Editorial Note: One of my Twitter buddies, Andrew (@akneeland) of Twins Target and Twins MVB, sent out a call for assistance with an article he's writing: what's baseball's most important position? So after a few back-and-forth tweets with several Twins bloggers, a number of us decided to write our own articles. So here's mine. It's exciting to have something to write about -- a testament to how much we all need baseball back soon. Oh, and yeah, this is the same Andrew who conceived of Nick Punto Day. He's such a troublemaker.
As the home team takes the field to begin the game, they do so on the cue of the starting pitcher. As the umpire indicates "play ball," he does so at the readiness of the starting pitcher. The fans in attendance wanted to know who the starting pitcher was before they arrived at the gate. The starting pitcher is the captain of the game, the leader, the artist. As he goes, so goes the team. He sets the pace, steers the course, and navigates the game. He is king; there's a reason he stands atop a mound.
When the starting pitcher is on his game and gets outs efficiently, the players behind him are on their toes, are focused, and better able to make plays. This productivity translates to the players as they bat as well because they trust the pitcher to keep the game close with little need to create extra pressure on themselves while they're in the batter's box. When the pitcher is performing well, the pace is good, everyone on the team has fun, and that energy creates a winning atmosphere on both sides of the ball.
If the starting pitcher struggles and allows several baserunners, or worse, runs, the players behind him play flat-footed and become distracted and bored or frustrated. The players at the plate then put additional pressure on themselves to score to make up for the poor pitching. If the pitcher has a bad day, everyone on the team feels the negative mo-jo, which makes it harder to win the game.
Of course, any one starting pitcher is only responsible for one of five games. In fact, "the starting pitcher" isn't one guy, it's five. If MLB were to give me a brand new team to build, I'd start with the pitching rotation. Of course, in my dream team, money wouldn't be a problem.
Since most series are three games, I'd want to keep opponents guessing and have a variety of pitching styles in my rotation -- a couple strikeout artists, a sinkerballer, and the rest contact pitchers. To give opponents different looks during a series, it's also necessary to have at least one lefty -- I'd prefer to have two.
Good teams promote from their minors, which means there are a number of talented, yet fledgling, guys around. I'd like to have a solid veteran pitcher to impart his experience and make the youngsters even better. And since this is my dream team, I want my ace to be in consideration for the Cy Young. Aw, hell, what am I thinking? I want him to win it.
With my rotation set with quality pitchers, the rest of the team would be easy to figure out. A team with great, talented pitching is a great team. That's why the starting pitcher is the most important position.
The other participants in the "Most Important Baseball Position Project":
Andrew: Twins Target
The Common Man and Bill: The Platoon Advantage
Jim Crikket: Knuckleballs
Andrew: Off the Mark