Baseball is wacky nowadays. Just a few nights ago we watched Tampa Bay outfielder Brett Phillips pitch to reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani. The very next day, Ohtani was on the mound pitching to Phillips. When was the last time something like that happened? We’ve got a universal DH now. This stuff shouldn’t be happening!
Both Ohtani and Phillips did fairly well against one another. Ohtani doubled in his lone at-bat against Phillips, but when the pair swapped sides the next day, Phillips managed to draw a walk and single in his two plate appearances.
These types of encounters have me thinking: “In a full nine-inning game, who would win: pitchers or position players?” I’m not the only one pondering that hypothetical either.
Aside from the very wise man at the end, those guys were all clearly very biased. What this question needs is a centrist, someone with no dog in the fight who can give a clear, level-headed opinion. Clearly, there’s nobody better for the job than me.
The first thing we have to do is 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 about it.
First things first, this hypothetical game will take place between current MLB players and current MLB players only. No Babe Ruth. No Rick Ankiel. No Pablo Sandoval. He’d be too overpowered anyway. Furthermore, any pre-existing injuries, such as those to Fernando Tatís Jr. and Jacob deGrom will be void for this. Everybody is happy and healthy in our fictional utopia.
Second, this game will be operating with modern day MLB rules, meaning a universal DH will be in order. While either team’s pitcher can also participate as the designated hitter, both teams may also opt to use a different player for their designated hitter role.
Finally, while Shohei Ohtani is classified as both a designated hitter and pitcher on his baseball reference page, for the purposes of this article, we are going to put Ohtani on the pitchers’ side. He rarely ever plays the field, and is part of a rotation where he has scheduled days off, so I figure he’s more of a pitcher than a hitter already.
Now, let’s establish the teams. We’ll be deciding on each of the pitchers’ positions in the field based on positions they’ve played in the past or positions they’ve inquired about publicly before. The position players team will be largely composed of All-Stars at their natural positions, but we will need at least one person on the mound. Perhaps I’ll even list a couple players because these position players probably don’t have the stamina to last an entire 9 inning ball game. Anyway, here are the teams, with some explanations.
C Yasmani Grandal - considered J.T. Realmuto, but I figured that Grandal’s ability to draw walks would be better served in this lineup than Realmuto’s speed. Maybe Yadier Molina could be in consideration considering that he’s like a pitching coach in his own right and the pitchers in this game are definitely going to need some advice.
1B Freddie Freeman - great glove, great plate discipline, easy choice.
2B José Altuve - could make a case for Marcus Semien, but his struggles in 2022 are cause for concern; could also make a case for Ketel Marte or Brandon Lowe.
3B José Ramírez - Sorry Arenado stans, Ramírez is the pinnacle at the hot corner.
SS Fernando Tatís Jr. - I thought about Trea Turner, but no. Defense matters, but it matters far less when pitchers are at the plate.
OF Mike Trout - duh
OF Byron Buxton - iffy
OF Ronald Acuña Jr. - mainly because I don’t like Bryce Harper all that much.
DH Juan Soto - again, it’s because I don’t like Bryce Harper.
RP Brett Phillips
RP Willians Astudillo
RP J.D. Davis
C Kenley Jansen - a catcher in the Minor Leagues. He’s also got a career .333 batting average in the Majors with one double and had 15 career dingers in the minors
1B Madison Bumgarner - you knew he was going to be on this team. Although Bumgarner told former Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy that he wanted to play shortstop after hitting his first career grand slam on April 11, 2014, he throws lefty which relegates Bumgarner to either first base or the outfield. He’s 6-foot-4. He’s playing first.
2B Zack Greinke - although he’s 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 at second is the logical choice.
3B Noah Syndergaard - he’s got six career dingers. Not bad. Not bad. Also, his lefty bat will be a good fit in this lineup that lacks pop from that side of the plate. Plus, just look at his hair. He’s got the hot corner written all over him.
SS Kenta Maeda - Maeda isn’t the best at the plate, but he’d be serviceable, especially with position players throwing to him. While he’s never played in the infield, he did make an appearance as a left fielder once during his time in Japan. That gives him more in-field experience than most MLB pitchers, and with defense being a priority in building this team, he’s a clear choice.
OF Sean Doolittle - lefty, relegated to the outfield; brought up as a first baseman in the minors.
OF 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 it would make sense to put him there. He’s also no slouch at the plate, but just because he’s pitching doesn’t mean he can’t also DH. The pitchers’ team needs deGrom on the mound. deGrom could likely hold the hitters to three runs on his own, and that would mean the pitchers wouldn’t have to score much to take the game. deGrom is so far and away the best pitcher in baseball that it doesn’t make sense to put him anywhere else. If he can go a complete game, there’s reason to believe the pitchers could come away with a win.
RP Josh Hader - preferably, deGrom would go all nine, but just in case, you have to have a good closer as well. You could make a case for Liam Hendriks. However, I’d prefer the lefty-righty combo of Hader and deGrom over Hendriks even if Hendriks is the slightly better reliever.
Are there players I missed on the pitchers’ team? Maybe, but I think I did pretty well. So now comes the matter of the game itself. The questions surrounding this game would be “Can deGrom limit the position players to two or fewer runs with a terrible defense behind him?” and “Can the middle of the pitchers’ lineup rack up enough base knocks to drive in runs?”
The fact that neither of those questions revolve around the team of position players is probably a good indication that the position players are and should be the favored team. They know how to play defense. They face top-tier pitching regularly and as untouchable as deGrom is, these players are the best of the best. It’d be hard to imagine a game where they don’t tag the Mets’ ace at least once or twice.
That being said, I wouldn’t say this game is unwinnable for the pitchers. There’s a very real chance that Bumgarner, Syndergaard, deGrom, Ohtani, or Jansen could take Culberson deep. Bumgarner wanted to compete in the Home Run Derby for goodness sake. If that can happen just four or so times, that’s plenty of run support for deGrom, who’s only allowed more than four earned runs in a start three times since the start of 2018. If I were Vegas, I’d put the line at Position Players (-180). The line would be Position Players (-2.5), and the over/under for the game would be 5.5. Of course, this is all speculation for a game that will never happen. As the wise man in the TikTok said “Don’t ask stupid questions,” but that’s what I do best.