Padres Editorial: The Logic of Using Position Players as Pitchers
As seen in the San Diego Padres game on Wednesday night when Alexi Amarista, using a position player to pitch is something that does sometimes occur in a blowout. It has actually happened quite frequently so far this week with six position players pitching in four different games on both Tuesday and Wednesday night. This strategy has been one that has long been employed but only in those rare games that are well out of reach for one of the two teams or in situations where a team simply has run out of bullpen arms (and even more rarely when a team brings in a position player to pitch in a close game with other arms still available in the bullpen).
According to Baseball-Reference.com, there has been 524 players in major league history that have five times as many non-pitching games as pitching games. This includes position players with at least one pitching appearance and thus at least five games as a position player. This specification is used to narrow the list down to true position players and exclude those pitchers who sometimes get in games as position players. These stats go back into the late 1800s (1871 in fact) so this shows that a somewhat consistent position player appearing as a pitcher in a game is a somewhat rare occurrence.
So far this season only a handful of position players have come into games to pitch, with a majority of these appearances coming in the last few days. All this position player pitching in recent games begs the question, why did this trend start and, more importantly, does it make sense to use a position player in this capacity?
While there seems to be no logical beginning point, or at least reason, for position players being brought into pitch, there is a record of it occurring all the way back in 1871. In terms of logical baseball thinking, bringing in a position player to pitch is basically a team waving the white flag without actually waving the white flag. Basically a team is down by enough runs to be giving up without actually being able to give up.
In the scenario for the Padres on Wednesday night, the team was down 16-2 after Cory Mazzoni gave up seven runs in what was already a 9-2 blowout at the time. The logic goes like this: if a team is already facing an insurmountable deficit (in this case fourteen runs) there is no reason to waste any more arms out of the bullpen if you can just use a position player to attempt to get the final out. For the Padres getting this final out came rather quickly (two pitches to be exact).
The point where it becomes an issue is when the position player is unable to effectively record outs. Given that they are a position player, and they usually only throw in the 70s or 80s, they are bound to get roughed up much more often than the usual pitcher. As an example, in the few other instances of position players pitching this week, the position players gave up a few runs, home runs, and even one grand slam.
While it makes sense to attempt to spare the bullpen any more work, especially in a game that is already more or less out of reach, it becomes almost embarrassing when the game gets so out of hand that a position player pitching is necessary. While there isn’t necessarily too much difference between a 7 run deficit and a 14 run deficit, it does become a matter of pride for a team. I think the moral of the story is a coach should do everything in his power to yank out a pitcher before it gets too ugly and perhaps bring in a real pitcher to get the job done and save some face. Luckily for the Padres Amarista saved a little face for the team and brought us fans a few good laughs in what was an entirely laughable game.
Editorial and Prospect Writer for East Village Times. Twenty-five years young, Patrick has lived in San Diego for his entire life and has been a Padres fan nearly as long. Patrick lives for baseball and is always looking to learn new things about the game he loves through advanced stats.