Continuing the We Love Baseball awards is the Most Versatile Player award. And man, there sure are a lot of ways to define versatile. The fun thing about utility players is that no two utility players are useful in the same combination of ways, so trying to pick who was best at that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s sort of like picking your favorite dinosaur in that no answer is wrong (unless you don’t agree with me. and it’s the Ankylosaur. duh).
So what is versatility?
Let’s not pretend there’s too much science in this, but my requirements here were pretty simple: I wanted to find players who were good in two very different roles. For batters, that means we’re looking at players who saw action both in the infield and the outfield; for pitchers, I looked for guys who both split time between starting and high-leverage roles. But they’re my rules, so if I break them, that’s okay.
Let’s bring on the Renaissance Men, in alphabetical order:
Kris Bryant, 3B/OF | Chicago Cubs/San Francisco Giants
Bryant has always shown the ability to play all over the field, but things really took off for him once Galaxy Brain Gabe Kapler got his hands on him. Bryant gets bonus points for being the only player on this list to play for two different teams — just be quiet about the fact that he wasn’t particularly great at most of the positions he was shuffling around to.
Enrique Hernández, 2B/OF | Boston Red Sox
Enrique Hernández moved teams and leagues this past offseason, and in-season, he moved from being primarily parked at second to primarily parked at centerfield. His long-run versatility might take a hit because of his gigantic success in center, but he does get extra points this year by successfully transitioning from replacement-level before the All-Star break to the greatest player in the world during the playoffs.
Collin McHugh, P | Tampa Bay Rays
Collin McHugh was everything and anything for the Tampa Bay Rays this year, splitting time between opening, long relief, and high-leverage. He was better than almost anyone else in any of those roles. Where he laps the rest of this field, though, is by adding even more value as a podcaster.
Shohei Ohtani, P/UT | Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani is too busy being better than almost everyone at both pitching and hitting to do many other things that he could conceivably be the best at, which is a shame. I have no doubt that he could win the Gold Glove in right field, guard Stephen Curry, eradicate Guinea Worm, star on screen across from Adam Driver, and collect all of the other Life tiles if he just had time. Alas.
Ranger Suárez, P | Philadelphia Phillies
Ranger Suárez entered the year as just another name in Philly’s bullpen, but not one that we even expected to be fighting for save chances. By mid-season, he was too good as a closer and was placed into the rotation. Next year, we’ll find out if Philly will let him do both at the same time.
Chris Taylor, 2B/SS/3B/OF | Los Angeles Dodgers
Chris Taylor is a purist’s utility man, the most classic of the form in the modern game and the default option here. Which really begs the question: confronted with the trolley problem, does he pull the lever?
Dalton Varsho, C/OF | Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona had nothing better to do than to let everyone on their team swap positions this season, and Dalton Varsho being pretty good at hitting, catching, and outfielding was the most fun version of their musical chairs. He’s fast enough that he’d probably also be pretty good at musical chairs.
With a whole list of players with a variety of skills, I decided the fairest way to settle things was to ask a simple question: who could do the most of these things?
That places our crew into a couple categories: Lost in the Sauce and Top Chef All-Stars.
Lost in the Sauce:
- I’d like to imagine that Collin McHugh could be a decent catcher having thrown at them for a long time. That’s about the only thing I’m certain he’d be able to do. He has not batted since 2017, and he does not have a season with more than 10 PAs, so it’s hard to assume that he’d be able to even approach Enrique Hernández’ first-half stat line.
- Playoff Enrique Hernández was no slouch, but being consistent is also a skill that he somewhat struggled with this year. Plus, he gave up a home run in his lone relief appearance in 2018.
- Chris Taylor might have been an actual All-Star this year, but he’s too obvious a pick, having won the award several times already. Voter fatigue, you know. Don’t fact check me on this.
- Ranger Suárez struck out batters at a higher rate than he himself struck out, and being a lefty, he also has the potential to be on the large side of a platoon. It might limit his capacity to play the infield, and at 6’1″ he’s a little short for first base. We also don’t see many true left-handed catchers, which could be a problem.
Top Chef All-Stars:
- Kris Bryant has not pitched in the majors. Could he? We have no evidence that he couldn’t. Could Gabe Kapler turn him into the first ever catcher/closer with a few more years together? Again, we cannot disprove that hypothetical just yet. He ticks almost all of the other boxes.
- Shohei Ohtani.
- Dalton Varsho is the only player to have caught on this list, and after a very successful stint in the outfield and at the plate, he’s shown that he’s comfortable with just about anything. Heck, he could probably catch himself if Arizona asked him to.
The PL+ Choice
Perhaps more important than the real award winner: the pick from the fans. And who did the greatest number brought the greatest good?
None other than Mr. Utility himself, Chris Taylor.
Taylor is a deserving choice — he had 46 appearances at second, 11 at third, 23 at short, and 99 across all three outfield positions, mostly in center. He had a rough path immediately after picking up his first ever All-Star appearance, but he still finished the year as a three-win player. I guess the voters weren’t all that fatigued after all.
The Winner Is…
C’mon, y’all. Can anyone else on this list do this…
Shohei Ohtani has the 2nd-most HR (46) in a single season by an @Angels hitter.
He trails Troy Glaus (2000) by 1. pic.twitter.com/maB8LyHpEW
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) October 3, 2021
…and also do this?
Shohei Ohtani’s strikeout was 100.4 MPH – his fastest pitch in a regular season game since April 4. pic.twitter.com/5skKFbWpun
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) September 4, 2021
We’ll see if he can catch next year.
Photo by Ariel Basaar/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)