[This is part of a series exploring the Baseball Tarot. If you would like to prompt for a part of the game or a card from the deck, there's still plenty of space. Leave a comment with a prompt. All other comments are still welcome, of course.]
The pitcher is accorded a special place among the defense. Position 1 on scorekeeping systems, they are the only position in the entire game who will be guaranteed to touch the ball for all outs. And, for that matter, all the parts of any at-bat. They are physically elevated above all the other positions in the defense, bit receive a corresponding increased share of the danger of being struck by a batted ball while defenseless, as human reflexes can only go so quickly. The delivery methods and mechanics for their pitches are wide and varied, and their personalities often come through in their pitching. They are the only players of the defense that can be "perfect" for a game, even though such perfection is a result of teamwork.
They are the only position about which the is a dispute as to whether they should bat in the batting order or whether another player should be designated to do the hitting for them. When the interleague experiment first started, much hay was made that American League pitchers would finally have to bat, and that a good time would be had by all watching them do so. Some pitchers that year recorded their first hits, RBI, and home runs of their career, which revealed to many a secret of baseball they hadn't been considering - most of the work involved in determining how far a ball will fly when stuck is done by the pitcher, not the batter. Even when they bat, they are more likely to be used to perform a sacrifice hit (usually a bunt) than others, with the intention of keeping them rested and off the basepaths.
The statistics kept for pitchers are an entirely separate category, involving how many runs, on average, other teams collect against them, not counting runs scored due to defensive errors that should have resulted in outs, how many times they have been penalized with bases on balls, how many times they have recorded outs through a third strike, and how many times they have won or lost their game. Pitchers who do not start the game often have a mark of how many times they have been able to "save" (preserve) close leads into victories for their team. Determining which pitcher is the winner or the loser, and whether a save has occurred uses its own set of rules. Generally, to be eligible for a win in today's game, a starting pitcher must not be substituted for before they have recorded fifteen outs (five innings), their team must be ahead when the pitcher is substituted for, and their team must stay ahead for the ready of the game. With many teams on a five-pitcher rotation for starters, that gives each pitcher approximately thirty-two starts every year - which is why any pitcher that can make twenty wins is both a good pitcher and has a good team behind them that can score runs early and often. Other pitchers may receive wins, as the winning pitcher is otherwise the pitcher when the winning team goes ahead and stays ahead until the end if the game, but closers (pitchers that specialise in high-velocity pitching at the end of a game to prevent the offense from getting the rhythm of the pitching) are often rated on their saves, which say that a game has to be close, their team to be leading while they are pitching, and for the lead to be preserved to the end of the game while they are pitching. Closers can mount impressive streaks of their own - Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers currently holds the record for consecutive saves with eighty-four
- and are an effective weapon in the pitching arsenal.
Television cameras focus on the pitcher because of their unique role in the defense - all things, all plays, all action in a baseball game begins with the pitcher's delivery to somewhere, whether the plate or a base in a pickoff attempt. The variety of pitches at the command of the pitcher provide variance and deception in the modern game, and many pitches other than the fastball make the pitch move ("break") from one place to another, in addition to variations on pitch speed during the delivery, to make them harder to hit, with some pitchers breaking more than others. The manner of the break determines the pitch (curveballs generally break down, sliders break side-to-side, the slurve does both, the knuckleball is...random), and all pitchers at the Major League level will have at least one of these pitches at their disposal. Many good pitchers will have more, even if they are known more for one of them than the others. Pitching is one of the reasons that three out of ten is fantastic in baseball - a hitter has to hit a moving round ball with a round bat somewhere where nine people cannot catch it in the air nor collect it off the ground and throw to the base ahead of you before you get there. It's hard!
A pitcher that is firing on all cylinders can retire batters quickly and with few pitches, which is the ideal situation for a defense. Pitching takes a lot of energy and stresses the body in unique ways. The current rotation system among starting pitchers is meant to give their bodies sufficient rest in between throwing up to 100 pitches (between 80 and 100 MPH) on their outings. Many pitchers in their lives will undergo reconstructive surgery on their pitching arm to prolong their career (Tommy John surgery), which is a commonplace and routine operation in these modern times. The stresses of pitching are so well-acknowledged that the Little League system instituted hard rules about rest time required in between pitching outings and a maximum pitch cap, 65 + the at-bat where the pitcher reached 65, as a protective measure for the bodies and arms of their players.
The Tarot equivalent of the Pitcher is the Sun, completing the dyad with the Moon that the Pitcher does with the Catcher to comprise the battery. The Sun and the pitcher are both regularly thought of as the animating force for their respective institutions. Their positive aspects are things like performing consistently at a high level, being able to do what's needed without problems, having the necessary creativity to handle new scenarios as they arrive, being illuminating and warm, and taking initiative at the right times to produce results.
The is a big danger associated with the Pitcher, though, and it's one that's not always easy to see coming. A lot of people will readily proclaim that without the sun, life as we know it would not exist on Terra. Which is true - we need the radiation of the sun to warm us and brighten our days, as well as to provide the energy for several organisms, mostly plants, to start the food chain going. But in giving praise to the sun so much, we sometimes forget that we also need the moon to provide its gravity so that the tidal forces work, moving the waves and cycling the water to prevent it from stagnating too much. The pitcher needs a catcher to receive their work, to provide targets and guidance and to help the umpire with their calls.
It's easy, with the television cameras as the stardom potential and the way that sports writing and statistics tends to talk about pitching a lot, for a pitcher to start believing they are in charge of the defense, or that they are the star of the defense. The pitcher's greatest danger is hubris. Star pitchers are usually lauded for their velocity and control, and the ways in which they get batters to strike out (because, like the long ball to a hitter, a strikeout is the most exciting-for-TV thing a pitcher can deliver). If you don't have that kind of stuff, it's not likely you're going to rise in the ranks of fame. The sobering thing to remember is that a pitcher cannot win a ball game by themselves, from the mound. At some point, they have to get help from someone in the batter's box scoring a run. Pitching can only prevent runs from scoring - it can't actually score runs on its own. A pitcher that forgets that their wins are inherently a team effort risks being traded...or benched.
In my summer ball days, when I was able to pitch, I was usually one of two pitchers. The other part I most clearly remember was someone with speed and a few off-speed pitches that was quite good at getting people out. I thought of him as a good pitcher. Since I didn't have that stuff, I didn't think of myself as all that good of a pitcher, even though I wanted to do it as a relief from the tedium of the outfield. My dad pointed out something to me at the time, though, that has stuck with me and that I think is a better metric by which to measure the pitcher's effectiveness. As a pitcher, he said, my best asset was that I would throw strikes for most of my pitches. Batters would not be able to just wait me out and draw walks - they would have to swing the bat to get on base. What that meant in practical terms was that, as a pitcher, I was really only as good as the fielders I was playing with. With time and perspective, I realize that an awful lot of the pitches where contact was made resulted in a ground ball of some sort. Very few people hit my pitches in the air to the outfield. If I had a good set of infielders, I could produce a lot of outs fast by forcing hitters to hit balls. (Many of my pitching years, this was not the case.)
Evaluating pitchers by their ability to get outs quickly, and their percentage of ground ball outs, seems like a better metric for figuring out who is a good pitcher than just strikeouts. The WHIP calculation, ((Walks + Hits) / Innings Pitched) hints at this kind of metric, as each out recorded while a pitcher is on the mound counts as a third of an inning. Many pitchers will not become famous, but will be in demand for their ability to throw few pitches and collect many outs by using the field behind them. It's Boring, But Practical to do things this way. Which may describe many of the people in your life and your workplace. If you have one of those kinds of pitchers, be sure to thank them and recognise them for the consistent high quality work they do. If you don't, they might sign with another team, or they might decide they don't need to give you full-quality work any more, since you're not recognizing them or paying them enough for it.
Pitchers are unique entities on the field. Treat them with care, and they'll help you win lots of games.