It might be an understatement to say that it was kind of a big deal in the baseball world. After all, everyone loves it when position players take the mound late in games. There's even a twitter account dedicated to this rare and splendid phenomenon. So let's discuss Adam Dunn pitching last night fairly briefly.
Dunn pitched in high school, which I feel like is a pretty common occurrence for most of the MLB position players out there. He was also a backup quarterback at the University of Texas, so we know he has an arm. He also played major league baseball, which is a sport that often requires throwing as well. For those who may not remember, he's actually spent about twice as many innings in the outfield over his career (9,250) compared to first base (4,223), so there's that. It's not a surprise that Dunn can throw well enough to pitch; it is funny to watch him do it.
That said, I'm going to bring this crashing back to reality. I could go into Dunn's mechanics, or his pitches, or how he fared. Largely though, I'll leave that to Dan Rozenson whose done excellent work with that sort of thing any time a position player pitches over at Baseball Prospectus.
Here at Beyond the Box Score we always talk about context. Without context, performance is basically meaningless, and we don't know what to compare it to. Think about what we've discussed above. Adam Dunn pitching is kind of shocking until you realize that he pitched in high school, was a D1 major college quarterback, and has played over 9,000 innings in the outfield in MLB. So what context do we need to judge Dunn's performance? We must determine who is the best pitching DH of all time, of course. This is the only answer.
The sample we'll be working with:
Jose Canseco, Chris Davis, and most recently Adam Dunn make up the elite group of designated hitter pitchers. Below I've included an image of their comparative stats to begin our examination, and a link to the Fangraphs page here:
Now I know what you're thinking. This is Beyond the Box Score. Surely he's not going to use some ERAs and Win/Loss records to decide which DH is the best pitcher. You would be correct. We need to adjust these numbers for the stadiums and leagues in which those DHs pitched! Below is another leaderboard which includes, among many other things, FIP-, my personal favorite stat for evaluating pitchers in a vacuum. I've also included a link to the original data here:
Now it appears that all three "pitchers" were unlucky when it comes to BABIP here, so we could perhaps expect those numbers to drop in the future. Then again, they're position players, so probably not. We can see here that Adam Dunn was a little unlucky, his FIP being well below his ERA. Chris Davis really rises to the top, with FIP- suggesting to us that Chris Davis was about 39% better than an average pitcher over his two innings against Boston. Dunn, on the other hand, was about 53% worse than the average pitcher, but still better than Wandy Rodriguez who is being paid $13MM this season to throw baseballs poorly. Finally, we have Jose Canseco, who pitches almost exactly as you would expect Jose Canseco to pitch. There's an old saying about witnessing a train wreck but not being able to look away; that was invented to describe Canseco pitching.
So without further ado, here is Beyond the Box Score's definitive ranking of the best pitching DHs in baseball history:
#3 - Jose Canseco
First off - thanks to Jen Mac Ramos for the GIF assistance. Second - man what a thing of beauty. There's full video here and here, but basically a mulleted Jose Canseco took the mound and made all of our dreams come true in 1993. Also, please note that the second video begins with a clip of him running face-first into a wall because Jose Canseco was YOLO before YOLO was a thing.
I could be wrong, but his mechanics need some work. I'm not a pitching coach, but they don't look very repeatable, and that could be what caused him to issue three walks in his one inning. He ended up giving up three runs on two hits, and basically, I'm just really underwhelmed with his performance. I do find it interesting that he went sidearm for his delivery, no doubt inspiring Billy Beane's future infatuation with Chad Bradford in the movie Moneyball (and possibly also real life).
#2 - Adam Dunn
Dunn finds himself in the middle of the pack here, but that's more of a commentary on the lack of DHs pitching than it is Dunn's true talent level as a pitcher. Dunn's mechanics are pretty solid, though I'd like to see him calm down on the leg kick a bit here. He's also throwing across his body which is why his walk rate is a very high 9.00 per nine innings. He'll need to get that down a bit if he wants to be a true bullpen option for the White Sox, perhaps pitching coach Don Cooper can work with him to keep him from throwing across his body.
That said, Dunn has all the tools to exceed in the future. He found easy 80 mph velocity, which will work if he can locate it better. Based on his body size, I'd like to think that there's room for more velocity in there. He also spun a couple of breaking balls maybe, which would obviously be useful as a reliever. If he can put together three average pitches he might be the best option Chicago has out of the 'pen late in games. A full PITCHf/x breakdown of Dunn's outing can be found here.
One note though - if this report is correct, then we may need to re-evaluate Dunn's standing here. It may not change much because the #1 guy is pretty locked in to his spot, but it could be open for discussion.
#1 - Chris Davis
Now Chris Davis is the cream of the crop among DHs that pitch. PITCHf/x suggested that he threw 15 fastballs in his two innings against the Red Sox, but the pitch above looks more like a changeup. Davis hit the low 90s with his fastball, and this beauty came in at just 83 mph. Below is a close up of Chris Davis striking out a professional baseball hitter with a change up:
Just so we're clear, that is Adrian Gonzalez, owner of a $154MM contract. He plays first base and is one of the better hitters in baseball.
I know what you're thinking, and given his 2.59 FIP, it's beyond me as to why the Orioles haven't used Davis more as a pitcher in 2014 given that he's been barely replacement level as a first baseman. One possible answer is that they're saving his innings for the playoffs where they'll need guys with the ability to shut down excellent left-handed hitting like Davis can. The Orioles have World Series hopes, and Chris Davis might just be their secret weapon should they meet Gonzalez's Dodgers in the fall classic.
So there you have it. A definitive guide to the best pitching DHs of all time. We should all be thankful that the White Sox blessed us with Dunn's performance, and take a moment to reflect on where his outing has placed him in the pantheon of DHs who took the mound.
Special thanks to Jen Mac Ramos for her help with the Dunn & Canseco GIFs