“It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.” -Homer Simpson
Always go to Homer for the last word on anything. Wait, not that Homer? Well, whatever. At the tine of writing, Cubs fans have seen an unprecedented run of position player pitching. There were three against the Cardinals last Friday, and then two more on Monday when Victor Caratini returned for a repeat performance, and then Anthony Rizzo basically long-conned his way onto the mound for an out.
There’s been a rash of articles of late trying to figure out the rise in position players pitching, and if there’s anything can be gleaned from it. Of course, there have been some that have wondered if this speaks to the relative health of the game, which seems useless but hey, there’s space that’s got to be filled. The problem with a lot of things in sports is that large components of them don’t mean anything, and yet we still have to search for the meaning that isn’t there.
Or to put it a touch more positively, we can Occam’s razor this. Relief pitchers are being used more than ever, especially on the Cubs this year. Hence, there are more instances where everyone has been used in the past two games, and it doesn’t do any good to put a pitcher you might really need at risk in a game where your skull is already dented anyway. Even with eight-man pens and a reserve of four or five arms at Triple-A ready to ride the shuttle, throw 45 pitches in a week and then head back while subbing out for whoever is coming the other way, there’s just too much use. When a manager knows he needs three or four relievers to get most every win (the spot Maddon finds himself in these days too much), there isn’t a lot of times he can be comfortable for two or three straight days. You can use four guys one day and then the other four the next day, hopefully, but even that pattern would eventually see people burned out. And it’s rarely one you can stick to.
Of course, there’s now a fight between those who love seeing a position player post up 11 inches higher than everyone else, and those who think it makes the game a farce or signals something wrong within the structure. Again, I don’t think the answer is anywhere but the middle. Surely, the novelty of it, if only just locally, has worn off. We’ve seen plenty of position players pitch now, and it’s not something that feels like a lightning strike anymore. It happens a few times a season, and much like a homer that hits the video board, it’s a lower spike on the EKG of a season than it used to be. It still sticks out, though.
I think the joy comes from the joy the players get who either do it or watch it. Most every time a position player pitches, someone is laughing. Sometimes it’s him, sometimes it’s his teammates at him, and sometimes it’s the hitters. And most every fan is a sucker for seeing a player enjoy his work so thoroughly. Why do you think Javy Báez is so popular? You couldn’t watch Rizzo and the reaction to him finally toeing the slab and not laugh a little.
Just because something is no longer novel doesn’t mean it’s now an annoyance. And while some say it’s something of a mockery, I always look at it as a humorous white flag. “We’re getting beaten so badly today we’re just gonna do shit because.” That doesn’t really happen in other sports. Basketball you might see the 12th guy on the bench get in the game, but that’s not really humorous; it’s just a chance to save minutes. That also would be mocking someone status on the team and in the league, I suppose, if we saw it that way, though that didn’t stop a lot from cheering any appearance from Brian Scalabrine back in the day. Football or hockey would too easily result in someone getting hurt.
It’s what you’d do on the playground. Try and swing from the heels or belt one in from 25 yards on the full volley because what’s to lose? It’s good for a laugh even if it isn’t new anymore.
Lead photo courtesy @Cubs Twitter account