Not all positions in baseball are created equally. The fact of the matter is that teams can be very successful if they have key players in certain positions. What are the four most important positions in baseball?
While not everyone will agree with the overall ranking, it’s hard to deny that all four of these positions below are impactful.
Teams might end up relying on one position over the other because of the caliber player they have there, but what people notice is that the best positions are right up the middle.
The pitcher has complete control of the game in the palm of their hands. They are the ones that throw the ball that the other team is trying to put in play. Have a high-quality pitcher, and there’s not much that the other team can do. These are all major reasons why the pitcher is the most important and hardest position in baseball.
The tricky part about the pitching position is that there are only so many innings someone can throw before they need rest. Not only is pitching difficult, but an unnatural motion leaves people sore. MLB teams usually have a five-man rotation, and then they carry multiple arms in the bullpen to pitch relief as well.
Need more proof that the pitcher is important? Given that a starting pitcher in today’s MLB world might only throw 200 innings, that only equates to about 22-23 total games in a 162-game schedule.
Still, the best pitchers will command salaries very similar to a position player that ends up playing 150 games or more in the season. For the 2022 season, pitchers Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole are the two highest-paid players in the game.
Starting pitchers tend to get paid the most because they throw the most innings. If the starting pitcher can provide five or six solid innings in today’s baseball climate, they did their job. In the past, starting pitchers had to throw the entire game if they were pitching well. Stronger bullpens and increased arm care have reduced the number of innings expected out of starting pitchers.
Relief pitchers have their own rules, ranging from long relief to the closer. Long relief pitchers come in if the starting pitcher didn’t have a great outing. Their goal is to minimize the damage and try to keep the game close enough as the offense works hard to build back up.
Middle relief pitchers and specialists come in for short stints, but aren’t usually pitching in the most important moments in a game. They might be asked to get two or three outs at most.
If the game is close and in the final innings, that is when the setup man and closer get called to pitch. To get a save, which is a stat for closers, a pitcher must throw the last inning or more in the game and preserve a three runs or less lead.
A baseball team might count on a dozen or more pitchers on the roster at any given time, but it’s up to one catcher and his backup to handle the staff. Being able to relate to so many different personalities and put confidence in themselves is very challenging.
This is without even touching on the pure pain catchers go through every single game.
Catchers take the responsibility of calling pitches. They have to read their pitchers and see what they are most confident in that night. What works one night might not be the best move the next. They also have to be willing to give in once in a while if the pitcher shakes the catcher off.
Besides calling pitches, the catcher provides defensive signals for everyone else on the field. Their unique position allows them to see the entire field, and they act as the general. They’re also in control of blocking wild pitches, keeping runners from stealing bases, and plays at the plate.
All that bulky catching equipment is necessary because catchers take a beating. Pitches and foul balls ricochet off their body. Runners try to slide or run into them at the plate. It’s not a fun job. There’s also the need to spend half the game in a crouch that tears up the knees.
Catchers are crucial for every team, and their responsibilities are hard for most to handle.
Shortstops have the most important position in the infield. Almost every team has their best infielder at shortstop, as they need a combination of range, a strong arm, leadership skills, and more.
Most shortstops have incredible range to get a glove on a ball to at least keep the ball in the infield. Oftentimes, they are pulled to their right, sending their body into shallow left field. Being able to make the turn and fire a ball across the diamond to make an out is extremely challenging.
Shortstops also play a major role in any double plays. If a ball is hit to the second baseman, the shortstop has to come over and cover second base. Being able to make short tosses, as well as strong throws, prove to be a challenge. Quick transfers from catching the ball to getting it to the throwing hand is crucial.
If defense isn’t enough, shortstops need to provide plenty of offense. Teams need a bat that will produce runs while also preventing runs in the field. Shortstop is so demanding that a lot of younger players end up moving to another position later on in their careers.
The centerfielder is responsible for running the show in the outfield. They need to be well-rounded defenders, communicating with the left fielder and right fielder throughout the game. They have a better view of the game in general, whereas the other two outfielders stand offset a bit.
The vast majority of teams put their best athlete in centerfield. Statistics show that the center fielder gets more balls hit to them than the other two outfielders, and they have priority over balls in the alley.
Centerfield is another position that teams need quite a bit of offense out of. Some of the best players in the history of the game have played centerfield and been described as five-tool players.
They’re able to hit for average, hit for power, have a strong arm, play defense well, and provide speed on offense and defense.
What About the Other Positions in Baseball?
There’s a saying in baseball that the ball always finds the worst fielders. Indeed, a team can’t survive if they have a huge liability at one of the nine positions. However, a lot of the damage can be minimized if they are hidden in the right areas.
The least important positions as far as defensive impact are concerned are left field and right field. Left fielders have it a little bit easier since most of the throws are shorter. However, since there are more right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters, left-fielders get slightly more action.
Right fielders usually need to have a strong arm to provide value for their team. Throws to third base are particularly long, but some of the best right fielders in baseball history make it look easy.
First base seems like an easy position anyone can learn, but there’s a lot that goes into it. Being able to scoop up bad throws from the other infielders makes a big difference. A first baseman also must do an adequate job of fielding ground balls. At the very least, knocking it down, scrambling to pick it up, and tossing it to the pitcher covering the first base is crucial.
Second basemen and third basemen have their responsibilities, and both play a pretty important role in baseball team success. One challenging thing a second baseman has to face is that a shortstop doesn’t come with double plays.
Instead of being able to see the runner slide in the second base, a second baseman becomes blindsided. This has led to some nasty take-out slides and collisions in baseball history. It’s an adjustment some shortstops have trouble making when they move to second base.
Final Look at Baseball Positions
Pitchers are always going to have the most control in a baseball game. However, even the best pitchers in the world know that they can’t have too much success unless they have plenty of support up the middle.
The catcher calls the game, while the shortstop and center fielder help run the defense behind them. With solid defense and enough offensive support, pitchers can put their team in a position to win very frequently.