clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Where did all these position player pitchers come from?

New, 6 comments

There's been a spike in the amount of position player pitching we've seen in the last several years. Let's admire that.

This is Adam Rosales — a position player pitcher — pitching.
This is Adam Rosales — a position player pitcher — pitching.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Position player pitching is without question the greatest thing about baseball. I think this post could end right now, and few (perhaps zero) people would have a problem with that. I’ve made a declarative statement that is 100 percent true, and there’s no way that anyone could poke holes in what I’ve said.

Instead, I’ll keep on.

With the exceptions of Jason Lane and Adam Loewen, who is currently an actual, real-life pitcher but is still listed on Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant as a "position player pitcher," there have been 19 instances of position player pitching this year. If that seems like a lot, it’s because that kind of is a lot compared to recent history.

We’ll go back as far as 2008 in this exercise, because that’s as far back as Baseball Savant goes, and, while B-Ref is a pretty excellent place, I can’t find a way on that site to really sort through the specific years each position player was pitched. I mean, I could click through the other 457 position player pitchers in Major League Baseball history dating back to 1871 who haven’t pitched since 2008 to specifically see the year(s) they had pitched, but that hardly seems like a good use of time, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be worth it to you, dear reader.

There are a couple of things I’d like to do in this post, so we’ll take them one at a time. First, a hastily-made table to show how many position player pitchers have pitched each year since 2008.

Year No. of Position Player Pitchers
2008 2
2009 9
2010 8
2011 8
2012 10
2013 12
2014 18
2015 19

So we can see that there have been more instances of position player pitching in the last several years. Why is that? Well I have two hypotheses. One is an actual, possible reason why we're seeing this, and the other isn't. I'll let you decide which is which:

1. Major League Baseball managers know that we want more position player pitching.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s an unlikely reason to see a spike in position player pitching, particularly over the last five years, but have you been on Twitter? Like, ever? People lose their minds over position player pitching, enough so that there’s a Twitter account solely to inform The People of position player pitching.

Since we love it, maybe managers have decided to give us what we want. While my second hypothesis is the more likely one, I’m going to pretend that No. 1 is the truth. I want managers to care about me.

2. It’s a result of modern-day bullpen usage.

Because bullpens are more specialized now than ever before, it doesn’t seem crazy to think that leads to a bit more position player pitching, particularly in a game that goes long or looks like a total blowout. If a manager has used six of his eight bullpen arms by the 14th inning, for instance, why not throw Brendan Ryan or Adam Dunn out there and see what happens?

Managers are certainly using one-out relievers more often now than in any other period in baseball history, and even with larger bullpens, teams run out of arms every now and then.

This, up to now, has been a fairly silly post. Position player pitching is a fun thing to see happen, but it typically has little impact on the game in which it’s occurring (since those are often blowouts anyway). Now, it will get infinitely sillier.

So who have been the best position player pitchers since 2008? I’m so happy you asked. Thanks for thinking ahead. You can see the full list of 72 here, if you’d like. We’re going to break down some position player pitching though, if that’s ok.

Most games pitched: Skip Schumaker

Schumaker has pitched in four games, which is four more than I will ever pitch. There is no more analysis regarding Skip Schumaker’s pitching at this point.

Worst command: Mike Carp

With an absolutely atrocious BB/9 of 45, it seems like a blessing that Carp was able to complete his inning giving up just one run.

Best fastball: Mitch Moreland, I guess, but Casper Wells isn’t far from the lead

Moreland’s heater was clocked at 92.1 MPH in 2014, which is a little bit faster than last year’s average! A position player with an average fastball!

Best overall: Chris Davis

Since he’s literally the only pitcher listed who is above replacement level, this is a no-brainer. One day in 2012, the Orioles called on Davis in relief, and he didn’t disappoint: he struck out two in as many innings and posted a 2.59 FIP along the way. That, along with a .400 BABIP that is sure to come down eventually, makes Davis’s career as a reliever look like a promising one, in the event that he ever gets tired of hitting home runs.

Davis, in his pitching career, has been worth 0.1 fWAR over his two innings. Over the course of a full, 200-inning season (if he can keep that production up, and I see no reason why he couldn’t), Davis would be worth 10 fWAR. I’m not in the business of telling Chris Davis or the Baltimore Orioles what to do, but I think a position change is in order.

. . .

Murphy Powell is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @murphypowell.