Baseball is crazy these days. Just a few nights ago, we saw Tampa Bay outfielder Brett Phillips play against reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani. The very next day, Ohtani was on the mound to pitch Phillips. When was the last time something like this happened? We now have a universal DH. This stuff shouldn’t be happening!
Both Ohtani and Phillips did pretty well against each other. Ohtani doubled over Phillips in his only at-bat, but when the pair traded sides the next day, Phillips managed to pull off a walk and a single on his two plate appearances.
These kinds of encounters make me think, “Who would win in a full nine-inning game: pitcher or positioner?” I am not the only one pondering this hypothesis either.
Aside from the very wise man at the end, these guys were all clearly very biased. What this question needs is a centrist, someone without a dog in the fight who can offer a clear, level-headed opinion. Obviously there is nobody better for the job than me.
First we need to establish the rules for this imaginary game. Who can play in it? What’s the deal with the DH? And which team does Shohei Ohtani play for? Why am I doing all this for a game that will never happen? Don’t worry.
First things first: This hypothetical game will only be between current MLB players and current MLB players. No Babe Ruth. No Rick Ankiel. no Pablo Sandoval. He would be overwhelmed anyway. Additionally, any pre-existing injuries, such as those suffered by Fernando Tatís Jr. and Jacob deGrom, will be voided. In our fictitious utopia, everyone is happy and healthy.
Second, this game will work under modern MLB rules, meaning a universal DH will be fine. While either team’s pitcher may also participate as a designated hitter, either team may also choose to field another player for their designated hitter role.
Finally, Shohei Ohtani is classified as both a designated batsman and a pitcher on his Baseball Reference Page, for the purposes of this article, we will place Ohtani on the launchers side. He rarely plays on the field and is part of a rotation where he has days off, so I think he’s already more of a pitcher than a hitter.
Now let’s set the teams. We decide each pitcher’s position on the field based on positions they have played in the past or positions they have previously made public inquiries about. The positional team will be mostly all-stars in their natural positions, but we need at least one person on the mound. I might even list a few players because those position players probably don’t have the stamina to last an entire 9-inning ball game. Anyway, here are the teams with some explanations.
Team position players:
C Yasmani Grandal – was looking at JT Realmuto but I figured Grandal’s ability to draw walks would be better served in this lineup than Realmuto’s speed. Perhaps Yadier Molina could be considered considering he’s like a pitching coach in his own right and pitchers will definitely need some advice in this game.
1B Freddie Freeman – great glove, great disc discipline, easy pick.
2B José Altuve – could fill in for Marcus Semien but his struggles in 2022 are a concern; could also speak for Ketel Marte or Brandon Lowe.
3B José Ramírez – Sorry Arenado Stans, Ramírez is the highlight in the hot corner.
SS Fernando Tatís Jr. – I thought of Trea Turner, but no. Defense is important, but it’s far less important when there are pitchers on the plate.
BY Mike Trout – duh
BY Byron Buxton – doubtful
OV Ronald Acuña Jr. – mainly because I don’t like Bryce Harper that much.
DH Juan Soto – again because I don’t like Bryce Harper.
SP Charlie Culberson – in 5.1 career innings, Culberson has a 1.69 ERA. In 2018, Culberson spun the fastest Throw by a positional player since 2016 — 93.7mph.
RP Brett Phillips
RP Williams Astudillo
RP JD Davis
C Kenley Jansen – a looker in the minor leagues. He also has a .333 career batting average in the majors with one double and had 15 career things in the minors
1B Madison Bumgarner – You knew he was going to be on this team. Despite telling former Giants manager Bruce Bochy that he wanted to play shortstop after hitting his first career grand slam on April 11, 2014, Bumgarner throws the left hand, putting Bumgarner at either first base or outfield is banished. He’s 6-foot-4. He plays first.
2B Zack Greinke – although he never played there, his career .225 batting average is too good to pass on. His arm isn’t what it used to be, so putting him second is the logical choice.
3B Noah Syndergaard – he has six career things. Not bad. Not bad. Also, his left hitter will fit well into this lineup, which lacks pop from this side of the plate. Besides, just look at his hair. The hot corner is written all over his face.
SS Kenta Maeda – Maeda isn’t the best on the plate, but he would be useful, especially when thrown to him by position players. Although he has never played in infield, he made one appearance as a left fielder during his time in Japan. That gives him more field experience than most MLB pitchers, and given that defense is a priority in building this team, he’s a clear pick.
OV Sean Doolittle – left-handed, relegated to the outfield; raised as a first baseman in the minors.
BY Shohei Ohtani – duh
OF Michael Lorenzen – career .233 batting average; has played 96 career innings in the outfield.
SP Jacob deGrom – Yes, Jacob deGrom was originally a shortstop, so putting him there would make sense. He’s not a wimp either, but just because he pitches doesn’t mean he can’t DH too. The pitchers team needs deGrom on the mound. deGrom could probably hold the hitters to three runs alone, and that would mean the pitchers wouldn’t have to score much to win the game. deGrom is by far the best pitcher in baseball that there’s no point in putting him anywhere else. If he can last a full game, there’s reason to believe the pitchers could walk away with a win.
RP Josh Hader – preferably deGrom would go all nine, but you also need a good sewer just in case. You could stand up for Liam Hendriks. However, I would prefer the left-right combination of Hader and deGrom to Hendriks, even if Hendriks is the slightly better helper.
Are there any players I missed on the pitching team? Maybe, but I think I did pretty well. So now comes the game itself. The questions surrounding this game would be, “Can deGrom limit the positional players to two runs or fewer with terrible defense behind them?” and “Can the middle of the pitcher lineup rack up enough base knocks to to ride in runs?”
The fact that none of these questions is about the positional team is probably a good indication that the positional players are and should be the preferred team. They know how to play defense. They’re regularly exposed to high-profile pitchers, and as untouchable as deGrom is, these players are the best of the best. It would be hard to imagine a game where they don’t check the Mets ace at least once or twice.
That being said, I wouldn’t say the pitchers can’t win this game. There’s a very real chance that Bumgarner, Syndergaard, deGrom, Ohtani or Jansen Culberson could take deep. Bumgarner wanted to compete in the home run derby for heaven’s sake. If that can only happen about four times, that’s a lot of run support for deGrom, who has only allowed more than four earned runs in a start three times since early 2018. If I were Vegas I would put the line on Position Player (-180). The line would be positional (-2.5) and the over/under for the game would be 5.5. Of course, this is all speculation on a game that will never happen. As the wise man on TikTok said, “Don’t ask stupid questions,” but that’s what I do best.