Kieschnick deserves a shot with Brewers

As I'm sure you all remember, major-league baseball's last two-way player was ... actually, I don't remember who was the last two-way player. There's Babe Ruth, of course; in 1919, he pitched in 17 games -- and went 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA -- and also played in enough other games to hit 29 home runs, a new major-league record.

I don't think the Babe is the most recent, though. I can name a number of players who drew salaries as both pitchers and hitters in the major leagues, but all of them were one and then the other (Ron Mahay being the most recent example).

Even in recent years, it's not unheard-of for a pitcher to be employed as a pinch-hitter. Fernando Valenzuela pinch-hit a few times during his career. As somebody over at baseballprimer's Clutch Hits points out, in 1986 Expos pitcher Dan Schatzeder went 4-for-10 (with two walks!) as a pinch-hitter before he got traded to the Phillies in late July. And if Rick Ankiel's career hadn't imploded, there's little doubt that Tony La Russa would eventually have got around to the idea of using his talented young pitcher as a somewhat-talented young hitter.

Why do I bring all of this up today? Because down in Phoenix, Brooks Kieschnick is hoping to win a job as the Brewers' first-ever pitcher/hitter. But as we've seen, if Kieschnick makes the team as a pitcher who occasionally pinch-hits, he wouldn't be unique in this era. No, to be truly interesting, Kieschnick would have to pitch and do something else, like play left field occasionally, or DH against right-handed pitchers when the Brewers play in Baltimore or Minneapolis. Granted, Kieschnick's not much of a hitter -- he's got power, but doesn't know the strike zone from the Great Wall of China -- but it's not like the club is stocked with MVP candidates.

Will he make Milwaukee's 25-man roster? I don't know if he will, but I think that he probably should. At the University of Texas, Kieschnick was outstanding as both a hitter and pitcher. The Cubs liked him better as a hitter, and took him with their first pick (10th overall) in the 1993 draft.

He's been up and down in the years since, never coming close to establishing himself as a major leaguer; at this moment, his career hitting stats in the majors include 113 games, 173 at-bats, and a .297 on-base percentage. He's fared better in the minors, but by last season it had become pretty clear that Kieschnick's playing career was on its last legs.

Until he started pitching again, that is. He opened last season with an independent team, then hooked up with the White Sox's Triple-A affiliate. At the plate, Kieschnick hit the snot out of the ball (when he wasn't striking out). On the mound, he pitched 31 innings and struck out 26 hitters while posting a 2.59 ERA.

Looking at those performances individually, a baseball executive might offer the 30-year-old Kieschnick another shot at the International League, or perhaps even suggest that he consider another line of work. But looking at them together, a baseball executive might see a role for this guy in the major leagues.

And while we're on the subject of unorthodox moves, have you heard that Bob Boone, the Boy Genius himself, is considering using Adam Dunn as a leadoff man?

It's true. Here's the latest version of the Reds' lineup (statistics are based on Ron Shandler's projections for 2003):

Bat OBP/Slug OPS
LF Adam Dunn L .388/.482 871
2B A. Boone R .331/.488 819
CF K. Griffey L .362/.485 847
RF A. Kearns R .374/.495 868
1B Sean Casey L .351/.445 796
3B B. Larson R .306/.493 799
C J. LaRue R .305/.422 727
SS B. Larkin R .340/.396 736

The only position that's not completely set is shortstop, where Felipe Lopez, acquired from the Blue Jays this winter, is expected to push Barry Larkin. Lopez figures to give the Reds approximately the same production with the stick, but better defense. Considering Larkin's injury history, there's good reason to think that Lopez will get plenty of playing time, but that doesn't really affect the lineup because he'd probably bat eighth, too.

So the question becomes, is this really the best lineup that Bob Boone can come up with?

Without running every reasonable lineup through a computer simulation a few hundred times, my answer is, "Probably not. But it's probably not far off, either."

Based on projections -- and what most of us think anyway -- Dunn is the best hitter the Reds have. And it's odd to see a team's best hitter at the top of the lineup, especially when he stands six-feet-six and weighs 240 pounds.

Based on the OBP's of the players involved -- and assuming you want a high-OBP guy leading off -- the only options are Dunn and Austin Kearns. But Kearns is almost as big as Dunn, and not as good on the bases.

The odd thing about this lineup is how the skills are distributed. Granted, two or three of them might slug better than .500 in defiance of the projections. But look at those projected slugging percentages . . . five Reds between .480 and .500.

Use any of them as the leadoff hitter, and you're "wasting" some power. But who else is there? Sean Casey's a decent on-base guy, but he's not great and he's slower than pond water. Neither Larson nor LaRue have anything like the sort of OBP you want from your leadoff man. Which leaves Barry Larkin.

Larkin posted a .305 OBP last season, but Shandler's projection has him upping that to .340 this season. Is that a reach? Maybe, but Larkin's OBP's the three previous seasons were .391, .387, and .366. And even at 39, he can still run a little. If Larkin is healthy and if he gets off to a good start, he'll probably end up leading off.

In the meantime, though, Dunn's probably as good a choice as anybody.

If it were my team, though, I'd give the job to Larkin and hope for the best. The difference between Larkin batting first and Larkin batting eighth is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of, at most, five or six runs over the course of the season. And for those five or six runs, the manager is going to spend many, many hours talking about and thinking about his lineup. And I wonder, is that a good trade-off?

Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, appears here regularly during the season and irregularly in the offseason. His e-mail address is rob.neyer@dig.com.