I expect everyone who reads this article has no idea what the Plawecki-Mikolas-Flaherty Problem is and that is probably how it should be. It is a niche scoring/stats problem that I have created, and it is all down to how we classify stats. To understand the problem, I need to tell you the question I was trying to solve.
Who had the last hit in MLB as a pitcher?
One might think it is a simple enough question but when you look at it in more detail, we get into the vagaries of how baseball stats are defined and how we as fans consume them.
The Miles Mikolas Case
This was the answer which I had personally been working off for a while. In fact, the team even discussed it with Miles himself during our three-hour-long live stream for the Cubs v Cardinals London Series that never was.
On 3 November 2019, Mikolas hit a ground-rule double off Dallas Keuchel in Game One of the NLDS. He drove the 2-1 fastball from Keuchel 376 feet with it bouncing on the warning track and over the fence.
And if baseball stats and score-keeping were a simple thing, this would be the answer. It is the most recent hit in an MLB game by a player, recognised as a pitcher.
But it is in the postseason. A lot of baseball statistics do not recognise or incorporate postseason stats into the overall stats, most for particularly good reasons, some less so.
Take Alex Kirilloff as an example. Check his Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and MLB pages and he has no major league plate appearances, but he has played and got a hit in an MLB game. It just so happened to be a postseason game which doesn’t count to his overall MLB stats.
For me, that means we need to think about which player, recognised as a pitcher, had the last hit in the 2019 regular season. And that man is …
The Jack Flaherty Case
On 29 September 2019, Flaherty hit a flare single off a Derek Holland slider and reached the first pillow safely. No other pitcher managed to do the same later during the final day of the 2019 regular season.
At the end of the 2019 season, it was just a question about Mikolas or Flaherty.
We were all expecting pitchers to swing their bats in a semi-futile state in 2020, but things changed, and we had a shortened 2020 season that included the universal DH.
This took the problem from just being about if we should include a postseason hit or not, and brought about a whole new level of statistical pedantry.
The Kevin Plawecki Case
Before people start to shout at me that Kevin Plawecki is not a pitcher and that he is a catcher. I need to tell you a little story.
On 13 August 2020, the Red Sox were being pummelled by the Rays and by the top of the ninth inning, they were losing 16-5. Like most teams in the current game, the Red Sox decided to rest their relievers and turned to the Cut4’s favourite part of MLB … ‘Position Player Pitching’.
They handed the ball to shortstop Jose Peraza but in doing so they sacrificed their DH.
Jose Peraza moves from SS to P
Tzu-Wei Lin replaces J.D.Martinez (DH) playing SS batting 3rd
The outing for Peraza did not go to well, he faced three batters getting only one out, giving up one run and left a man on third. He was pulled and the ball was handed to man of the hour, Kevin Plawecki, to try and get the last two outs.
Kevin Plawecki moves from C to P
Tzu-Wei Lin moves from SS to C
Christian Vazquez replaces Jose Peraza (P) playing 2B batting 9th
Jonathan Arauz moves from 2B to SS
He managed to do so getting Manuel Margot and Yoshi Tsutsugo to line and fly out after walking Willy Adames. What that meant for us is that now Kevin Plawecki was officially in the Red Sox batting line up as a pitcher and the Red Sox were about to bat.
He was sixth up in the order for the bottom of the ninth but the men in front of him got on-base, so Kevin Plawecki was given a chance to get a hit as a pitcher. And he did.
Which means that from a purely statistical point of view, a player playing the position of pitcher got a hit in 2020. Plawecki wasn’t the only player put in this position in 2020, there were 15 others who had at-bats while officially being pitchers, but Plawecki was the only one to get a hit.
There you have it the ‘Plawecki-Mikolas-Flaherty Problem’. For me, a lot of these decisions about stats should come down to how fans think about it and not what the score books actually say.
The score book answer would be Plawecki but I would probably still say the answer is Mikolas. Who would you choose?
NOTE: It seems like we know how the forthcoming MLB season will proceed and there will be no DH in the National League in 2021. So, this problem may solve itself for a while or it may move on to other players when the universal DH is reintroduced once again.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images