What is baseball’s most important position?
The answer to this seemingly straightforward question depends entirely which question you ask yourself: No. 1: Which position is most essential for fielding a team on any given day? No. 2: Which position has the greatest impact on any given game? Or, No. 3: Which position would you address first if you were building a team from the ground up?
In terms of skills and abilities, the pitcher would be the toughest position to do without on any given day. A strong outfielder could throw the ball over the plate at a high velocity, but that patchwork solution wouldn’t last long.
The starting pitcher is also the winner of my second question, as he has the greatest influence on the outcome of the game, often pitching six or seven innings.
But the third question is by far the most interesting and subject to debate. In order to be a successful team, which position needs to be given priority?
If, as general manger, you wanted to see some quick return on your investment, you might consider making your first move to pick up a power hitter to play in a corner outfield position. After all, home runs and RBI are always fan favorites, and that slugger will surely become a face to your franchise.
By sticking that player at first base, or any other minimally-taxing defensive position, you can expect a decade’s worth of gaudy power numbers coming from the middle of your lineup.
There is no denying the impact elite power hitters have on their team. No one can replace the value players like Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera bring to their team; this tier of power hitters are in a class of their own.
But there is no shortage of power-hitting players available in the league, and the difference between elite and great power hitters isn’t that great.
To devote a majority of your attention to such an easily-replaceable position seems a costly mistake. If you miss out on the Josh Hamilton/Joey Votto class of power hitters, you can always pick up a Nelson Cruz or Adam Lind once your roster starts filling out and be none the worse for wear.
A power hitter can’t be the most important position in baseball, even if he could stay productive for a dozen years. But with the first pick in a make-believe drafting of MLB players, which position should be given priority?
A compelling case could be made for a starting pitcher. Having the most influence and importance in any given game, players such as Tim Lincecum or Felix Hernandez certainly make the starting pitcher position one of baseball’s “most important.”
But even the best pitchers are able to throw just 15 percent of a team’s innings.
Even so, it’s difficult to name a championship team that didn’t have at least one high-caliber starting pitcher. If you were to designate this position as the most important in baseball, I couldn’t argue. But if I had to choose one position for my team to upgrade, starting pitcher comes in third on my list of priorities.
An up-the-middle bat with strong defense is a close second. There aren’t many second basemen or shortstops who combine a deft glove with a strong bat. The offensive standard for middle infielders is extremely low, and the difference between Chase Utley and Erick Aybar is massive.
The Colorado Rockies made it clear that they value the shortstop position above all else, extending fan favorite Troy Tulowitzki through the 2020 season. The Rockies may have slightly over-paid in the long contract, but they can take solace in the fact that the will have perhaps the best shortstops in the league on their team for the next ten years.
Colorado realizes that elite shortstops are far and few between, and a player like Tulowitzki lays the groundwork for successful teams in the future.
There is a shortage of decent catchers in the league today, and replacing a superstar backstop is virtually an impossible task. If a team is given the chance to upgrade its catcher, it won’t hesitate.
Minnesota gave Joe Mauer a large extension last offseason, over-paying for the right to have the best catcher on baseball batting third in their lineup for the foreseeable future.
What is baseball’s most important position? That depends entirely on how you choose to look at the question. If any position should take priority over the others, though, it’s catcher.
Considering how difficult it is to find an above-average backstop, and because of its importance to the team’s success and, catchers should be any team’s first priority.