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June 26, 2014

Skewed Left

Which Position Players Make the Best Pitchers?

by Zachary Levine


It’s the beginning of the 17th inning and the bullpen is empty except for the bullpen catcher, who’s long since stopped bullpen catching and started to see how many paper cups he can balance on his head. Or, more likely in today’s baseball, it’s the middle of the seventh inning and you’re down by seven runs.

In either scenario, the manager and the pitching coach start looking around for an arm. Not a lot of requirements here. It has to be attached to somebody on the 25-man roster who hasn’t played, and it can’t belong to a pitcher. Today is just not worth using a starter. There’s always tomorrow.

So who’s the first person they look toward? It’s the catcher, right? Well, probably the backup catcher. He’s the guy on the position player side of the clubhouse who knows pitching the best. Not only is an arm already a requirement for him to have landed his job, but a good arm is highly prized. He probably pitched in high school. (Although really, who on the roster didn’t?) And as position players pitching is increasingly a seventh-inning thing rather than a 17th-inning thing, there’s an increasingly good chance that you haven’t worn out one catcher yet.

As position players have come to the mound in numbers that far outpace previous years—enough to give the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index its own category for position players pitching—we’ve seen some memorable moments from catchers. We’ve seen Drew Butera run his fastball up to 95 miles per hour in one appearance and 94.1 mph in the next. And Martin Maldonado pitched a scoreless inning and flashed an impressive slider in his mound debut against the Cardinals.

But do catchers make the best position player pitchers?

If so, it’s still not an easy decision. Burning a catcher isn’t like burning a corner outfielder or even a backup middle infielder. You’d better be pretty sure that the game is almost over and you aren’t going to need the guy. (It will become a little easier in September with three-plus-man catching crews, although the historical data shows no real trend toward catchers pitching more in September.)

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Related Content:  Position Player Pitchers

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (06/26)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Skewed Left: The Missi... (06/19)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Skewed Left: The Ingra... (07/03)
Next Article >>
The Lineup Card: Eight... (06/26)

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