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John Baker Gets the W July 30, 2014

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In more ways than one!

Much like Madison Bumgarner a few weeks ago, John Baker managed to be the winning pitcher and score the game-winning run for Chicago in last night’s game against the Rockies. Baker, a light-hitting backup catcher, came in from the bullpen for his first professional pitching appearance and pitched a clean 16th inning, walking 1 and striking out none on eleven pitches. Immediately after getting off the mound, Rockies left-hander Tyler Matzek walked Baker, who was then bunted over to second by utilityman Emilio Bonifacio. Arismendy Alcantara added some levity by getting plunked, Anthony Rizzo singled Baker over to third, and Starlin Castro lined a sacrifice fly to right field to bring Baker home for the win.

Welington Castillo deserves an honorable mention for catching all sixteen innings of the game. We can only hope he gets tonight’s game off.

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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.

The Spectrum Club, 2011 Edition January 19, 2012

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2011 yielded 5 new members to the prestigious* Spectrum Club; the Spectrum Club is a collection of baseball players who have played at each end of the defensive spectrum, playing at least one game each as a pitcher and designated hitter. Those players were Michael Cuddyer, Don Kelly, Mitch Maier, Mike McCoy, and Darnell McDonald.

Of these five, Kelly was the most versatile, playing at every position except second base and shortstop this year. Maier and McDonald were the least: each played three outfield positions in addition to pitching and hitting, while Cuddyer played first base, second base, and right field. McCoy, a typical utilityman, played second, third, short, center, and right. Kelly’s tenure on the mound was the shortest (one batter, one out), with everyone else pitching a full inning. McDonald gave up two runs on a hit and two walks in six batters faced; Maier faced four and gave up one hit, but no runs; Cuddyer allowed one hit and walked one for six batters faced and no runs; and McCoy pitched a perfect inning.

There’s no telling who will join these fellows next year – Skip Schumaker and Wilson Valdez each pitched an inning this year, but  while Valdez is a journeyman, he’s unlikely to DH, and Schumaker is locked in with the Cardinals for the next two years.

*not a guarantee

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.

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