, the "pitcher" is the player who throws the ball to the batter
and attempts to get him out
, whereas the batter tries to get on base
by getting a hit
or using some other means, such as a walk
. This duel between the pitcher and the batter comprises the main action of a baseball game.
Positionally, the pitcher stands on the pitcher's mound located in the center of the infield, and begins each pitch with his foot on the pitcher's rubber.
The pitcher is by far the most important player in the defensive phase of the game, as he is involved in every single play, having a hugely disproportionate impact on how many runs a team allows. A good pitcher can almost single-handedly win a game for his team by throwing a shutout, in which he allows no runs, requiring only minimal support from his teammates who then need only limit any defensive errors and score at least one run. A pitcher can even limit the need for good fielding by getting many strikeouts, in which case the ball never even enters a fielder's hands.
To be successful as a pitcher, a ballplayer needs to develop several skills. First and foremost, he must have a strong arm; few pitchers in the modern professional game can succeed without being able to throw pitches over 90 mph.
Second and almost as importantly, a pitcher must have good control of his pitches, meaning he must be able to aim them accurately - otherwise he will allow too many walks by failing to hit the strike zone.
Third, a pitcher must develop more than one type of pitch in addition to the simple fastball, by varying speed and the curvature of the pitch's path. Otherwise, batters will adjust to his speed and location and get many hits.
Fourth, a pitcher must be durable. Pitching is an unnatural motion that puts tremendous strain on the arm, and thus many pitchers end their careers in the doctor's office, so a pitcher must have good conditioning and proper pitching mechanics in order to avoid injury insofar as that is possible.
Fifth, a pitcher must have a sound strategic mind. Working closely with the catcher, the pitcher must develop a game plan for opposing batters, and always work to keep them guessing what the next pitch will be and where it will be thrown. A pitcher may have tremendous physical ability, but if he ignores the mental aspects of the game his career will be short and ignominious. Conversely, a pitcher with average physical ability can rise to the top with a keen understanding of the mental and psychological aspects of the game.
Sixth, and finally, a pitcher must be able to field his position adequately, especially on bunts and covering first base when the ball is hit to the first baseman. The pitcher is also expected to direct traffic in the infield, calling for who should catch an infield fly.
For more on the elements of pitching, see Glossary of Baseball Pitches, and How to Pitch.
Good pitchers is so important to the defense, and so hard to find, that a lack of offensive skills in a pitcher is overlooked, and indeed, not looked for at all. A pitcher is expected to concentrate on his pitching and not waste too much time on his batting. If a pitcher gets to bat at all, he almost always bats last in the batting order, and is generally an easy out. In the American League, pitchers don't bat at all, due to the designated hitter rule, and even in the National League most relief pitchers are never allowed to bat the entire season. National League starting pitchers are expected to know how to lay down a sacrifice bunt effectively, but anything else is considered a bonus. Nevertheless, there have been rare cases of some very strong hitting pitchers, among them Bob Lemon, Mike Hampton, Don Drysdale, Don Newcombe, and Dontrelle Willis.
There are two main types of pitchers: starting pitchers, who begin the game as pitcher and try to pitch as much of the game as they can, and relief pitchers, who finish up the game for the starter, generally pitching only one or two innings at a time, and sometimes only pitching to a single batter.
These two main types of pitcher are further broken down into categories. Starting pitchers are classified by their order in the starting rotation, from the skillful "ace," who pitches first and most often, down to the least talented "number five starter," who pitches last and whose turn may be skipped on occasion. In recent years, relief pitchers have become extremely specialized, and are now classified by the situation in which they enter the game, bearing titles such as "closer," "setup man," "middle reliever," "long reliever," "situational lefty," and "mop-up man."
Regardless of what type of pitcher the player is, he is classified on the scorecard using the number "1", and thus a popout to the pitcher would be scored as
whereas a sacrifice bunt
fielded by the pitcher and covered by the first baseman would be scored as
Reflecting their importance to the defense, more pitchers have been elected to the Hall of Fame than any other position. But in addition to the Hall of Famers, several other pitchers have made their marks on the game with brilliant performances. Some of the most noteworthy pitchers in baseball history include (Hall of Famers in Bold, negro leaguers marked with an asterisk):
Grover Cleveland Alexander,
Mark "The Bird" Fidrych,
Bullet Joe Rogan*,
Smokey Joe Williams*,
Wins: 511, Cy Young
ERA: 1.82, Ed Walsh
Saves: 554, Trevor Hoffman
Strikeouts: 5714, Nolan Ryan
Shutouts: 110, Walter Johnson
Complete games: 749, Cy Young
Innings Pitched: 7354.7, Cy Young
Games pitched: 1252, Jesse Orosco
Games Started: 815, Cy Young
Winning Percentage: .796 (263-65), Al Spalding
Single Season (since 1900)
Wins: 41, Jack Chesbro, 1904 New York Highlanders
ERA: 0.96, Dutch Leonard, 1914 Boston Red Sox
Saves: 62, Francisco Rodriguez, 2008 Los Angeles Angels
Strikeouts: 383, Nolan Ryan, 1973 California Angels
Shutouts: 16, Pete Alexander, 1916 Philadelphia Phillies
Complete games: 48, Jack Chesbro, 1904 New York Highlanders
Innings Pitched: 464, Ed Walsh, 1908 Chicago White Sox
Games pitched: 106, Mike Marshall, 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers
Games Started: 51, Jack Chesbro, 1904 New York Highlanders
Winning Percentage: .974 (18-1), Roy Face, 1959 Pittsburg Pirates
Most Gold Gloves, National League: 18, Greg Maddux
Most Gold Gloves, American League: 14, Jim Kaat
Pitcher - Catcher - First Baseman - Second Baseman - Third Baseman - Shortstop - Leftfielder - Centerfielder - Rightfielder - Designated Hitter