If I asked you who the best hitting pitcher in baseball was this season, you’d probably say Shohei Ohtani. It’s hard to argue with that answer.
But Ohtani currently has more plate appearances as a batter than batters faced as a pitcher, as has been the case in every year of his MLB career. So if we’re being technical, Ohtani is more like the best pitching hitter than the best hitting pitcher.
In that case, you might instead say that someone like Zack Greinke or Madison Bumgarner is the best hitting pitcher in baseball. In terms of actual talent, that may be true, but with the implementation of the universal DH, neither one of those guys has actually gotten the chance to hit this season.
In fact, according to FanGraphs, there are just two players who have both hit and pitched this season and who have recorded more batters faced as a pitcher than plate appearances as a hitter. Only one of those players has actually produced on both sides of the ball, having managed to both prevent runs and score one himself.
Dee Strange-Gordon takes out Travis d'Arnaud with vicious HBP. pic.twitter.com/LLHLURlApQ
— Baseball GIFs (@gifs_baseball) April 13, 2022
That’s probably not the answer you were expecting.
Strange-Gordon is 34 years old and has been playing in the majors for over a decade. In that time, he’s been a shortstop, a second baseman, a center fielder, a left fielder, and he’s even seen some time as a designated hitter. Until 2022, however, in more than 1,000 major league games, he had never been called upon to pitch.
Strange-Gordon is a journeyman utility player at the tail end of his career. He plays for the last-place Washington Nationals. He currently sits on the injured list, and he hasn’t played in more than two weeks. In short, he’s not exactly the kind of player who makes headlines, especially for his pitching. And yet…
This 34 MPH pitch last night by Dee Strange-Gordon is the slowest National League pitch on record. 🐌 pic.twitter.com/B4Wwf5FVDx
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) April 13, 2022
On Tuesday, April 12, that changed. Strange-Gordon was handed the ball in the bottom of the eighth inning against the defending World Champion Atlanta Braves. He was tasked with facing the top of a tough lineup consisting of multiple All-Stars and Silver Slugger winners.
The Nationals were already losing 13-3. They weren’t going to win the game. All his team needed him to do was get the game over with so they could all go home. Strange-Gordon got the job done.
Position players pitching is nothing new, but with expanded rosters to start the 2022 season, teams have been able to carry more actual pitchers and therefore haven’t needed to use position players on the mound very often.
With the implementation of the universal DH, there is a severe lack of pitchers hitting this year, the likes of which we have never before seen — not even in the strange, pandemic-shortened 2020 season, which saw 35 position players take the mound and 5 pitchers come up to the plate.
Dee Strange-Gordon’s case is particularly notable because while we may know he is a position player who got a chance to pitch, the numbers make it look like he’s a pitcher who has gotten a few chances to hit.
As a hitter, he has seen just 11 pitches. As a pitcher, he has thrown 28. As an outfielder, he has made just one out. As a pitcher, he has made three. As a baserunner, he has scored one run. As a pitcher, he has allowed three.
He has faced eight different batters this season, but only two different pitchers.
FanGraphs considers him a pitcher on their batting leaderboards. He is one of only two players categorized as a pitcher on those leaderboards to have at least one plate appearance (the other being Reds rookie Reiver Sanmartin) and the only one to have actually contributed on offense — he scored a run on April 10 against the Mets.
This is, of course, a small sample size oddity. Strange-Gordon is a better hitter than he is a pitcher, and no one is going to argue otherwise. When he returns from the injured list, he will play more games as a position player and there will eventually come a time when he no longer has more batters faced than plate appearances.
That this is a small sample size oddity, however, shouldn’t take away from how cool it is. Dee Strange-Gordon successfully completed an inning as a pitcher. That’s an impressive enough accomplishment already, made all the more impressive by the fact that he faced the likes of Ozzie Albies, Matt Olson, Austin Riley, and more. Even the best pitchers struggle against players like them.
POSITION. PLAYER. PITCHI–
ANNND @OZZIE SAYS GOODBYE. pic.twitter.com/GUz7qHSjJs
— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) April 13, 2022
Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised that Strange-Gordon was able to finish off that game. After all, pitching is in his DNA. His father is three-time All-Star closer Tom “Flash” Gordon, who finished 347 games in his big league career. Now with one game finished under his belt, Dee just needs 346 more to tie his old man.
Those familiar with Strange-Gordon’s career will know this isn’t the first time he has been the subject of a statistical oddity either.
In 2016, to honor his teammate José Fernández who passed away the day prior, Strange-Gordon (a left-handed hitter) stepped into the box and took the first pitch while reproducing Fernández’s right-handed batting stance. Strange-Gordon then switched to his natural side of the plate and launched a home run to deep right field.
"That's the best moment of my life, to hit a home run for him."
Five years ago today, Dee Strange-Gordon homered in his first at-bat following the death of his teammate José Fernández. It was his only home run of the season. pic.twitter.com/M1LPLR0vk9
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 26, 2021
I’m not sure how one would verify this, but I’d be willing to be Strange-Gordon is the only player who is not a switch hitter to bat from both sides of the plate in one at-bat and hit a home run.
This year, he sits atop the leaderboards as the only pitcher to score a run so far in 2022, despite not being a pitcher.
He’s not a switch hitter, but he has switch hit. He’s not a pitcher, but he has pitched. Strange-Gordon is apparently very good at doing things he supposedly doesn’t do. What will it be next? Perhaps the Nationals trade him mid-season and he’ll become the first player to ever play for both teams in the same game. Stranger things have happened.
This little statistical oddity almost certainly won’t last. I hope it doesn’t, for the sake of Dee Strange-Gordon’s health and his career. I hope he comes back and steps up to the plate many more times, and I hope he never has to pitch again (unless he really wants to!).
But although it won’t last, for one shining moment of the 2022 season, Strange-Gordon was the answer to a very particular trivia question. It’s a piece of trivia so specific to the current moment that it belongs in the time capsule for the 2022 season. Without expanded rosters and the universal DH, this might never have happened.
Dee Strange-Gordon, the hitting pitcher, is nothing more than an ephemeral occurrence most of us will forget by the end of the season. And that’s perfectly okay. It’s exactly those occurrences that make baseball so much fun. Even after so many years, this sport keeps finding new ways to surprise us.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on IG)