It’s 11-0, heading to the bottom of the eighth inning. The losing team burned through their starter early, and some of their bullpen, and it’s the start of a series. So what do you do? You bring out a position player to pitch to get the final three outs (assuming no miracle comeback happens). In 2023, there were ten position players to pitch against the Rangers, and twice, the Rangers sent out a position player (Sandy Leon and Brad Miller). I asked Nathaniel Lowe and Travis Jankowski about the experience of stepping into the box against a non-pitcher and Brad Miller about both being in the batters’ box and on the mound.
Does the Mindset Change in the Box?
As Travis Jankowski points out, the competitive mindset doesn’t change. “When you get into that batters’ box, you’re competing. I don’t care who’s on that mound. I’m trying to get a hit,” For Nathaniel Lowe, while he tries not to change it, the circumstances slightly change it. “You try not to, like it’s really hard not to because they’re lobbing it up there, but you definitely try not to [change the mindset],” Lowe told me. Brad Miller, who is an aggressive hitter regardless of who’s on the mound, continues his aggressiveness. “You want to get in and get out,” Miller said. “Get a pitch [and] if it’s slow, just get it up and try to get out of there.”
The one consensus is that the further the at-bat goes, the scarier it becomes for a hitter, especially with two strikes. “You do not want two strikes in the box with a position player; it’s very scary,” Miller said. “Because you don’t know what they’re going to do. It can get a little crazy.” Jankowski reiterates that point by Brad. “That anxiety does go through the roof because you sure as heck don’t want to strike out against a position player, so that aspect there’s an anxiety-like, oh my gosh, I have two strikes, and a position player is on the mound.” That’s also a reason why you’ll see hitters swing at the first pitch they see in the strike zone and with the variance of pitches. For example, Eduardo Escobar lobbed a 38 MPH “slider” then came back with 80 later in the inning. If you’re at two strikes, what do you look for? The game is out of hand, so the position player pitcher can literally go with one or the other on a 42 MPH differential.
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) August 15, 2023
Is it More Difficult?
Okay, so going into the box against a reliever throwing 90 compared to a position player lobbing a 39 MPH pitch isn’t a debate when it comes to difficulty. However, Jankowski told me it could be more difficult from a preparation standpoint. “I think it’s more difficult because we probably make it more difficult. My five-year-old son could go up there and hit a 37 MPH pitch, [but] I think it’s a different feel.” More thoughts arise, like, do you pull the ball or try to hit it on the ground? Nathaniel Lowe told me it’s more different than anything, and as a hitter, it’s about adjusting to what the position player is throwing.
Brad Miller says the difficulty is lower, but it is different. “I’d much rather have somebody like me flipping it in there than facing [Clayton] Kershaw. You just don’t want to strike out is basically the plan,” Miller said.
The Pitching Experience
I asked Brad Miller about his pitching experience on July 22nd against the Dodgers. Miller threw two innings and allowed three runs on two hits and two walks. I asked him if there any preparation involves in going in to pitch. “In the game, when you start to see what’s going on, but you just go warm up. The biggest thing as a position player is making sure you just survive, and you’re not hurt because the slope is different,” Miller said. “It’s definitely nothing to take lightly,” Brad told me the survival key is not overdoing it compared to relievers and starting pitchers who throw daily, and their arms are strong and stable. “The big thing is don’t get too excited. Just lob it in there and get out of there.” Miller also told me he was sore after a few days. “it was no joke.”
Do You Like The Idea of Position Players Pitching?
I received mixed reactions from the players I spoke to. Jankowski and Lowe were in favor of letting position players pitch.
“I don’t mind it as long as I get a hit. Getting out on a position player sucks,” Lowe said.
Travis had a different perspective on the idea. “You go back and forth. Obviously, a position player pitching, the game is out of hand and to a point where you’re not going to come back and win. But what do you do? Do you call the game after eight innings? That’s not fair because guys in arbitration get paid on how many plate appearances they get, how many hits they get [and] at-bats. So I don’t think you can take it away. I think Major League Baseball is doing the best they can [and] put some rules and stipulations in, but you can’t say games are over after eight innings. There’s too much money for the players on the line.”
Brad Miller, meanwhile, says it’s fun if no one gets hurt and understands why teams do it, but also fans come to see pitchers pitch and hitters hit. Rangers manager Bruce Bochy mentioned numerous times he doesn’t like the idea of position players pitching either.
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) August 7, 2021
If Asked, Would You Pitch?
Because Brad Miller already pitched, he says that’s it. He did it once. “Scary,” he said. Travis Jankowski noted that in April when Sandy León came to pitch, Bruce Bochy came to Travis and told if he was comfortable pitching. “I said I’ll go and do anything if you need me [but] if someone else wants to let them do it first,” Jankowski said. He said pitching is something he wants to experience, but he will do it if the teams need him.
Nathaniel Lowe said he would love to pitch. “I pitched through college too. I wasn’t very good at it, but I’d like to,” Lowe said. He also told me that he could probably reach 80 MPH.
The ten times the Rangers faced a position player ties an MLB record set by the Atlanta Braves in 2021. It’s becoming more of a strategy teams use to save the bullpen. With nearly 40 games remaining, it’s likely the Rangers will break the MLB record, another potential record the offense can break in a strong 2023 campaign.