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When non-pitchers take the mound, do players from particular positions perform better?

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.

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Why are position players increasingly cast as mop-up men?

When Andrew Koo wrote about the rate of position player appearances last August, he noted that while such appearances had hit an all-time high in 2013, he was “hesitant to declare” a pattern based on a single season. Nine months later, though, the pattern is looking pretty clear. Here’s how this season’s total so far compares to the totals for each season since 1977 (before which it becomes tougher to untangle the pitcher-hitter hybrids).

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Scouting the latest position player pitcher.

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Mike Carp showed off a knuckleball during a rare opportunity to pitch for the Red Sox.

“Any time you end up with a position player on the mound, it’s not been a good night,” John Farrell said after last night’s debacle of a game for his Red Sox. From Farrell’s position, it’s hard to disagree. But for a Yankee fan like myself and someone with particular interest in position player pitchers, last night was hilarious. Mike Carp’s pitching appearance was not the first position player outing of the season, but it was certainly the most notable. Most important for our purposes, Carp threw a total of 37 pitches—enough for a tentative scouting report.

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The staff yearns for a chance to see these non-pitchers test their arms from the mound.

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Oh no, we ran out of relievers!

Frank Menechino was the first position player I ever saw pitch. It was 2004, and I was understandably excited by this event. I set off for the internet to research the history of the position player pitching, hoping to find every game in which this had happened. After a few hours, I realized with disappointment that it wasn’t as rare as I’d hoped it would be (it’s no hidden ball trick).

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A review of the outfielder's work on the mound this season.

It’s good fun scouting position player pitchers, but a measure of actual congratulations is owed to Casper Wells, who played the role of sacrificial lamb for the Philadelphia Phillies in Saturday/Sunday’s 18-inning marathon against the Diamondbacks. In Wells’ first pitching appearance this year, on June 28, he was called in for the ninth inning of a laugher, a 19-10 loss at the hands of the Indians. Wells was a member of the White Sox way back then.

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The Rangers left fielder shows off his...knuckleball?

Rangers left fielder David Murphy is normally a solid offensive contributor, posting a career .277 TAv. This season, he’s been subpar at just .234. What’s a manager to do? Why not change his position? Ron Washington, short of arms in a 17–5 blowout at the hands of the Red Sox on Tuesday night, decided to audition Murphy as a relief pitcher.

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Examining the performance of the players who aren't supposed to pitch.

At some point, you’ve probably thought to yourself that you could do a better job than the man on the mound for your team, especially if your team has ever employed Jonathan Sanchez. And every so often, amateurs do get the chance to outshine actual pitchers. These brave volunteers are known as “position players,” and they’re occasionally called in to provide a desperate manager with outs so that a blowout game may mercifully end. Surprisingly, these rescue arms are not off-the-charts terrible, with position players who’ve debuted since the 2000 season posting a combined 6.84 ERA (6.76 FIP) in 51 1/3 innings—and that drops to a 5.11 ERA (6.34 FIP) if you exclude Paul Janish’s two rough innings.

The Yankees were in dire straits on Wednesday night after the unpredictable Phil Hughes lasted only 2/3 of an inning, surrendering seven runs on six hits and two walks. This forced manager Joe Girardi to get 5 2/3 innings of long relief from Brett Marshall in his major-league debut. After Marshall’s pitch count reached 108 pitches with two outs in the ninth, Girardi asked Alberto Gonzalez, a journeyman infielder with no prior professional pitching experience, to get Robert Andino out. Somehow, he did. (Granted, Andino, who owns a .236 OBP, is among the easiest outs in baseball. But still.)

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