Position players pitching have been a hot topic around these parts lately, and Monday night saw yet another one – the ninth major leaguer of the year — take the mound. The Brewers' Lyle Overbay, a first baseman by trade, took the mound in the eighth inning with two outs and induced the Braves' Ryan Doumit to pop up to end the frame in Milwaukee's 9-3 loss to Atlanta.
Against that backdrop, Sports Illustrated's newest addition to the baseball staff, senior editor Emma Span, put forth an informal Twitter poll, and I immediately chimed in with an obvious first choice:
The enthusiastic response to Emma's question turned our @ mentions into a blur for about an hour. By my count, a total of 55 different players drew votes from our audience, including 37 active major leaguers, three minor leaguers, and 15 retired players. When the dust settled, seven active players stood out from the pack.
Andrelton Simmons, Braves
It was only a slight surprise that Simmons took the top spot on the list, but there's no disputing the logic: The 24-year-old shortstop is considered the game's best defender, blessed not only with incredible range but an absolute cannon of an arm. @Tom_Howie_Jarv summed it up best:
Admittedly, this one might be inflated by my own cue, but the 23-year-old Cuban defector's wild, unbridled style of play and gift for controversy both on and off the field has given him a solid claim on the title of The Most Interesting Man in the World. Via his frequent missing of the cutoff man — sometimes in the service of spectacularly improbable assists — his arm has received nearly as much focus as his bat flips. The Strike Zone staff envisions him throwing 97 mph to the backstop with the worst slider imaginable, not to mention a bit of chin music to repay that which has come his way.
Ichiro always had an impressive arm; in fact, he was primarily a pitcher in high school despite standing just 5-foot-9 1/2, and actual footage of him exists from those early days. He did take a brief turn on the mound in the 1996 Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Game, though while he was slated to face fellow future major leaguer Hideki Matsui, the opposing manager sent a pitcher to the plate to pinch-hit. Topping out in the high-80s, velocity-wise, he induced a grounder to short to finish the game:
Alas, Ichiro has never pitched in the majors. In 2003, he volunteered for extra-inning mound duty, though Mariners manager Bob Melvin didn't need to take him up on the offer. Now that he's been shunted into a reserve role for the first time in his 14-year big league career, it's clearly time for 40-year-old Japanese legend to take the hill. (Hat tip to YakyuNightOwl for the aforementioned links.)
The comic potential of having a player who's listed at 5-foot-6 and quite probably shorter was not lost on our audience, who clearly wanted to see what kind of velocity the diminutive Astros second baseman could produce over a span of 11.17 Altuves (a distance based on when Altuve was listed at 5-foot-5). Via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, the shortest players ever to pitch in the majors stood 5-foot-3, but those were not only from the 19th century but also prior to 1893, when the mound distance was lengthened from 50 feet to 60-feet-6. Since the change to its current distance, a total of 21 players standing 5-foot-6 or shorter have taken the mound, including Hall of Famer Clark Griffith, 1952 AL MVP Bobby Shantz, Cuban emigre Connie Marrero (who recently passed away at age 102), and Danny Hererra (who was still pitching in the independent Atlantic League as of last year). The shortest of them all, at 5-foot-4, were righty Frank Morrissey (six games in 1901-02) and lefty Dinty Gearin (13 games in 1923-1924).
Derek Jeter, Yankees
Say what you will about the 39-year-old Yankee legend's flagging bat and declining range at shortstop, but his arm strength is still one of his best assets. As his retirement draws near, he's on many wishlists:
"I imagine Hunter Pence would have a fun windup," wrote @scottmbarrett of the San Francisco rightfielder, whom Dodgers broadcast legend Vin Scully often describes as "all elbows and kneecaps." Indeed, Pence is such a strange-looking player that some question whether he's of this planet:
While possessing a strong arm would seem to be a prerequisite for the job, it was the weakness of Revere's throws that drew some followers' attention. "Could he reach the plate on the fly?" asked @wavingatyou.
Eight other active major leaguers drew multiple mentions: Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Carlos Gomez, Munenori Kawasaki, Manny Machado, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Dustin Pedroia. Some of the picks had entertaining logic behind them:
Also drawing multiple mentions was minor leaguer Jeff Francoeur, whom I profiled on Monday; the dream is alive for fans as well as the nine-year major league veteran, who has made five appearances in the past month for Triple-A El Paso. Two other minor leaguers were named: Pirates top prospect Gregory Polanco, who has yet to reach the majors, and Yankees farmhand Dean Anna, who actually took the hill in a blowout before being sent down.
Players drawing single mentions ranged from the famous (Mike Trout and Bryce Harper) to the infamous (Alex Rodriguez) to the obscure (L.J. Hoes and Ty Wigginton), and from the comical (Billy Butler and David Ortiz) to the combative (Brett Lawrie and Brian McCann). Among the others: Jose Bautista, Brandon Belt, Drew Butera (who has actually pitched twice this year now), Nate Freiman, Paul Konerko, Yadier Molina, Nyjer Morgan, Colby Rasmus, Alfonso Soriano, Giancarlo Stanton, Troy Tulowitzki, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Those last two drew interesting replies:
Among retired players, former Cubs top pick Shawon Dunston surprisingly beat out Vladimir Guerrero, with howitzer-armed Jose Guillen, weak-winged Juan Pierre and throwing disorder-afflicted Mackey Sasser drawing multiple mentions too. Speaking of throwing disorders, Rick Ankiel drew a single mention, as did those with arms ranging from rockets (Raul Mondesi) to Ramen noodles (Johnny Damon and Rudy Law), with Johnny Bench, Barry Bonds, Pedro Guerrero, Bo Jackson, Graig Nettles and Matt Stairs occupying the spectrum between.