Pudge. Double X. Catfish. The Say Hey Kid. Crime Dog. The Big Unit. The Big Cat. Nails.
Part of me just wanted to list some of my favorite baseball nicknames. But I also wanted to point out that great players—and sometimes not-so-great players—often get nicknames because their given names don’t do them justice. While there aren’t as many nicknames as there used to be, a few players are lucky enough to have real names that are just as good—no player more so than Colorado Rockies pitcher Josh Outman. But, no player has failed to live up to his name quite like Outman this season.
Is there a better name for a pitcher? He should be the superhero of the mound—The Out Man—and yet he can’t get anyone out, pitching to a 9.00 ERA this season. Batters are hitting .310 and getting on base 38% of the time against him; in other words, Outman turns everyone in the league into Derek Jeter.
I wonder if his name helped him in his career at all—all things equal, I know I’d take a pitcher named Outman over someone else. Similarly, I wonder if Rockies fans have turned his name into an insult: “They need to take this guy out, man.”
On the flip side, two other pitchers have unfortunate names: Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey and Oakland’s Grant Balfour. Homer would of course be a great name for a hitter—Homer Simpson, after all, once pinch-hit for Darryl Strawberry*—but not so much for a pitcher, who aims to keep the ball inside the park. As his name suggests, Homer Bailey hasn’t done a good job in that regard, giving up 16 home runs this season, sixth-most in the National League. Bailey doesn’t live up to his name at the plate—in 210 professional at-bats (including 43 in the minors), he has never hit a homer.
*Mr. Burns, the manager of the Springfield Power Plant softball team, turns to Homer over Strawberry—despite Straw’s nine home runs so far in the game—because he doesn’t want the left-handed Strawberry to face a lefty pitcher. “It’s called playing the percentages,” Burns says. I think Terry Collins is Mr. Burns.
Balfour (Ball-Four) is certainly a bad pitcher’s name as well. But unlike “Outman,” who’s posing as a pitcher capable of retiring hitters, Balfour is meeting expectations—he’s walking more batters than the average pitcher (3.8 walks per nine innings compared to the MLB average of 3.1). Though you’d expect more walks from a guy with his surname, Balfour, like Bailey, isn’t deceiving baseball fans. Get with it, Outman. You’re not fooling anyone.