Is Baseball a specialty sport?

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With the recent news of Ubaldo Jimenez’s suspension for hitting a batsman in Spring Training, and his subsequent appeal, people have asked what a 5 game suspension means to him. (The short answer is 5 literal games, not 5 starts.) I agree with this in principle because the precedent was set in 2007 with Jeff Francis of the Colorado Rockies getting a similar punishment. (I’m not 100% certain he got fined as well, but I’ll digress.) This led me to ask the question: is baseball really a specialist sport?

To define “specialist sport”, we have to ask if people are segregated by positions. For example, football can be considered one because a quarterback will almost never play another position. You have defense, offense, special teams. Even the positions on each line is individualized to an extent. Other sports are less specialized: Hockey may have a goalie, and offense/defense positions, but save the goalie, all players had better be prepared to field the puck anywhere. Basketball is even less specialized because it does not have a goalie-type person.

But what about baseball? If you asked fans from the NL, they’ll say it’s not. Fans from the AL will probably say yet. The split occurs because of the fine Designated Hitter rule. But the fact is, the game of baseball is highly specialized, and I’ll explain why. First of all, I need to split it in 3 categories: Position players, Pitchers and offense.

*Position players
- You have the outfield. Outfielders need stronger arms to toss the ball longer distances. There are 3 fields (left, center and right) and each has a different role. Sometimes you can have someone play all 3 fields, but usually a player is stuck to one field for the advantages (i.e. Dexter Fowler can cover the bigger distance in center field.)
- There’s the infield. Players on first tend to stay at 1st, Same with 3rd base. Shortstop requires quick agility, with those later in life moving to 2nd. You might have a person in the utility position, which means they could play any position
- There’s also the catcher. A catcher is special since they need to call the pitches for the pitchers, and to keep an eye on the field. They are also special since they spend half the game in a squat position.
- While the positions are usually set, there are exceptions. Utility players as described earlier, a “super utility player” can potentially play all position places including catcher. The latter is rare to see on a professional baseball team.

*Pitchers
Yes, even pitchers are specialized. And with the one exception, all pitchers start from what is called the bullpen.
-Starting pitchers, usually do not start from the pen. In fact they are seen from the first inning as the workhorse of the team. They’re supposed to go 6-7 innings, and put up 100 pitches over the course of the game. Starters usually pitch on a rotation, which consists of generally 5 pitchers. So they pitch every 5 days.
-Middle Reliever. This is a dying role in a modern-day rotation, and i wish it wasn’t the case. In cases when your starter gets shelled (which may happen), you need someone to stop the bleeding. Or if your starter gets hurt or some extreme case, it’s good to have someone who can eat up innings.
-Lefty/Righty specialists. They are there usually for 1 or 2 batters, often to counter the left/right handed players, to offset the disadvantages and to get better inside/outside plate control. Also, they are used if a player is prone to striking out more often against a certain pitcher (to a lesser extent).
-Setup pitchers. They usually come in 7th and 8th inning style, usually there for one or two innings (30 pitches) of relief to hold the score down.
-Closers. The 2nd most overrated role with the most overrated stat: the save. The main purpose is similar to a setup pitcher, but used exclusively in the 9th or any later inning with a lead.

*Offensive only
-Designated Hitter (AL only). Okay this is the most overrated role, but then again, I’m a NL purist. The DH takes the bat from the pitcher’s role only. Often used for older players (no offense to people like Jason Giambi) to protect the arms of the pitcher.

So you can see that baseball is highly specialist. It also makes giving out punishments a bit harder with a starting pitcher vs. any other player. When most punishments are a drop in the bucket (usually 1-2 games), they punish starting pitchers 1 game’s worth, assuming they will not switch to or from the bullpen. It’s agonizing for us fans to understand this, but MLB just cannot say “your next 1-3 appearances are suspended.” because it’s not specific enough. And teams may try to circumvent this rule anyway.

Up on deck

Well, finally the toilet bowl, er spring training games come to an end. Tomorrow, we have a real game, Rockies at Houston 5:05pm Mountain. I will tweet as much as I can from the games from now on. :)

Also, as I tweeted earlier, I finally got At Bat working. Thanks to their upgrade, and some help from @tcn33, I was able to get my subscription online. I’m one happy druid.

Sliding home

I hate to use my own tweet, but I found this fact interesting during Wednesday’s Rockies/Mariners game:

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American League, Baseball, National League, Rockies

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