have more), this would ordinarily be a short entry commenting on how Billingsley needs some work.

Actually, scratch that. I wouldn’t make that entry – the folks over at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness would.

Billingsley managed to earn a mention last night by hitting the second home run of his career (solo in the second) and going 2 for 2 with a walk. Billingsley’s Win Probability Added (WPA) from the plate was a team-leading .215 (Matt Kemp was second with .168). Of course, he evened that out with actually subtracting WPA as a pitcher. Still, his walk in the third forced Casey Blake in for a second RBI, and his double in the fifth brought James Loney home and ultimately pulled Reds starter Travis Wood out of the game.

Oddly, Wood himself managed a three-RBI night back on May 9, as did the Diamondbacks’ Zach Duke on May 28. Like Billingsley, both of them took the win in those games.

The most stylish home runs by pitchers happen when the player doesn’t even know he’s a pitcher, though – on April 13, 2009, Nick Swisher hit a home run in the top of the fourth inning while playing first base and then was called on to pitch the bottom of the 8th in a 15-5 loss to the Rays. He’s the only player in the last 10 years to start the game as a position player, hit a home run, and pitch. Admittedly, that’s a weird set of conditions. Luckily, there’s another instance that almost fits, so I don’t feel like I’m cheating. Keith Osik didn’t start on May 20, 2000, but came in as part of a triple-switch in the top of the 8th to play third base. Osik hit a two-run homer to bring Mike Benjamin home in the bottom of the 8th, then gave up 5 earned runs on 5 hits in the top of the 9th.

Hopefully Billingsley will repeat his performance at the plate and will continue cleaning up on the mound. Last night was his first Cheap Win of the year, and he already has two Tough Losses. Not a bad showing as far as ability goes.

Wilson Valdez, Utility Pitcher Extraordinaire May 26, 2011

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Interested in position players who pitched? Check out The Best Game Ever and a previous post on what I like to call Utility Pitchers.

So, the Phillies and the Reds went into extra innings last night and Wilson Valdez was the winning pitcher. His line: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0 HR, 4 BF on 10 pitches. He did have a hit batsman – Scott Rolen – but that’s not surprising, since Valdez has never pitched professionally at any level.

First of all, let me say that I’m thoroughly impressed with the way both managers managed the game. Ordinarily, a 19-inning game is full of spot relievers going a few innings each and at some point the managers seem to lose control of the situation and start panicking. The most common solution is to throw starters in on their throw day, which is how Mike Pelfrey got his save last year. Instead, Reds manager Dusty Baker seemed to know that Carlos Fisher, who has never started a game at the Major League level, had 5 2/3 innings of starter-quality stuff in him. Similarly, the Phillies’ Charlie Manuel relied on Danys Baez, who hadn’t pitched more than four innings since the Bush administration, for five innings that would have made any manager happy. To offer some perspective, if Baez had pitched his five innings at the beginning of the game and been lifted, his game score would have been 67; Fisher’s would have been 58 had he been removed from the game at the moment he gave up his run. That’s not only a quality start for each pitcher, but both of the relievers put together a higher game score than their team’s starter.

Oh, yeah, and the Phillies’ starter was Roy Halladay.

Also, Wilson Valdez had an incredible night. In addition to becoming the first position player to be the winning pitcher since 2000, Valdez started the game at second base and went 3 for 6 with a walk. To compare, when catcher Brent Mayne was the Rockies’ winning pitcher in 2000, he came in off the bench and didn’t bat at all.

Hats off to Charlie Manuel and Dusty Baker for managing a smart game, and bravo to Wilson Valdez for solid inning pitched and a great night at the plate.

A Utility Pitcher Sidebar December 30, 2010

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The joys of the position player pitching were well represented this year. A whopping eight players came in from the infield or outfield and stood on the mound, more often than not looking pretty comfortable. Two of them – Aaron Miles and Andy Marte – joined the Spectrum Club by pitching and being the designated hitter in the same season, as we discussed in a previous post. Miles’ achievement was even more unlikely because he played for a National League team, so he had to get lucky and DH an interleague game.

Let’s talk about the average utility pitcher, which is a phrase I just made up to avoid saying “position player called on to pitch” over and over again.

  1. He’s a journeyman. Felipe Lopez, who pitched for the Cardinals on April 17 in a 20-inning game against the Mets, has played for six teams since 2001. Joe Inglett played for three different teams since 2006, and he pitched for the Brewers in a loss on July 27. Backup catcher Kevin Cash has pitched for five teams since 2002, including Houston, where he pitched in a loss on May 28.
  2. He’s expendable.Jonathan Van Every, who pitched for Boston in a May 8 loss to the Yankees, has played 39 games over three seasons of bouncing between the minors and the majors. Bill Hall, his teammate, pitched on May 28 (in a different game than Cash did!) and played six utility positions for Boston during 2010 – second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions – in addition to pitching. Joe Mather, who pitched in the same game as Lopez and took the loss, played all three outfield positions and both infield corners. These are guys who are marginal enough that they have to learn a million positions just to be on the roster.
  3. He played for Boston at some point. Okay, okay, Inglett, Miles, Marte and Mather never did. Fine. But Van Every and Hall both pitched for Boston, Cash has done two unrelated stints with the Red Sox, and Lopez ended the season as Terry Francona’s utility man. That’s quite the coincidence, wouldn’t you agree?

Before anyone gripes, there’s one other type of utility pitcher, but he wasn’t represented this season. That, of course, is the star who gets his jollies pitching. This includes two prime varieties: the Wade Boggs, (wily vet who taught himself a knuckleball), and the Jose Canseco (idiot who hurts himself).

The Spectrum Club December 28, 2010

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This year, I get to induct two more players into the prestigious* Spectrum Club.
*not a guarantee

The Spectrum Club is the elite group of players who play, in one season, at both ends of the Defensive Spectrum. At the end of a season, a player is inducted if he pitches in at least one game and appears as designated hitter in at least one game. As it stands, that leaves about ten pitchers who only served as placeholder DHs but never made a plate appearance on the rolls, but that’s okay.

Three players have joined the Spectrum Club twice – Jeff Kunkel in 1988 and 1989 for Texas, Mark Loretta in 2001 for the Brewers and 2009 for the Dodgers, and Wade Boggs in 1997 for the Yankees and 1999 for Tampa Bay. Baltimore leads the club in inductees with six.

This year’s first inductee is Aaron Miles of the Cardinals, who actually pitched twice (August 3 in a loss to  Houston and September 28 in a loss to Pittsburgh). Making it more impressive, Miles DHed only once, in an interleague win over Kansas City on June 26. Miles is an experienced pitcher, having tossed twice in 2007 and once in 2008. Tony Larussa has quite the commodity there, and I bet he wishes he’d had Miles on hand for that crazy 20-inning game against the Mets on April 17.

The second player to join the club is Andy Marte of Cleveland. Marte DHed twice, once on July 10 in a loss to the Rays and once on September 7. His single inning pitched came as part of the Best Game Ever, a July 29 loss to the Yankees in which the Yankees lost their DH and Marte struck out Nick Swisher.

Who’s the smart money on for Spectrum Club inductions in 2011? Joe Mather and Felipe Lopez are both reasonable hitters and both pitched for Tony Larussa in the Mets-Cardinals game. If Lopez stays with the Red Sox, he might be called on to DH an odd late game, and Terry Francona has been known to use position players in emergencies. Ike Davis may well be asked to DH interleague games for the Mets, and he was a closer in college, so he’d be a solid emergency reliever. If I had to guess, though, I’d figure that the next Spectrum Club inductee will be Nick Swisher getting his second induction for the Yankees.

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