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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 15: More position players pitched than ever before

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

On July 22, Brewers’ utilityman Hernan Perez pitched two scoreless innings, and backup catcher Erik Kratz pitched one himself, mopping up in a blowout loss to the Dodgers. In doing so they became the 31st and 32nd position players to pitch in the 2018 season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that set the record for the most position players to take the mound in a season in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961.

If you thought that was an anomaly, you were proven wrong the very next day when, on July 23, four position players — the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Victor Caratini and the Rangers’ Ryan Rua and Carlos Tocci — pitched, setting the single game record. By the time October had rolled around a record 48 position players had pitched in 2018.

Matt Davidson of the White Sox pitched on three separate occasions and was so good that Chicago is thinking of making him a full-time hurler. Kratz took the hill three times as well. Pablo Sandoval pitched once and, my god, he actually looked pretty darn good! He induced three grounders from the Dodgers and broke off a pretty nasty curve:

There were some pretty nifty closet knuckleballers pressed into service as well:

The individual performances aside, it’s pretty remarkable that Major League Baseball set the record in 2018. After all, this is the age of  13 and sometimes 14-man pitching staffs. An age when teams shuttle guys back and forth from the minors more often than they ever have before and when, due to the shortened, 10-day disabled list, it’s easier to give guys breaks because of “injuries” than it ever has been. There should never not be a fresh bullpen arm at the ready, right?

You’d think so, but part of the deal is that while teams carry far more relievers than they ever have before, they actually carry far fewer swingmen or mopup men who are capable of throwing multiple innings in a blowout to save other pitchers’ arms. Rather, teams focus on max-effort, high-velocity relievers who go one or two innings tops, thus requiring catchers and utility guys to help do the mopping that actual pitchers used to do.

There’s also the fact that teams are, quite simply, willing to admit when a game is blown. In the past there was some sort of unwritten rule about never admitting defeat, but now teams are quite willing to wave the white flag, trot out the backup catcher and save their real arms — maybe eight or nine of them — for tomorrow, when the game might be more reasonably won. A lot of teams tank their entire seasons now. Think of this as in-game tanking.

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing necessarily — some of these backup catchers throw harder than a lot of pitchers did 30 years ago and it’s always kind of fun to see a position player pitch — but it is yet another way the game has changed due to a focus on specialization and a more granular understanding of when a game ceases to be competitive.

Report: Yankees could be in on Nolan Arenado

Nolan Arenado
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The Yankees appear to have moved on from free agent Manny Machado this winter, but could they be turning their attention to Rockies superstar Nolan Arenado? That’s the idea floated by Andy Martino of SNY, who hears that GM Brian Cashman has been involved in recent discussions concerning the third baseman. No official comments have been made to the press yet, though, and it’s not clear whether the Yankees would prefer to pursue Arenado prior to the 2019 season or partway through it.

The 27-year-old infielder earned his fourth consecutive All-Star nomination, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove award in 2018 after slashing .297/.374/.561 with 38 home runs, a .935 OPS, and 5.7 fWAR across 673 plate appearances. There’s no question he’s provided immense value to Colorado’s lineup over the last half-decade, and his consistency and incredible power at the plate helped form the basis of the record $30 million arbitration figure he presented to the team last week. The Rockies countered at $24 million, however, and in doing so may have jeopardized their chances of convincing the infielder to forego free agency in 2020 and take a long-term deal instead.

Assuming he declines to negotiate an extension with the Rockies, Arenado’s decorated résumé and career-best 2018 numbers should attract plenty of interest around the league — a reality that could put considerable pressure on the Yankees (or any other interested party) to finesse a deal sooner rather than later. For now, the club is prepared to enter the 2019 season with hot-hitting third baseman Miguel Andújar, whom Martino speculates would be the “centerpiece” of any trade with Colorado.