Is Pitching Really 75% of the Game?

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.

2017-04-03T09:39:05+00:00By |1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Dudley Bokoski April 14, 2017 at 8:13 am - Reply

    That’s true today, but probably not before the advent of seven and eight man bullpens. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. People believe pitching is the key so that’s where they put their player development resources and how they build their teams. What would disprove the theory would be for an offense first team to outscore their way to a championship. But that is unlikely to happen because major league teams won’t pay to build that team. It defies convention.

    In any process involving management there will be a tendency to control events and build predictability. Hitting is talent driven and spontaneous and there is no offensive strategy that will yield more hitting. But humans (managers/GMs) can devise pitching strategies to limit offense. So in hockey you get a neutral zone lock and in baseball you get 13 man pitching staffs and battalions of middle relievers whose purpose is to stop runs from being scored.

    That’s a great thing about Diamond Mind. You can be a contrarian and put together whatever mix of offense, pitching, or defense you think will win and prove your point. In the salary cap environment of the sim you don’t have much flexibility in terms of overspending on pitching, so in the sim leagues you more often see 65% or more of salary spent on position players. Who knows how a real life salary cap would impact the hitting/pitching debate?

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