I'm creating this as an indirect response to Shanoyu's node, The many talents of John Mabry. There, he asserts that Lou Pinella is a "moron" for letting Mabry, an outfielder, pitch two-thirds of an inning, recording a 27.00 earned run average in the process.

Actually, it's a great move by Lou, and something most other managers would have done.

Here's why: His team was losing by more than 10 runs. Down 10 runs, in a game that's not crucial, you don't want to wear out your relief pitchers. You're probably going to lose anyway, and it does affect a pitcher to throw two days in a row, even if they're only in the game for a short time. All the warm-up throws take their toll on a guy's arm.

So, in hopeless situations, managers will throw in the towel and literally ask around the dugout to see who wants to pitch. Remember, you're going to lose anyway, so why not 1) keep your star pitchers rested instead of wasting them on a lost cause, and 2) Let one of your guys have a little fun?

A couple of times every year, some lucky position player (i.e. non-pitcher) gets to pitch. Sometimes the results are hilarious, as when Wade Boggs barely got the ball to the plate.

Other times, it's amazing. On May 14, 1988, infielder Jose Oquendo came in to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals in a desperation 16th-inning move; the Cards had used all their other available pitchers. Oquendo went on to shut out the Braves for three full innings; by the fourth, though, he succumbed and gave up two runs for the loss, the first decision by a non-pitcher in 20 years. Sure, they lost, but three shutout innings is three more than they were expecting, I'm sure!

Overall, Mabry didn't do that badly; by Sanoyu's numbers above, he gave up only 2 runs. You never want to give up 2 runs, obviously, but when you're down by 10, it's water off a duck's back. Think of it this way: He probably had a lot of fun doing it, and his teammates got some comic relief after a very bad day.

In response to Orange_Julius: Obviously, I'm not advocating that mangers do this every time they're down 10 runs! Big comebacks are not that uncommon, especially in the American League, and yes, the possibility of injury is there. I probably shouldn't have called it a great move, but there are plenty of good reasons for doing it.

This strategy is never something you want to do. It's a 9th-inning move or a desperation move, and never something you plan ahead of time. OJ mentions that "you've lost the use of that player later in the game"... well, you only do this because there isn't going to be a "later in the game;" you are (as OJ correctly asserts) giving up.

Whether you like the strategy or not, it happens about once per major league season. Sometimes a manger will decide he can't afford to use another reliever -- maybe they all pitched long innings yesterday, maybe you've got a double-header tomorrow, etc. And you never want to do this unless it's the very end of the game -- no manager would consider trying this in the 6th, for example.

Jose Oquendo's case was a fluke -- all the pitchers were used up. The other fluky exception happens on the last day of the season, when the manager of a last-place team might let players goof off a little bit.

As for daily transactions ... I don't think it's true that you get unlimited minor-league transactions; my impression is that there are limits on how often you can promote/demote a particular player. I may be wrong on this, though; I'm not lawyer enough to understand all the waiver rules. :)

Even if transactions are unlimited, you don't want to be shuttling folks up and down from the minors just because they're tired. Aside from the impracticalities of that (they have to fly to join the minor league team, then fly back if you recall them), there's a shortage of good pitching in the majors as it is. The last thing you want to do is dip into that minor league pot too deeply.

And no, five relievers is not always enough for a nine-inning game. First, the way many relievers and closers throw, you can't let them pitch too many days in a row; they'll burn out too fast. So not every reliever is "available" every day. In addition, the fashion in relievers is specialization; certain pitchers are used against one or two batters only (left-handers tend to be in this category). This seems to be more prevalent in the American League, where you don't have to worry about whether the pitcher's spot is coming to bat. Call it bad managing if you want -- I'll admit I don't like it myself -- but managers like Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa have been successful with it.

But I should make it clear -- In the middle of a game, OJ is right: This is a horrible strategy. You use it at the very end of a game because you're giving up to fight another day, or because you're just in a weird mood and your players don't mind.

Thanks to Mike Mobley's Cardinals page! http://www.ford-mobley.com/cards.htm

Mmmm... not a very good idea. I can think of a couple reasons why this in an inherently bad idea.

1. A ten run deficit doesn't mean all that much.

In the overall scope of the game, you're going to lose 99% of these games. But these very same Seattle Mariners got their asses whooped by the Cleveland Indians after being up 14-2 in the sixth inning. The Indians have come back from deficits of 9 or more runs three times in the last two seasons. In two of those contests, they won the game by 8 or more runs.

Putting a position player on the mound assures you of two things: (1) you've given up hope of winning the game, and (2) you've lost the ability to use the player later in the game.

2. Non-pitchers are at greater risk of injury when pitching.

Non-pitchers don't pitch for a simple reason... they aren't good at it (or at least are good enough at hitting to warrant a positional spot). The day-to-day workouts that pitchers go through are vastly different from positional player workouts, all the way down to warm-up stretching. Additionally, position players do not consult with the pitching coach on a regular basis, so their pitching mechanics are often not too good.

When you have a player that isn't used to pitching, and doesn't have the proper mechanics to pitch, you're inviting trouble. For one, it's a lot easier to pull a groin or sprain an ankle during the stride towards home plate. Poor mechanics also lead to shoulder and elbow problems, that, yes, can manifest themselves after only one trip to the mound. Jose Canseco missed half a season with the Texas Rangers after straining an elbow trying to throw curveballs in relief.

On top of that, consider that the batters faced by the positional player all have a considerable advantage facing a non-pitcher, so the likelihood of getting struck with a batted ball increases. It's only sixty feet, six inches from home plate to the mound, and 'muzzle velocities' from batted balls are often more than 120 MPH.

3. Daily transactions make it easy to avoid overpitching players.

In general, professional baseball teams carry between ten and twelve pitchers. With a five-man rotation, this leaves five to seven relievers, one of whom is a 'closer'. Five relievers should be more than enough to pitch nine innings. If you've run out of pitchers in a nine inning game (especially in the American League where you don't have to pinch-hit for them), you are a poor manager.

The worry is that a pitcher will be overworked, and he'll be tired and won't be available to pitch for a few days. While that may be true (although a tired arm is an indication that you don't throw the ball enough, not that you throw the ball too much), the way transactions work give clubs a typically endless supply of pitching.

Because of the near complete lack of restriction on minor league transactions, a pitcher can be purchased on a single day's notice to pitch in the majors the next day, and then assigned right back to the minors after the game. More drastically, a club can also place anyone they want on the 15-day disabled list, and call up a spare pitcher for more prolonged duty.

The exception.

Now, Jose Oquendo is a different matter. The same options apply for finding new pitchers, but a manager should not manage the team as though a game is going into extra innings. Add in the fact that the Cardinals play in the National League, and Whitey Herzog (who's a notorious substitutional manager) probably used up all of his pitchers AND bench players in pinch-hit situations. I'm guessing Oquendo was probably the last player left on the bench, and was told that he was finishing the game regardless of the outcome. In that case, you just shit in your pants and keep swimming.

Perhaps I should clarify some things...

As mentioned above, five pitchers isn't enough for a nine inning game. This is true, but it's due to some unfortunate circumstances brought upon by Tony LaRussa and general stupidity.

38 pitchers in major league baseball have recorded 300 or more complete games. Of these 38, only one, Gaylord Perry, pitched after 1979. The leader among active pitchers for complete games? Roger Clemens with 116 (as of this writing). No other active pitcher has 100 (although Greg Maddux is at 99 as of this writing). Starters don't pitch as many games anymore, and they don't finish the ones that they pitch in. But what about relievers?

When Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage were dominating their era as relievers, they were averaging 117.9 and 118.4 innings per season, respectively. By the time the eighties rolled around, closers like Dave Righetti and Dan Quisenberry were averaging just over an inning per appearance. When Tony Larussa took his juggernaut Oakland A's to three straight World Series with Rick Honeycutt as the setup man and Dennis Eckersley as the closer, it cemented the role of the closer to one inning, and the necessity of a one-inning setup man in the minds of most baseball folks.

Over that span of 25 years, the traditional four-man rotation gave way to five-man rotation. At about the same time, pitchers began seeing drastically reduced innings totals, not just season totals, but innings per game averages.

The reason is because you need to throw to gain and maintain arm strength. The majority of sore arms are a result of NOT throwing enough, not because of throwing too much. Unfortunately, by the time you reach the big leagues it's too late, because you've been pitching in a five man rotation for a number of years, and even prior to that you were probably on pitch counts in high school, and were too busy with other stuff to throw on the side. Weights don't help build pitching arms like they do batting swings. You've got to throw.

There's no reason why starters shouldn't be averaging six or seven innings per start, and relying on two pitchers at most to finish off games.

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