One of the largely debated topics in baseball is whether or not good pitching beats good hitting, or vice versa. While it appears that the consensus leans towards pitching being the more dominant factor in determining the outcome of a game, teams can’t win without scoring runs. I’m going to do my best to explain why neither side has a clear advantage, and why you need to look into more than just the pitching and offense when trying to figure out who is going to win a game.
The problem with this debate is that many times people tend to overlook the factors that can lead to either the pitching or the hitting having the advantage in a given game. The umpire behind the plate and the weather are two of the biggest factors that determine which side has the advantage.
Let’s take a look at how an umpire can determine which side has the advantage. Say you have a strong starting pitcher who is going up against a powerful offense. If the umpire behind the plate has a small strike zone, hitters clearly have the upper hand. The small strike zone will force pitchers to attack more of the heart of the plate, and that will likely lead to more mistakes and the offense putting solid contact on the ball. A small strike zone not only makes it easier on the hitters, but it creates more walks, and starters are more likely to reach their pitch limit much earlier in the game.
On the other hand, if you have an umpire with a large strike zone, good pitchers instantly have the advantage. A large strike zone gives the pitcher a much better chance of working ahead in the count, and if you know baseball, you understand that the count largely determines who has the advantage in a given pitcher/hitter matchup.
Weather can also have an effect on which side has the advantage. When the wind is blowing in, good pitching has a much better chance of shutting down a strong offense, while a powerful offense has a great shot at getting to a good pitcher if the wind is blowing out. While this isn’t anything new to someone who understands the game of baseball, it’s something that is overlooked by a lot of people.
You also have to consider how a team has been playing coming into a given game. Baseball is one of the streakiest sports there is. Good pitchers and hitters are going to go through stretches of the season where they struggle to get the job done, and there will be parts of the year where they can’t do anything wrong.
When it comes down to it, I don’t think either side has the advantage over the other on a consistent basis. A starting pitcher can go out and throw a no-hitter against a team in one game, and then face that same lineup later in the season and lose the game. The same could be said for great offenses who light up a good pitcher for 7 runs in one start, and then struggle to get a runner on base the next time they face that pitcher. If one side always had the advantage, this wouldn’t be such a highly debated topic.
I will say this, though – You tend to find teams in the playoffs with elite pitching staffs. Offenses can only carry you so far. Having good pitching will be much more consistent throughout the course of the season than offenses will be. So, if I had to lean one way or the other, I’d normally take a good pitcher with a mediocre offense against a bad pitcher with a great offense.