Quarterback is the most important position in football because a quarterback has the ball in their hands for nearly half of the game. They control the game’s pace of play, the efficiency of the passing attack, and although it’s not done nearly as much nowadays, they can even call their team’s plays.
In basketball, every team is looking for someone that can bring the ball up the court. They don’t have to be a point guard, but someone who has the ability to control an offense, read an opposing defense and call plays after setting up past halfcourt is a pretty hot commodity. Usually, a team’s best, most athletic, and/or smartest player does this. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant are all examples of players who routinely bring the ball up court on offense despite not playing point guard.
What I’m trying to say is that putting the ball in the hands, or on the stick, of your best player is a strategy that most sports fans would agree with. The person with the ball in their hands has the largest impact on the game and thus having someone incredibly talented control the ball is of vital importance to a team’s success. Then, there’s baseball.
If you were to ask anybody who the best player in baseball is, they’d probably name a position player or DH, because hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports and anyone who can accomplish such a feat consistently is worthy of praise. David Ortiz was the only player to earn Hall of Fame recognition in 2022 and he rarely ever took the field. Hitting has become so synonymous with greatness in baseball that no matter how fantastic a pitcher is, they will never be considered the best player in baseball, despite them literally controlling half the game.
MLB.com’s annual list of the ‘Top 100 Players in MLB’ was fully revealed on April 1, with the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani earning the top spot over his teammate Mike Trout (second) and San Diego’s Fernando Tatís Jr. (third). It was a worthy distinction for the American League’s reigning MVP and someone who’s just accomplished numerous feats the baseball world hadn’t seen since the likes of Babe Ruth. Yet some people didn’t care for his ranking, claiming that Ohtani couldn’t possibly be the best player in Major League Baseball because he doesn’t play the field.
As you can see in the clip above, MLB Network reporter Alanna Rizzo tells Chris Russo that she doesn’t believe Ohtani can be the best player in baseball because “he’s a pitcher.” Russo agrees with her, albeit after a long pause that could’ve just been him trying to comprehend the audacity of the statement she just made. How in the world can two of the most prominent figures in baseball both agree that pitchers can’t be the best players in baseball?
We’re living in an era of baseball where pitchers are more dominant than ever before. Batting averages are insanely low. Strikeouts are up. We’ve got guys who routinely hit triple digits with their fastball and for some reason, we can’t seem to get past the idea that good pitching can be, and likely already is, more important for a team’s success than good hitting.
Just look at last year’s playoffs. Was there any team that reached the postseason with a vastly better lineup than pitching staff? Maybe the Braves, but they were without Ronald Acuña Jr. for the postseason, and their pitching staff was nothing to scoff at. The Giants led the National League in home runs, but their strength was still in Kevin Gausman, Logan Webb, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Wood. The Dodgers had a phenomenal offense, but it wasn’t miles ahead of their pitching. Same goes for the Yankees. You need to be good on both sides of the ball in order to succeed. The Reds and Blue Jays both missed the playoffs last year. There’s a reason the Blue Jays had to trade for Jose Berrios at the deadline last season, because pitching is as important to a team’s success as hitting.
There isn’t anyone in Major League Baseball who had as dominant a season as Mets’ ace Jacob deGrom last year. deGrom had an ERA+ of 373 in 2021. Sure, he was limited to only 92 innings due to injury, but that’s still more innings than 15 of the top-25 all-time ERA+ single-season leaders. deGrom was so unbelievably dominant, any team was lucky to score a single run on him. Hell, they would’ve been lucky to record more than five baserunners. Apart from Pedro Martinez’s 2000 season, it was the most dominant streak of pitching I’ve seen in my lifetime and it was only good enough to rank deGrom seventh on this year’s list, four spots lower than his ranking in 2021. Clearly, injuries don’t have an effect on the rankings since Trout came in ranked number two, so I really don’t know how MLB.com can justify deGrom ranking beneath the likes of Mookie Betts (sixth), who just endured the worst season of his career and battled through injuries. deGrom pitched only 92 innings in 2021 and still finished ninth in Cy Young voting! How can you overlook that?!
I’m not saying deGrom is the best player in baseball. That title definitely belongs to Ohtani given his dominance on the mound and on the plate, but to say that pitchers can’t be the best players in baseball despite deGrom having arguably the most dominant season of all-time is nothing short of disrespectful. Sure, if Ohtani didn’t blast 40 home runs last season, his value goes way down. He doesn’t win the AL MVP. He doesn’t go to the Home Run Derby. He doesn’t become the face of baseball. That being said, he also doesn’t become the face of baseball if he doesn’t throw 100 miles per hour and record a 3.18 ERA with a 10.8 K per 9 rate.
Yes, pitchers don’t play every day, but they still routinely see more batters in a season than a player who plays every single day sees the batter’s box. The MLB leader in plate appearances in 2021 was Toronto’s Marcus Semien with 724. There were 25 pitchers to face more batters than times Semien stepped up to the plate. Basically, as great and durable a hitter might be, pitchers are more often than not going to be more prevalent over the entirety of a season than that singular hitter.
BeholdPitchers can absolutely be the best players in baseball. Give them more respect please.