If you have been a baseball fan for any length of time, then you have either heard or been involved with a debate about the importance of pitching.
It’s the sort of thing baseball fans love to debate, along with the validity of the designated hitter and the “park effect” of some playing venues.
Many attribute legendary manager Connie Mack with saying, “Pitching is 75 percent of baseball.” Whether he actually did or not has become unimportant. It’s the debate that remains.
Sports simulation games give fans a way to find out for themselves. By playing with either current or past teams, or building a new team, players can judge for themselves the relative importance of pitching.
Although that likely won’t put the argument to rest, either.
The Argument for Pitching
Pitching, in addition to being one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports, also has been the centerpiece of many championship clubs. Old baseball sayings exist for a reason – sayings such as “good pitching always beats good hitting” or “pitching will carry a team through a series.”
In the 1979 Baseball Research Journal, John Schwartz wrote that “pitching, as the old cliché goes, is somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of baseball.” Also, a survey in the late 1970s found a majority of managers and baseball writers found pitching more important than hitting and fielding combined.
Much has been written about the topic since. For a good example, there is this detailed statistical analysis of baseball results for the first seven seasons of the 21st century that found good pitching gives you about seven more victories over the course of a season, on average.
That might seem small over the course of a 162-game season, but it can mean the difference between getting to the playoffs or not.
Not So Fast
Others point out that the teams with the best pitching staffs don’t always win the championship or in some cases go very deep into the post season. They also show how killer hitting lineups can dominate the game.
Some feel more strongly about this than others. For example, some impassioned fans argue pitching is only about 45 percent of the game and that experts overrate the importance of pitching. They point to the fact that great hitters – Ty Cobb, Pete Rose, Hank Aaron – hit good pitchers all of the time.
And stat guru Bill James recently speculated that great pitching no longer gives you the edge it once did. Not because it is not important, but because the level of pitching has gotten much better across the league, meaning the playing field between teams (in terms of pitching) has become more level.
So which side is right? It’s a debate that likely will never get settled. But the beauty of sports simulation games is that you can try out various theories for yourself because you are in control of personnel and in-game management. The result might not prove scientifically conclusive, but it will be fun trying.