Pitchers, in baseball...

Ok, when I used to play little league ball, and even now that I am in High School, the pitcher is usually the best athelete on the team. They can all bat very well, and play various positions around the diamond. I have noticed that this is not the case in MLB. Is this because that they haven’t been hitting, in order to protect their arms, and the have just forgotten how? You would think that the NL pitchers would still hit reguarly so they could knock the ball around. Any reason for this???

Here you go: http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_117.html

Specialization my friend, repeat it, specialization.

In little league you’re correct, there is usually always one or two players that are simply better at playing every position that all the other kids. This are the same kids who generally top the bow scores in Pop Warner football, and intermural basketball too. When you’re dealing with kids under 14 there are generally a handful that simply develop faster and are taught better than every other kid. Basically the point in this is that the kids aren’t better pitchers, their better athletes, period.

As the kids get older into high school, the sports become more competitive and you get away from the “everyone must play” philosophy. The true athletes begin to stand out, and gradually develop specialties. Granted the certainly are still better developed kids who still dominate every position. The discrepancy is smaller, but still evident.

The point I’m trying to make is that the kids that are dominating pitchers aren’t naturally great pitchers. They are just the best athletes, if you’re a coach in lower level sports you are simply going to place you best athlete in the toughest position to play, and the most important one. This is usually pitcher in baseball and QB in football. You notice in baseball that when they aren’t pitching they find a way to work them into the roster to take advantage of their raw physical skills. In smaller high schools you’ll also frequently see the QB playing linebacker and secondary on defense. Best athlete.

In the high school level and below success is almost primarily decided by the most athletic kids. In college and professional sports I’d argue that this isn’t the case. Now that they’ve reached the level where every person on that team is a truly exceptional athlete you need to do something to stand out, and the way this has started happening is through specialization.

A player will focus all his energies into developing his body, eyes, hands and mind to master the needs of just one position. Knowing that this extra effort is the only thing that can set them apart form the thousands of other great great players. This is where you begin to see players perfectly built for their one position, and nearly unable to play any other. Frankly there isn’t enough time in each day to work equally as hard at hitting and pithcing so they don;t even try. Doing so would just diminish their ability to learn to pitch as well as it takes to succeed.

Basically professional pitchers have through long hard work mentally and physically simply squeezed every shred of potential they had in their bodies to get to where they are. All that hard work can never leave them a chance to compete with full time hitters who spent the same effort to learn to hit.

Granted there are a few freaks of nature who’s raw athletic ability allows them to do multiple things well even at the pro level. Look at Mike Hampton, Livan Hernandez and Rick Ankiel. Hampton would probably make a frightening pinch hitter on certain occasions with his skill, and Rick Ankiel was one of the top run producers in minor league ball. There are players in every league which are just flat out talented, but as the leagues get harder they get rarer and rarer.

Bascially the younger you are, the more likely you can rely on what you were born with, as you get older and the competition gets better its more determined by the type of hard work you put in. The latter tends to breed specialists since the day is only so long.

Yes, I have found that I can’t enjoy a game of baseball without at least a pitcher. Often it takes more than that, sometimes two pitchers, or even as much as half a case before I’m able to sit through an entire game.


I would also submit that a lot of players with good (but not great) pitching arms who are also good batters get moved to positions that allow them to bat everyday at some point in their careers. So what you have at the major league level are the pitchers who are either phenominal pitchers or who can’t hit a lick, or both. Pretty Darwinian.

I remember seeing something several years ago about how most big league outfielders were pitchers in high school or college. The one player who stood out was Dave Winfield.

Another was John Olerud, who like Winfield never played a single game of minor league baseball - he went straight from college to the majors. Olerud was a college star as a hitter AND as a pitcher, but the Blue Jays decided to have him concentrate on hitting. Since Olerud has had a fine career, I guess that was a pretty good move.

The number of major league outfielders who also pitched in college ball is dropping. Specialization is hitting the college ranks also. There still are players who do both, but those who know that they are going to go pro are going to pick one or the other.

In high school ball, there aren’t that many players so there is more crossover.

There are two Hall of Famers who started as pitchers and then made the transition to the field: John Montgomery Ward (19th century star) and some guy named Ruth.

Lest we forget, Mark McGwire was a pitcher in college.

Good call moving him, dontcha think?

And Cal Ripken Jr. was a little league pitcher.

Simple. Pitchers batting in Little League are not facing major league heat. Plus, even National Leaguers only play once in 5 or 6 games if they are healthy all year, which they almost never are.

And Mark McGwire wasn’t a very good pitcher at USC either. However, neither was his teammate Randy Johnson.

The latter got better.

Stan Musial was a pitcher in the minors, but suffered what might be the most fortunate injury in sports, ever, when he hurt his shoulder and he was put in the field to see if he could fulfill his potential with the bat.