What Makes a Good Starting and Ending Pitcher?

September 4, 2019

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Trying to understand and learn the nuances of baseball is no rocket science. In fact, all you have to do is pay close attention and you will have everything figured out. The very best players in the game are known for their ability to focus and pay attention, whether that is during a game or in the dugout.

This is also what sets the best players apart from the rest. They are constantly paying attention and analyzing everything. Be it cause & effect, risk & reward, or the habits of other competitors, the best players have their finger on the pulse.

Pitchers are among the most important people in any baseball team. Their performances decide big games and that is why teams spend so much money to buy the best pitchers in the business.

The question however is what do the recruitment teams look for in a good pitcher? Lets break it down and see what makes a good starting and ending pitcher!

Qualities of a Good Pitcher

There is no denying that being a pitcher can be tough. It is not just the physical or technical side of it. You also need to have at least a couple of effective pitches in your armory. But, knowing when and how to use them to maximum effect is where the mental aspect comes in.

Mental Traits of Successful Pitchers

A strong mentality is crucial to reaching the very top in professional baseball. First and foremost, nerves of steel are needed as a pitcher. Being able to keep their cool in crunch situations is something that separates great players from the good ones. Moreover, having the presence of mind to use the right pitches at the right moments is another part of the game that the great pitchers are very good at.

Following are some other key mental traits that are needed to become a successful pitcher.

Analysis

The best pitchers are constantly assessing everything that is happening during a game. They also keep a close eye on their own game to understand what makes them successful, what are their weaknesses, why failed during a particular moment in the past and how adjustments can be made to become a better player in the future.

A player who has strong observational skills will be able to carry out effective self-analysis. This self-analysis will lead to self-discovery and ultimately self-improvement.

Confidence

Having faith in your own ability is needed to accomplish pretty much anything in life. As a baseball pitcher, players face lots of challenges and stressful situations. Quite often, the outcome of the game will come down to one pitch.

The best pitchers learn to not only stay calm but also excel in high-pressure situations. They work round-the-clock to hone their craft, build up their confidence and develop the mindset that will enable them to not just survive but also thrive under pressure.

Consistency

Having a disciplined and consistent routine is important. The elite pitchers figure out what works best for them. They incorporate it into their routine and then follow that plan religiously to get the best out of themselves. Consistency also helps remove the negativity and lack of confidence which could potentially lead to poor on-field performances.

What Makes a Good Starting and Ending Pitcher?

The difference between a starting and ending pitcher can be likened to the difference between running a marathon and a sprint race.

Starting pitchers have the luxury of warming up for as long as needed. More often than not, they know exactly when they will have to step up to the mound. As a result, they can get ready to play at their own pace.

On the other hand, ending or relief pitchers often get the call to do a job straightaway. This is where bullpen roles can be very helpful. Relievers, also known as closers, normally have an approximate idea of when they will be asked to do a job in a game. To that end, they can stretch, move around, and play some catch before they are called upon to pitch.

Starters vs. Relievers

Starters are likely to pitch a lot more than the relievers, almost thrice as many. Teams want to get their best pitchers throwing to as many opposition hitters as possible. This is why a good starter must have at least four or five pitches to rely upon. Since they will be going through the opposition’s batters’ lineup multiple times, they need as many variations as they can possibly master.

As a starting pitcher, facing each hitter about three or four times in a game means that pitchers will have to mix things up while pitching. They can’t be too predictable because that would allow the batters to adjust to the speed and trajectory of their pitches.

On the other hand, ending pitchers (closers/relievers) can get by with just a couple of good pitches in their arsenal. Since they will be throwing fewer pitches, they will only be coming up against a particular hitter once. In other words, a reliever does not need three or four ways to get a hitter out. Only one is needed.

There is, however, the case of seeing the same hitter multiple times over the course of a series. If it comes to that, then they will surely need to switch things up a bit. Even then, just a couple of pitches with some variations in speed and flight of the throws can do the trick.

To Start or to Relieve?

The best pitchers tend to be starters for almost every team. There are only a few reasons which may cause a team to use a very good pitcher as a reliever/closer.

One of them may be their stamina and fitness. They may not have the physical attributes to make it through an entire game where they have to face the same hitter multiple times. On the other hand, it is possible that a very good pitcher is effective only against a certain type of hitter. In that case too, teams are likely to use such pitchers as closers.

So, in a nutshell, a top-notch starting pitcher must be durable with three or four effective pitches up their sleeve. They must also have the ability to get all types of batters out. Conversely, a good closer or reliever needs just a couple of effective pitches but he has to be extremely good at them.

Of course, these facets are not set in stone. It totally depends on how a particular team decides to use its pitchers. Pitchers may have their responsibilities changed as they grow old or develop new skills. One team drafting a rookie pitcher may see him as their long-term starter while another side may be sizing him up for the role of a closer.

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