Baseball Question - is great hitting the main thing now?

I’ve never followed baseball like I do other sports. I read the occasional news stories or articles. Pay more attention towards the end of the season.

I can recall great position players. Catchers like Mike Piazza, Johnny Bench, Buster Posey. Great Shortstops like Ozzie Smith, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken jr, and Alex Rodriquez. You could look up the great basemen and outfielders. The position players are a big part of the game.

Why is it that they say hitting is everything? That guys like Michael Jordan couldnt hit and failed. Everyone expects Tebow to fail because of poor hitting. Anyone that can’t hit is a failure in baseball? Is that Really the case in the modern game?

That’s not the case in other sports like football or basketball. You can play defense and nobody expects you to be a great offensive player too.

Well, of the guys you mentioned all of them except Ozzie Smith were well above average major league hitters (and Smith was average or better for a shortstop, ran the bases very well, and is usually considered the best defensive player at the most important defensive position (besides pitcher)).

Basically, yes, if you can’t hit major league pitching, you can’t play any position but pitcher, and that’s pretty much always been the case (not just the modern game).

Yes, nothing new. Maybe there are more fielders available with both good fielding and hitting stats making it less likely to see a non-pitcher in the starting lineup with only good fielding ability these days, I’m not really sure of that though. Also, some of this may refer to money, hitting usually pulls the bigger bucks for non-pitchers. Hitting isn’t the only thing but it carries the most weight.

There has never in the history of baseball been a time when a completely incompetent hitter could survive for long as a position player. The standard has always been that players must be at least competent at both.

Hitting is not everything, but a basic level of competence is necessary. A mediocre hitter will do fine if he can play excellent defense; Toronto’s Kevin Pillar is just such a player. He is a below average hitter but an outstanding glove man, so he plays every day.

Someone who literally was of no hitting value at all, though, could not possibly be a good enough fielder to make up for it. If a person hit like a pitcher, then unless they were a pitcher, it is literally the case that there are not enough baseballs hit towards that person’s position that are humanly possible to catch for their glove to make up for their bat.

To use the example of Mr. Pillar, he is not a **good **hitter at all, but he is competent. What I mean by that is that he is at least “replacement level” - while he’s not very good, he’s at least as good as some random guy you could get from an AAA team. Pillar does everything kind of poorly - he doesn’t get on base much, strikes out a fair amount, doesn’t have much power. He runs well but he’s not a superstar base stealer. But he is not SO bad that it kills the team. He has produced perhaps fifty runs for his team, where a regular center fielder would normally produce sixty or sixty-five by now. However, his glove is worth that difference (and more) so he’s a decent enough player. He is an exceptional defensive player who has saved perhaps 20 runs more than a center fielder normally would, which is remarkable.

Were Tim Tebow to be asked to play major league ball, he would not produce 50 runs. He would, if he was very lucky, produce perhaps 10-20; he is essentially completely inept as a hitter (Which is no insult; any 29-year-old who hasn’t played baseball in ten years will be inept.) Even if Tebow could play outstanding defence, which he can’t but let’s pretend he can, he can’t make up for it. If he was as good a fielder as Kevin Pillar he’d still be amazingly worse than the average Major League player; even if he were the best center fielder who ever lived, he STILL wouldn’t be average; the realistic limit on how much a center fielder can save you is probably about 40-45 runs. That would be* the best fielders who ever lived.*

Football is a poor analogy because a linebacker doesn’t have to play offense at all so his offensive prowess is irrelevant. In the case of basketball it’s actually not very common for purely defensive players to play regularly; a player has to have some offensive ability or he’ll be relegated to a bench role. But in baseball, a position player must be in the lineup. If you don’t want him hitting he can’t be in the lineup. You can use him as a late inning defensive sub but there’s a limited number of places on your team.

The only position where an incompetent hitter can play is pitcher, because a pitcher’s effect as a pitcher on the outcome of the game is colossal, more than an order of magnitude greater than any one fielder.

In effect, what I’m saying is that it’s the major leagues. You have to be at least moderately competent at everything or else you aren’t good enough.

Tony La Russa is reported to have said he’d have played Yadier Molina as catcher even if he were batting .000 (here’s one cite). This is of course hyperbole; but I can’t think of any recent position player whose job security has been less dependent on his hitting ability.

Not sure what the OP means by “hitting is the main thing”?

Are we talking batting percentage? OBP? RIBIs? Runs?

Because you need a combination of those. And that is the beauty of this sport.

I vaguely recall that our best hitters batted first in softball games. That certainly wasn’t me. LOL I could field ok but batting wasn’t my strength.

Baseball has never been my game. I appreciate the comments and clarification.

I had wondered about this for awhile. Few people can play shortstop like Derek Jeter. I guess it’s a good think he could swing a bat too.

Yadier actually can hit, though, so it’s impossible to conclude if that’s the case r how his job security has relied on his glove.

The most extreme case I can think of is Mark Belanger, who played a long time and was legitimately a bad hitter. He had a career OBP of .300, so he was not pitcher-bad, but he was bad. His glove was sensational.

Derek Jeter was an average shortstop for much of his career, and below average in the latter half. His Gold Glove awards were based on his popularity, not his skill. He was an excellent hitter.

Larry Bowa had a lifetime .260 average. He was a great shortstop, team leader, and though not high average he was a consistent hitter and could switch hit. Without those additional skills as shortstop, which set fielding records and places him high on the all time list in some fielding statistics he wouldn’t have made it. Infielders have such a chance, I can’t imagine an outfielder in the starting lineup without much higher batting stats.

There are plenty of defensive specialists though. Not that anyone is looking for weak batting, but there are baserunners and defensive outfielders that can survive with somewhat lower averages than the typical player.

On the flip side, there have been a few pitchers with decent batting averages, but it won’t help them if they can’t deliver on the mound.

In major-league baseball, the majority of balls in play are either easy routine outs than any low-level minor leaguer could make, or balls that the best athlete in the world would have no chance of getting. There are really few chances for a good fielder to make a difference (not none, but few).

So yeah, hitting and pitching are way more important than fielding. And really have been for 50-100 years or so at least.

To use the most extreme example one can name, Ozzie Smith in his career made 5.22 plays every nine innings. The average shortstop made 4.78. So Smith was making, assuming he played every single game in a season (which he never did but he came very close) 78 more plays than the average shortstop. About one more play every two games. That’s it. Actually it’s a few more than that because the average includes Smith himself, but whatever. At the height of his powers he expanded the gap to 120 plays a year - three plays in four games.

That’s an EXTRAORDINARY number, and you will find no higher ones. It’s why Ozzie Smith is in the Hall of Fame; his glove was more valuable than Harold Baines’s entire career. Smith is probably the greatest fielder in the history of the sport and he played the position that sees the most opportunity for plays, aside from first base (many routine catches.)

But Smith would not have been a Hall of Famer if he’d batted .150 and probably couldn’t have remained a regular player. In his best seasons he was probably saving his team 40+ runs a year, which is truly amazing, but if he hit like a pitcher he’d just give them all back.

In case anyone is curious, according to Baseball Reference to most valuable fielders of all time are:

  1. Ozzie Smith
  2. Brooks Robinson
  3. Mark Belanger
  4. Cal Ripken
  5. Joe Tinker
  6. Luis Aparicio
  7. Rabbit Maranville
  8. Ivan Rodrguez
  9. Bobby Wallace
  10. Tie between Bill Dahlen and Omar Vizquel

All are infielders except for Rodriguez, and all could hit at least so-so, except Belanger, who was bad but not totally inept.

My memory on this is likely a little fuzzy, it having been 35 years ago, and me only being a teenager at the time, but…

After the '81 season, the Padres traded Smith to the Cardinals. It was a multi-player deal, but the core of it was that the Padres and Cardinals were swapping All-Star shortstops, as the Padres were receiving Garry Templeton.

I recall my friends and I debating this trade at that time. Templeton was a very good hitter – up until that point, he’d been a career .300 hitter, and had led the league in hits in '79 – but wasn’t necessarily a great defensive shortstop. Smith, OTOH, was already seen as among the elite fielding shortstops (he’d already won 2 Gold Gloves), but he wasn’t much of a hitter, at all, at that point in his career – with the Padres, he had a BA of only .231, and a OBP of only .295…above the Mendoza Line, clearly, but Smith was definitely a “field first, hit second” SS when he was with the Padres. So, in our view at that time, the Cardinals were giving up a hitting SS for a fielding one.

In the years that followed, Smith’s hitting improved substantially, while he remained a transcendent fielder. He hit .300 once with the Cardinals, and he finished his Cardinals career with a lifetime average of .272 with them. I think he likely would have made the Hall of Fame even without the improved batting, but in his time with the Cardinals, he became a more well-rounded player (and, thus, even more valuable to his team).

I find it fascinating that, after Smith, the next three players were all Orioles, and Robinson and Belanger played together for a number of years (and Ripken, of course, took over the SS spot in Baltimore from Belanger).

Belanger himself took over from Luis Aparicio (#6).

He was a better fielder than most gave him credit for. Good glove, good arm, average at best range. But yeah, he was a star because of his bat.

The trade was precipitated by Templeton becoming very unpopular in St. Louis, both in the clubhouse and the fan base; I believe at one point he flipped the Busch Stadium crowd the finger. I don’t think St. Louis would have traded him if there hadn’t been a bunch of personal problems involved. But anyway, he went to San Diego and things seemed to smooth out, as they often do. Templeton was a bit full of himself when he was young, and like most people, he became wiser.

Templeton was actually quite a good fielder. He wasn’t Ozzie, but no one was.

I guess it goes a long way towards explaining why the Orioles were perpetually a first rate team for twenty years or so.

Ahhh… this thread reminds me of Rey Ordonez. Couldn’t hit a lick, but man was he good with the glove.

I do remember the “flipping the bird” incident, though I also remember it being the instance in which I first saw the “two-handed bird” gesture. I couldn’t remember if it was when he was with the Cards, or the Padres. At any rate, I do also remember Templeton having a reputation as a malcontent in those days.

If that motherfucker managed to be a better fielder than he was given credit for while earning 5 Gold Gloves playing for the Yankees and being Derek Jeter, then he was a demon out there.

(But he didn’t – he was bad.)

The “good field no hit” label was coined back before WWII and there were players who could have careers even with low batting averages. The most common would be shortstop (see Ray Oyler – six years in the majors with a .175/.258/.251 slash line) or catcher (especially backup catchers).

Catching is especially hard – it’s a difficult position to field (not only do you have to throw out runners, but you have to call the game, and risk collisions at the plate (until recently). And because of the stress of the position, a backup catcher is playing more than most defense-only players.

Shortstop has been revolutionized by Cal Ripken, Jr., but before he came along, the position was usually manned by skinny guys, many of whom could not hit. A good fielder could keep a job and play as a regular even if he hit below .200.