The Ten Best Pitching Hitters Of All Time

Three days ago, when I wrote "The Ten Worst Hitting Pitchers Of All Time", it led to a comment that prompted me to write "The Ten Best Hitting Pitchers Of All Time"; some disagreed with my methodology, which is a fair thing to do even while remembering I did this mostly for fun.

It's a slow baseball news week. In contemplating, "What else can I do to totally destroy this line of thinking?", the idea of making some sort of ranking of the best "pitching hitters" came to mind. In other words, who were the position players who made the best pitchers?

There are several ways to look at this, and the first thing I decided was that I didn't want Babe Ruth to top this list. Obviously, Ruth was great at both pitching and hitting -- he would probably have been a Hall of Famer had he pitched his entire career -- but that's not what I had in mind. I didn't want 19th Century players here either; the game was so different in that era and well over 200 players who debuted before 1900 both pitched and played other positions. Neither did I want modern conversion guys like Rick Ankiel. Perhaps "all time" is a bit much, but it matches the other headlines in the series, so I'm sticking with it.

So here are my criteria for this Top Ten. The men named here:

  • Played in the expansion era (1961 to date),
  • Were considered primarily position players, and
  • Pitched in at least three games.

In doing this, I eliminated 142 position players who pitched just once or twice -- probably a manager's lark, just having the man pitch in a blowout. Unfortunately, this bumped Wilson Valdez off the list; Valdez, you'll remember, famously pitched the 19th inning of a game last May and became the first player to play a position and pitch and record a victory in the same game since Ruth. That's worth a mention, but let's look now at 10 guys who trudged to the mound multiple times and acquitted themselves better than some of their teammates who actually got paid to pitch. (Ranking is by ERA, worst to best, since so few innings are involved.) And remember too, this is mostly for fun, not intended to be any kind of strict statistical ranking.

10) Jose Oquendo: 3 appearances, 6 IP, 10 H, 8 ER, 0 HR, 9 BB, 2 K, 12.00 ERA

A 12.00 ERA doesn't really qualify as "best", but I decided to list Oquendo here because on May 14, 1988, he threw the final four innings of a long extra-inning game for the Cardinals against the Braves. He gave up two runs in the 19th inning and got the loss. In doing so he became the first position player to get a decision in 20 years, since Rocky Colavito -- yes, a power hitter on the mound -- picked up a win for the Yankees against the Tigers by throwing 2.1 scoreless innings on August 25, 1968.

9) John Moses: 3 appearances, 3 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 9.00 ERA

Moses did not lead his team to the promised land either as a hitter or pitcher; his three mopup pitching performances were mediocre and the only offensive category he led his league in was caught stealing (18 in 1986 for the Mariners).

8) Gary Gaetti: 3 appearances, 2.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 1 K, 7.71 ERA

Gaetti actually had this pitching thing down pretty well, with two scoreless appearances for the Cardinals, one in 1997 and one in 1998. On July 3, 1999, by then with the Cubs, Gaetti was inserted to pitch the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were losing 19-8 to the Phillies. He made it 21-8, the last time a Cubs team allowed 20 or more runs in a game. He's the last position player to take the mound for the Cubs, and the oldest man on this list to make an appearance, at age 40.

7) Bob Bailor: 3 appearances, 2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 0 K, 7.71 ERA

A journeyman who played 11 seasons for four teams, Bailor pitched three times for the 95-loss 1980 Blue Jays. His 7.71 ERA was worst on the team, but not by much; six other actual pitchers on that team had ERAs over 5.00.

6) Aaron Miles: 5 appearances, 5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, 3.60 ERA

Aaron Miles has a career OPS+ of 75 and a career ERA+ of 141. Maybe he picked the wrong line of baseball work. He hasn't given up a run since 2007.

5) Vance Law: 7 appearances, 8 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 0 HR, 3 BB, 2 K, 3.38 ERA

Law pitched the most of anyone on this list, eight innings in seven games in three different seasons (1986, 1987 and 1991). He gave up just three earned runs and no home runs. Perhaps his dad, Vernon Law, a 16-year veteran starter who pitched over 2600 major league innings and helped lead the Pirates to the 1960 World Series, gave him some tips.

4) Dave McCarty: 3 appearances, 3.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 4 K, 2.45 ERA

McCarty, who was the third overall pick in the 1991 draft by the Twins out of Stanford, was highly touted as a hitter but never fulfilled that promise; he hit just .242/.305/.371 in over 1400 big league at-bats. Maybe he should have converted to pitching full-time; in his three appearances for the 2004 Red Sox, he struck out four in 3.2 innings and posted a 0.818 WHIP and was the best Boston pitcher of the last game of the regular season against the Orioles.

3) Jim Morrison: 3 appearances, 3.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 1 K, 0.00 ERA

Not the lead singer of the Doors, Morrison played (mostly) third base in a 12-season major league career. In his final season with the Braves, manager Russ Nixon used Morrison three times on the mound; no other Braves pitcher in 1988 got through the season unscored upon.

2) John Cangelosi: 3 appearances, 4 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 0 K, 0.00 ERA

How odd that the two top names on this list are extremely similar players -- not-very-tall men (Cangelosi, 5-8; Dascenzo, 5-7) who played good outfield defense, drew a few walks, and could steal bases. Dascenzo was often called "the poor man's Cangelosi" by Cubs fans. Cangelosi's pitching career spanned 10 seasons -- 1988-1997, one appearance each for the Pirates (1988), the Astros (1995) and the Marlins (1997). The only hit he allowed was a double to the Dodgers' Mike Marshall (the first baseman, not the pitcher) on May 3, 1988. Cangelosi placed second in the AL in 1986 with 50 stolen bases; this accomplishment got him traded to the Pirates just before the 1987 season began.

1) Doug Dascenzo: 4 appearances, 5 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 2 K, 0.00 ERA

Here's all you need to know about Dascenzo's five scoreless career innings: since 1961, just 11 other pitchers have that many or more career innings with a 0.00 ERA (and two of them, Jarrod Parker and Hector Santiago, were active in 2011 and might drop off that list). Dascenzo pitched four times in blowout Cubs losses (average score 15-6) and was one of the better-looking pitchers on the staff in 1990 and 1991.

A couple of honorable mentions, and I'm sure you'll have some others: Brooks Kieschnick did the "reverse Ankiel" by switching from being a position player to pitching in 2001; he eventually played two years as a middle reliever/DH/PH/outfielder/first baseman with the Brewers, a unique combination.

And Willie Smith, signed as a pitcher-outfielder in the pre-draft era by the Tigers in 1960, actually played outfield on days he wasn't pitching in the minors. He was good enough to pitch some major league games for the Tigers and Angels, but eventually gave up pitching and became a decent bench player for the Cubs.

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