Matt Davidson

Matt Davidson pulls a Babe Ruth, continues to be poster child for baseball's position player pitching trend

Matt Davidson pulls a Babe Ruth, continues to be poster child for baseball's position player pitching trend

Matt Davidson pulled a Babe Ruth on Monday night.

Generally, when you do something only The Bambino has done on a baseball field, that’s a good thing. At least it’s noteworthy.

Davidson made his third pitching appearance of the 2018 season in the White Sox loss to the visiting New York Yankees, a fulfillment of the desire he expressed after his previous outing not two weeks ago, when he said he hoped to explore an expansion of his pitching role.

He recorded his third scoreless inning in as many outings. His career ERA is still an unblemished 0.00. He struck out Giancarlo Stanton, who launched a major league best 59 home runs in 2017.

Oh, and he joined The Babe.

Position players taking the mound has historically been a humorous affair, but it’s becoming more and more common as teams routinely exhaust their bullpen pitchers. It means throwing a position player out there is a more strategic option that straining another inning of relief out of an arm that might be needed in a high-leverage situation in a future game.

During the White Sox now-concluded four-game winning streak, Rick Renteria used a lot of relief pitchers in close games. He used five Thursday against the Kansas City Royals, then five, three and five in a weekend sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a lot of work for those arms. So, down seven runs in the ninth inning Monday, Davidson became a way to buy an extra day of rest for at least one of those pitchers.

“I don’t know how many days we’ve had on recently, but (pitching coach Don Cooper) said, ‘If this game gets a little bit more out of hand, we probably want to send you to the bullpen for these two days before the off day.’ Like we said, we won four straight, we were using matchups a lot, and the guys were working hard in getting outs and getting big outs in those situations,” Davidson said. “It’s cool to give them a break.”

Renteria is far from the only manager doing this. Just prior to Davidson’s third appearance of the campaign, Major League Baseball saw its 50th outing by a position player this season. Davidson only raised that number.

And while this is a strategy almost exclusively employed in games with lopsided scores, it’s not something only sub-.500 teams like the White Sox are doing. You don’t have to go back too far in July to get to the first-place Cubs using four different position players to pitch in one weekend.

Renteria stopped short of calling this baseball’s new normal, but it sure is a popular trend at this point. And having a player like Davidson on the roster, a position player who can do more than just throw batting practice — and now one of four position players since 1973 to start their pitching careers with three scoreless outings (per STATS LLC) — can be a valuable piece.

“Listen I don’t know if it’s a new normal,” Renteria said. “I’ve done it before, not as often as we’ve done it this year already. I think that the way and depending on how bullpens are used and how many you end up riding for a period of time, sometimes you need a respite, and you hope you can put someone in there who will be able to throw the ball over the plate. You don’t want to make it an embarrassing type of situation. Matty is able to at least throw strikes and has a couple of secondary pitches that seem to be fairly effective.

“When the need calls, if you happen to have a guy like Matty who can do that, then it’s worth doing it because you know he’s going to at least throw the ball over the plate. They have a chance of putting the ball in play, we have a chance to make plays. Sometimes you may not have that luxury, and as much as you want to keep it from becoming an embarrassing situation, you do it because it’s what needed at the particular time.”

Davidson’s talked before — he’s had two other opportunities — about his boyhood dreams of being a big league pitcher, and his experience pitching in high school is paying off big time now as he helps save the White Sox bullpen.

Monday, he didn’t exactly throw a no-hitter or get a big save. But he did toss a scoreless inning against the New York Yankees, something that probably didn’t seem too likely to happen just a couple of years ago.

“I’m enjoying it, it’s fun. I’ve said before that really it was a passion of mine growing up. It’s something that I did all the way through high school,” Davidson said. “I’ve said before, that was the dream for me, was pitching in the big leagues, growing up. Every kid dreams about hitting that walk-off home run, and I was dreaming about sticking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. So it is a dream.”

The dream is now a reality for Davidson. And if baseball keeps going in this direction, it will be a reality for plenty of other position players, too.

Season-best four-game winning streak could be teaching White Sox some valuable lessons

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USA TODAY

Season-best four-game winning streak could be teaching White Sox some valuable lessons

The White Sox first four-game winning streak of the season isn’t likely to end up vaulting the South Siders into the playoff race.

At least, not this playoff race.

Not to make too big a deal out of four consecutive wins against the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays, but this season is all about development for the White Sox, about young players learning how to become, one day, a perennial contender in the big leagues. Many of the faces who figure to make up that next contending White Sox team aren’t here yet, still developing in the minor leagues. But the manner in which this current group has won these last four contests could serve as an important lesson.

Rick Renteria has talked about “learning moments” all season long, and the last four games could be an important one of those. The White Sox won four straight close contests — the first by two runs, each of the next three by one run — and often had to do it after surrendering a lead. Each of the four games was won in the White Sox final at-bat.

“Most games are going to be won with that type of game, that closer game, and especially as you get to the playoffs and stuff like that, you’re not going to win by a huge amount,” designated hitter Matt Davidson said before Monday’s game. “It’s important to be in those games and to win and pull those games out.

“The experience of those games is something that you’ve got to go through and be in those situations, playing defense and taking those at-bats, taking those pitching scenarios of being in those situations. You can’t really just think about them, you’ve got to actually play in them. And that’s something that we’re going through right now. So it will definitely be good for us.”

This is just the third time this season the White Sox have won three consecutive games, an indication of where this team sits in the standings and how development at all levels of the organization has been the priority in 2018. But there’s plenty to accomplish at the major league level as the regular season wraps over the next two months.

Players like Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez are expected to be big parts of the future. Plenty of other young players could play their way into discussions about the team’s long-term plans. And so, for that group of players — which could certainly get bigger with any promotions that might occur over the next two months — gaining the ability to win games like this adds an important tool to the tool box, one that could come in handy when the place in the standings is different and when the August and September games get more meaningful.

“When you win close games, at the end of the day they’re looking at how they did it. They didn’t quit, they didn’t give up,” Renteria said. “We had a couple leads change hands. We had some really big at-bats, coming through in order to score some runs. Is it good for them to experience that, yes. Just feeling confident about themselves, knowing what they’re doing, having an idea of what they want to do, ultimately just giving themselves a chance. There’s never a guarantee that they’re going to do it, but they put themselves in a good position.”

With a contending Yankees team in town, this win streak might end up being just a four-game blip in the middle of a 162-game season. But the “learning moments” Renteria talks about come in all shapes and sizes. Who’s to say what Davidson or Moncada or Anderson learn during an August weekend during this developmental campaign won’t come into play a year or two from now, when the situation is a lot more important?

Isn’t learning how to win games like this part of development?

“That’s the most valuable thing is the experience and actually doing it,” Davidson said. “And it’s good to see us doing it, going through those scenarios and succeeding with them.”

Who Knew? Baseball oddities from the Cubs and White Sox

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USA TODAY

Who Knew? Baseball oddities from the Cubs and White Sox

Another interesting week of action in the books. 
 
This week, we’ll focus in on Anthony Rizzo’s milestone magic and Matt Davidson’s pitching prowess, with additional fun facts sprinkled in along the way.
 
Mr. 1,000
Anthony Rizzo played in his 1,000th career MLB game on Thursday
 

  • Rizzo became the first player to hit a walkoff HR in his 1,000th career MLB game since Wally Pipp in the bottom of the 11th inning for the Yankees on April 24, 1922
  • Rizzo was the first Cub with 3 hits, including a home run, in career game number 1,000 since Frank “Wildfire” Schulte on July 6 ,1912
  • The last three leadoff hitters to hit a home run (not necessarily a leadoff home run) in their 1,000th game:  Rizzo, Ichiro (May 24, 2007) & Derek Jeter (June 10, 2002)
  • The last Cub to homer in his 1,000th career MLB game had been Miguel Montero… also against the Diamondbacks
  • Rizzo also homered in game number 1,001… the first Cub to homer in game 1,000 AND 1,001 since Aramis Ramírez August 9-10, 2006

 
David Bote hit a game-tying home run in the at-bat before Rizzo hit the walkoff blast.  It was the first time the Cubs hit back-to-back home runs with the second one being a walkoff since April 16, 2004 (Sammy Sosa & Moisés Alou) vs Reds
 
Rizzo has made 15 consecutive starts at leadoff.  He has hit .411/.500/.696 with 3 HR, 10 RBI and 34 times on base over that span (23 hits, 9 walks, 2 HBP)
 
Something about Chicago First Basemen…
Two notable Chicago first basemen made their MLB debuts with NL West teams, and they compiled the following numbers through 1,000 career games:
                          Anthony Rizzo   Paul Konerko
BA                          .267                       .276
HR                          179                         179
RBI                         601                         617
OBP                       .367                       .344
SLG                        .481                       .480
 
MEANWHILE
Javier Báez went 0 for 18 from his last plate appearance of June 3 through the game on June 10. Since then:  43 games and .361/.394/.619 in 166 plate appearances.
 
First is worst
Kyle Hendricks allowed a 2-run HR in the first inning last night.  It’s not a new development…
 
Hendricks this season
                        1st inning                           After that
ERA                   8.59                                      3.00
Innings             22.0                                        105.0
HR                      10                                           9
Opp Slash line    .305/.340/.663                   .238/.296/.360
 
About those first inning home runs…

  • 10 first inning home runs is the most allowed in the Majors this season (Dylan Bundy is next with 8)
  •  That total of 10 first inning home runs is a Cubs single season record.  Warren Hacker held the previous record with 9 in 1953.  There are still two months left to go.
  •  Trevor Bauer, by comparison, has allowed 6 home runs ALL SEASON (in 147.1 innings)
  •  Bauer (22 GS), Jhoulys Chacin (23 GS), Danny Duffy (22 GS), Chris Sale (22 GS), Zack Godley (21 GS) & Mike Foltynewicz (20 GS) have all made 20 or more starts this season and have combined to allow NO first inning home runs in 130.0 first innings.

 
 
Matty D and the Babe
Matt Davidson made his second pitching appearances of the season on Friday. He also has 15 home runs this season. Since position players who pitch are generally utility players, it’s rare that a player who has 15 home runs or more gets a chance to pitch. How rare?
 
In American League history there have been TWO players to hit 15 or more home runs and make multiple pitching appearances in a season.
 
Shohei Ohtani is not one of them.  With 9 home runs so far this season, there’s no guarantee he’ll reach 15.
 
15 or more HR and multiple pitching appearances in a season—American League history
                                                                    HR      Pitching appearances
2018       Matt Davidson  White Sox          15         2
1921       Babe Ruth           Yankees            59        2
1919       Babe Ruth           Red Sox            29        17
 
The only other Major Leaguer to join this list since 1900 is Dave Kingman of the 1973 Giants, who had 24 HR and 2 pitching appearances. 
 
 
Friday’s game was also Davidson’s second 1-2-3 inning of the season.  And it puts him tied atop an interesting list.
 
Most batters faced this season without allowing a baserunner
Matt Davidson                  White Sox           6
Alec Mills                            Cubs                  6
Ryan Rua                           Rangers             3
Daniel Robertson             Rays                    3
Pablo Sandoval                 Giants                3
Dakota Hudson                 Cardinals           3
Bryan Holaday                   Marlins              3
Brandon Guyer                 Indians               3
Anthony Rizzo                  Cubs                   1
Mark Reynolds                 Nationals           1
 
Palkamania: still running wild
Daniel Palka homered again yesterday afternoon, giving him 15 on the season.
 
Since making his MLB debut on April 25th, he leads the White Sox in home runs
Most Home Runs since April 25—White Sox
Daniel Palka                       15
Tim Anderson                    11
Avisaíl García                      10 (all ten of these were since June 26)
José Abreu                         10
Matt Davidson                  10 (he did have the two aforementioned pitching appearances, though)
 
And Palka is tied for tops on another list this season
Most HR this season among players who made MLB Debut in 2018
Daniel Palka                      15
Gleyber Torres                  15
Juan Soto                          13
Ronald Acuña Jr.                9
Shohei Ohtani                    9
Ronald Guzmán                 9
 
 
Until next week, keep checking those box scores!