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Position Players Pitching: A White Sox Retrospective

When I signed up for the White Sox Speed Pitch Challenge, I considered that maybe I needed to be less José Quintana, and more José Rondón

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Chicago White Sox
Among the legions of recent White Sox position players pitching, the legend of Matt Davidson looms large.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

When I signed up for the White Sox Speed Pitch challenge, I wasn’t exactly sure why I did it.

Have I ever played baseball? No.

Did I think I’d be any good at it? Also, no.

That’s when I reached out to the less-than-Web-MD credible reaches of Twitter, asking how someone who had to withdraw from Little League softball due to family financial constraints could throw somewhat competitively.

Someone tagged Lucas Giolito and Ethan Katz, somebody else told me to go to Driveline.

I did throw a ball hard enough once to knock a Wisconsin politician into a dunk tank at a neighborhood carnival in Madison, so I knew I at least had good control.

I took to YouTube. Being a southpaw, I studied the mechanics of some of my all-time favorite lefties. I thought about incorporating some of José Quintana’s leg kick, and maybe I could channel Mark Buehrle’s craftiness.

Something else to consider: I had little to no resources to prepare. I remembered seeing Jack Flaherty’s setup of his makeshift hotel room bullpen session, where he threw at a propped-up mattress at the Pfister Hotel while the Cardinals were being quarantined there this past summer. And so I spent the morning of the Speed Pitch Challenge throwing at my couch, to the chagrin of my neighbors. I led up to the day, with less than five days of balancing out heavy lifting and cardio, with my living room bullpen sessions.

On my second pitch, I hit 37, which wouldn’t have even been picked up by Statcast. But I didn’t overexert myself, nor will I need Tommy John surgery, so if that’s what less than a week of training gets me, then I guess I succeeded.

Bringing the gas. Sort of.

Upon studying my pitchers for the event, I also realized that maybe I needed to be less José Quintana, and more José Rondón.

Position players pitching may not always be the most welcome sight. When it happens, it’s usually to the tune of a football score in a baseball game.

To save the bullpen arms for more high-leverage situations, a hero may arise from the ashes to perform janitorial duties on the mound. At a similar amusement level to maybe watching zoo animals paint, the phenomenon known as the position player pitching can be a welcome sight, a respite for the eyes in an otherwise dire mess of a situation.

Our friends over at Cut4 are so into position players taking the ball, they’ll alert us when necessary.

The White Sox have their own rich history of position players pitching. If a player can throw strikes alongside some good secondary pitches, this buys bullpen arms another day of rest — and later makes for an intriguing story. You don’t need to break any radar guns, or bring enough gas for a large SUV. And that was my methodology heading into Speed Pitch.

And with that, here’s the brief recent history of White Sox position player pitchers.

Matt Davidson

Old friend Matt Davidson, who was a non-roster invitee with the Los Angeles Dodgers this spring, has recently expressed that he’s interested in becoming a two-way player. And White Sox fans may remember him fondly for his three relief appearances in 2018. On June 29, Davidson threw a scoreless eighth inning vs. the Texas Rangers, including a strikeout; Davidson threw 13 pitches, eight for strikes. Davidson returned to the mound on July 27 vs. Toronto, where he authored a scoreless ninth inning: eight out of the 10 pitches he threw were for strikes. Davidson was brought out again in the ninth inning, this time on August 6 to face the Yankees, he faced five batters, struck out one and walked one, and threw 21 pitches, 13 of them for strikes.

Davidson was brought back to pitch in relief for the Cincinnati Reds in 2020, and finished the year with a 5.40 ERA over 3 ⅓ innings. If he chooses to go the two-way route, it opens up a world of possibility of what he can do for the Dodgers in 2021.

When it comes to position player velo, Davidson tops out the White Sox bunch. Davidson told Dodgers beat writer Bill Plunkett that he hit 92 mph on the radar with the White Sox (true story), and that working with a weighted ball via the Dodgers pitching program could perhaps improve that velocity.

On March 23, Davidson was reassigned to the Dodgers minor league camp.

Yolmer Sánchez

If one could sum up 2020 in one sentence, this is a strong contender.

Yolmer’s 2020 journey found himself non-tendered by the White Sox after winning a Gold Glove for his defense at second base, and started the pandemic-shortened season with the San Francisco Giants. While he was missed by (most) White Sox fans, the time we would spend apart from Yolmer was short-lived, as by season’s end he found himself returning to the club that employed him for most of his adult life.

Yolmer (yes, first-name basis) did not fare well in his last pitching appearance for the White Sox, against the Cubs on Sept. 25, 2020. He was taken deep in the one inning he pitched, and now has a career HR/9 of 9.0. Yolmer relied on breaking pitches only, according to Statcast, and hit 81 mph on the radar gun.

Leury García

Leury’s a legend for many reasons — he will have a prime opportunity to contribute off the bench this year, and wrapped up the spring with a .737 OPS, including two home runs, a stolen base, and eight walks. He’s also the only position player on the 2021 projected Opening Day roster who has pitching experience.

García tossed one inning of scoreless ball in 2015, where he gave up only one hit (the same game where Alexei Ramírez made his pitching debut). He also threw an inning in 2014 and was less fortunate: He was brought into a tie game with the Red Sox, walked two, and gave up two runs off of two hits.

It’s been six years since Leury’s had the ball — but it’s up to Tony La Russa if he’ll perform any mop-up duties this season. (Hopefully, he won’t have to.)

Alexei Ramírez

Tthe year of the position player pitching for the White Sox was 2015; Alexei Ramírez pitched one inning of scoreless ball on September 15 vs. Oakland, and faced five batters; he gave up one hit and hit one batter during his relief appearance. As it’s implied in most of these appearances, with two position players pitching in the same game, the White Sox eventually lost, 16-7. Of all the position players, Ramírez had the most diverse arsenal of pitches. According to Statcast, Ramirez threw mostly what they categorize as a four-seam fastball, topping out at 90 mph, a changeup at 87 mph, and a curve in the mid-70s.

We’ve seen this a few times before, Lana.

Adam LaRoche

Someone who keeps finding himself resurfacing in White Sox news lately is none other than Adam LaRoche. LaRoche had one (you guessed it) 2015 pitching appearance, a game vs. the Yankees on July 31 where he retired all three batters he faced in the ninth inning, including one on a strikeout. LaRoche threw 12 pitches in his inning of relief, seven of them for strikes. The year he infamously retired, he also locked in his career 0.00 ERA.

Adam Dunn

Adam Dunn’s pitching career expanded past his time with the White Sox; in addition to the inning he threw detailed below, he also pitched an inning of relief for Oakland in 2015. Dunn’s White Sox pitching appearance happened on Aug. 5, 2014, when the White Sox lost in a blowout to the Texas Rangers, 16-0. He finished the inning throwing 22 pitches, 12 for strikes.

This performance by Adam Dunn is perhaps, subjectively awesome.

José Rondón
We round out our retrospective with Rondón’s ninth-inning appearance in a 6-1 game vs. the Red Sox on May 3, 2019, where his 59 mph (and that’s on the fast end) eephus pitches were too slow for the fancy Statcast radars to pick up.

Rondón threw 15 pitches to close out the inning, eight for strikes, three of those strikes called by the umpire. Who says you need a fireball to be effective?

This whole experience has had me lifting in the past week than I’ve had in my life. I kind of want to keep it up and train more, I also kind of want to sit down with a beer and a hot dog. I’ve also thought about José Rondón more in the past week than I think I ever have.

You also have to consider the various variables that can affect performance, and keeping my left shoulder warm in the inflatable cage had me thinking about what this would look like over a long stretch.

Pitching is hard. Sure, it can be fun, as some of these position players have demonstrated. But it is still hard. And I have an even deeper appreciation and respect for pitchers (and position players pitching) than I did before.

In closing, I wasn’t there to win Speed Pitch. I just wanted to know what I was capable of.

Oh yeah. I also had a lot of fun. And that’s what matters, right?