Pittsburgh Pirates: Position Players Pitching a Problem


Position players pitching has become an epidemic that has infected not only the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the rest of Major League Baseball.

It’s no secret that baseball isn’t at the popularity it once was. Its viewership is at the bottom among the big four sports leagues in the United States. Major League Baseball has tried over the past handful of years to get a more youthful crowd interested in the sport, but one problem they haven’t fully tackled yet is position players pitching. This has been a major issue for MLB teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates included.

In the final game of the series against the New York Yankees, the Pirates trotted out Josh VanMeter for the third time this year, and he gave up six runs on two home runs and eight total hits. They’ve also trotted out utility man Diego Castillo to the mound twice, and he’s given up eight runs in just two innings.

Castillo and VanMeter make up 5.5% of all earned runs the Pittsburgh Pirates have given up. That’s pretty impressive given that they make up less than 1% of the total innings Pirates pitchers have thrown this year. They’ve given up more runs than Roansy Contreras this year despite having 39 fewer innings.

Now I get it, the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t a competitive team, and non-competitive teams will have more blow-out games than those who are in the hunt for a playoff spot. But look at some of the games the Pirates have lost when they’ve put in a position player. On June 22nd, they lost a 14-5 game to the Cubs but put in Diego Castillo in the last inning. He gave up four runs, but the Pirates came up in the bottom of the 9th and put up four runs of their own. What could have been a 9-5 loss became a 14-5 loss.

Staff writer Kody Duncan recently tweeted out something that highlights an issue caused by throwing in the towel and putting a position player to pitch:

Of the 76 runs allowed between these four games, over 15% of them were given up by Castillo or VanMeter.

The first person everyone is going to blame for this is Derek Shelton. After all, he makes the calls and decides who comes into the game and when they get pulled from the game. But this isn’t just a Derek Shelton issue. It’s a problem in all of MLB.

From 2008 through 2019, less than 75 pitches were thrown 50 MPH or slower. This year, there have been well over 175. This tweet was published nearly a month ago, displaying the ridiculous number of times a position player was put out to pitch:

Personally, I used to love watching position players pitch because it was a rare treat. It happened maybe once a month across the league in the past, if that. It was fun watching Travis Snider strike out Joey Votto or Los Angeles Dodgers’ back-up catcher Drew Butera fire 94 MPH and listen to Vin Scully’s surprised reaction. Now it’s a weekly occurrence where a guy comes out and throws literal batting practice pitches.

MLB tried to resolve this issue in the off-season. They implemented a rule where you cannot use a position player to pitch when you are losing by five runs or less. Los Angeles Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts tried to put in utility man Zach McKinstry to pitch in an early-June game against the New York Mets while losing 9-4. However, New York Mets’ manager Buck Showalter pointed this rule out to the umpires, and the Dodgers had to Evan Phillips.

While this rule stopped this one instance from a position player from pitching, more needs to be done. MLB needs to do more because the epidemic of giving up and putting in a position player to pitch who throws slower than the interstate speed limit is worsening the sport. Maybe make it to where a team must exhaust all their other pitching resources before turning to a position player, or make it to where only players who are designated as two-way players can pitch.

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I don’t know what the solution is, but this has become a problem across the entirety of Major League Baseball. Teams are throwing position players onto the mound and straight-up giving up mid-game.