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Who is the best position player to pitch in 2018?

Twenty-seven different position players have taken the mound. Who has the best stuff?

Cincinnati Reds v Cleveland Indians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

It’s no secret that more position players are pitching than ever before as teams are embracing the slight respite it grants a bullpen in out-of-hand games. The Diamondbacks alone have used three different position players in the last week. One of them, Jeff Mathis, was brought into the sixteenth inning to preserve a lead. (He did not preserve that lead.) The other two were Daniel Descalso and Alex Avila who spawned three different fun facts.

The beleaguered Diamondbacks were forced to use Avila and Descalso for a combined 4.2 innings. For 2018, Baseball Reference lists the leaderboard for most innings pitched in an appearance by position player as:

  1. Shohei Ohtani
  2. Shohei Ohtani
  3. Shohei Ohtani
  4. Shohei Ohtani
  5. Shohei Ohtani
  6. Shohei Ohtani
  7. Shohei Ohtani
  8. Shohei Ohtani
  9. Daniel Descalso
  10. Alex Avila
  11. Shohei Ohtani

One measly elbow sprain and Baseball Reference refuses to classify Ohtani as a pitcher. For shame.

Avila threw two scoreless innings, and before immediately giving up a dinger to Carlos Gonzalez, Descalso had thrown three perfect innings in his career prior to that point. They’ve joined ten other position players who have thrown at least one scoreless inning. Not all position players have been terrible, then. Some of them have looked pretty good. But who looks the best?

Here are the position players who have thrown at least one scoreless inning in 2018. This is from individual appearances, so for Pedro Florimon, this looks at his scoreless appearance on May 18. For Descalso, this looks at his appearance on July 11.

Position Player Fastball Velocity

Player FA Velo (Max)
Player FA Velo (Max)
Pablo Sandoval 87.4 (89.2)
Alex Avila 75.8 (81.6)
Daniel Descalso 76.3 (83.6)
Alex Blandino 88.8 (90.8)
Matt Davidson 89.5 (92.4)
Greg Garcia 62.5 (65.4)
Brandon Guyer 78.4 (79.5)
Kendrys Morales 85.4 (87.6)
Pedro Florimon 87.1 (90.7)
Johnny Field 74.0 (82.2)
Bryan Holiday 72.3 (74.3)
Daniel Robertson 76.9 (78.6)
Brooks Baseball

There have been six position players to throw a perfect inning in 2018: Avila, Matt Davidson, Brandon Guyer, Florimon, Pablo Sandoval, Bryan Holiday, and Daniel Robertson. I’m not sure if Guyer counts because he threw nothing but fastballs at an average of 78 mph. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that would play over the course of nine innings. Daniel Robertson also couldn’t throw harder than 80 mph, but at least he had a wicked changeup to back it up with.

Brooks Baseball

Only three of the pitchers I looked at managed to crack 90 with their fastball. Florimon can reach back for close to 91, but without a reliable secondary pitch, I’m not sure that’s going to work. Pablo Sandoval and Kendrys Morales came close and both have decent secondary pitches they could throw. Sandoval’s curve has comparable movement to his teammate Chris Stratton’s. Morales has the best slider out of the bunch.

Brooks Baseball

Alex Blandino gave up a hit in an otherwise impressive inning. His fastball topped out at 90 mph and he got two strikeouts. He located his fastball well, keeping it on the edge of the strikezone. His changeup had decent movement and he was able to throw it for strikes. Most impressive was the knuckleball he struck out Brandon Guyer with.

Ordinarily, it has to be a little embarrassing to strike out against a position player, especially on three pitches, but I’m not sure you can blame Guyer in that situation. Blandino started him off with an 89 mph fastball down the middle and followed it up with a 77 mph changeup at the top of the zone. Then he pulled a perfect knuckleball at 67 mph. Blandino threw him three pitches and none of them were within 10 mph of one another. That’s a rough at bat.

That sequence begs the question: Is Alex Blandino better at pitching than Michael Lorenzen is at hitting?

Overall, Matt Davidson of the Chicago White Sox comes out on top. On June 29th, Davidson came into an 11-3 game to face the Rangers’ 3-4-5 hitters. He threw 13 pitches, eight of them for strikes and put the heart of Texas’ lineup down in order. Admittedly, the beef of the Rangers’ batting order isn’t as formidable as other teams. The strikeout that Davidson recorded came against Rougned Odor, who had a 69 wRC+ at that point.

Still, Davidson had the hardest average fastballs among position players who had thrown at least one scoreless inning. His fastball averaged 89.5 and topped out at 92.4. His curveball had great break as well at nearly seven inches of horizontal movement and -8 inches of vertical movement. As Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs pointed out on Effectively Wild, that’s about as good as Adam Wainwright’s curve.

Brooks Baseball

He had some issues with command in the beginning of the inning, but once he got settled in, he looked like a competent pitcher. Considering the struggles the White Sox have had with their bullpen, Davidson probably isn’t the worst option to pitch in relief.

Perhaps Davidson or Blandino will work their way into a game that isn’t already hopelessly out of hand by the time the season is over. With the stuff that they have, it wouldn’t necessarily be waving the white flag.


Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.