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The term “Major League Baseball pitcher” can generate different images in a person’s mind, depending on real experience, or just plain perception.
What you should know about an MLB pitcher is that this is the only individual in the major sports who controls when every play begins. Pitchers have the power to speed up, or slow down, a baseball game in any number of ways.
Pitchers also are subject to a lot of different rules compared with other players on a baseball field. There are a lot of reasons for it, some of which we touch upon below.
Here’s more of what you need to know about MLB pitchers and what they mean to the sport and flow of the game of baseball:
1. Can a baseball pitcher re-enter the game?
In the major leagues and at most levels of baseball, once a pitcher is removed entirely from a game, he cannot re-enter.
As a workaround, some managers might pull the pitcher from the mound, but place him in another position on defense such as in the outfield, while a new pitcher is brought into the game to take on the next and subsequent batters. Since the pitcher did not leave the game entirely — meaning if he was benched after being pulled — he remains eligible to return to the mound.
This is very rare in Major League Baseball, but it has been done. Managers Lou Pineilla and Joe Maddon were known to try it (the latter may still do so, as he’s still managing as of the 2021 season), to keep a certain pitcher available to face batters coming further down the lineup.
2. Can a pitcher move to a position and back to pitcher?
Yes, see above. The pitcher is one of the 9 defenders on the field when the opposite team bats, and as such is subject to the same rules the other 8 teammates are under. That is, as long as they remain on the field, regardless of position, they can be returned to their previous position.
Once a player has been removed entirely from a game, as in sent to the bench and replaced with another player, he becomes ineligible for further play.
It’s a reason why some managers might move a pitcher to the outfield (or another position, probably except catcher) when a game goes extra innings — because if a game goes on and on eventually teams run out of pitchers on their roster. (This is one reason why sometimes regular position players, e.g. not pitchers, are put on the mound; managers either have no eligible true pitchers left, or they’re trying to preserve who they do have available).
Savvy managers remove them from the mound but keep them in the game, to protect options as extra innings go on.
3. Can baseball pitchers throw a rise ball?
Some MLB pitchers might throw what appears to be a rise ball, maybe depending on the angle of the release point, and trajectory of the ball, but in reality it is impossible to make a baseball rise in the space between a pitcher’s rubber and the catcher behind home plate.
It’s a matter of gravity. A major league baseball weighs 5 ounces or a fraction more), and must travel 60 feet, 6 inches to the plate. It’s just too much space for the ball to even remain on a flat trajectory, let alone rise. Usually gravity will pull any pitched ball downward.
Add to that the height of the raised pitcher’s mound, and most pitchers’ high release points, and making a baseball rise is impossible.
The illusion that a baseball rises may come from pitchers who throw extremely sidearm, or “submarine,” where they release the ball at the knees or lower. When those pitchers throw a ball that sails high, it appears to be rising. In reality, it’s just moving from a low release point to its ultimate high destination.
That’s just a high pitch, not a ball that breaks from its true trajectory to “rise.” If in fact they do rise, they are not illegal. Pitchers are free to make the ball rise, if they can.
4. Can MLB pitchers wear white hats?
No. Major League pitchers cannot wear white caps because of the potential to impair batters’ ability to see the white baseball coming at them.
This made a special weekend in August 2019 troublesome, because the MLB experimented with games between teams wearing all-white or all-black uniforms. Pitchers for the all-white-uniformed team had to wear either a black cap, or his team’s regular-colored hat, to abide by the rules.
Pitchers are not allowed to do several things that other baseball players can, such as wear batting gloves while slipping that same hand into the fielder’s gloves — as many infielders do to provide extra padding or to firm the feel inside the glove. Basically, pitchers are not supposed to wear anything that might hinder a batter’s ability to see the ball, or give the pitcher any type of an advantage.
See Also: Do MLB Players Wear Low Crown Hats?
5. Can MLB pitchers wear eye black?
Yes, but … it is generally unacceptable, and can be ruled illegal by an umpire at any time if he (or she) determines they are distracting to the batter. This can be due to glare off the eye black grease (or tape), or for another reason such as the color of it.
The same applies to pitchers wearing sunglasses: they are allowed, as long as the umpire does not deem them a distraction. Of course, any batter could just claim the eye black or sunglasses are bothering him, and usually in that instance the umpire would order the grease or glasses removed.
While not illegal per se, eye black or sunglasses by pitchers is basically a faux paus, an unwritten rule within the game among players. And it’s not just around the eyes. There are lots of examples of umpires forcing pitchers to change something in their appearance or wardrobe that batters claim are distracting, including necklaces, or very floppy baggy undershirts.
See Also: Why Do Baseball Players Wear Chains?
6. Can a MLB pitcher pitch consecutive games?
Yes, and they do it often — if they are relief pitchers, or maybe a starter who did not throw many pitches the day prior.
There are no rules forbidding a MLB pitcher from throwing in any game, consecutive or otherwise. It’s a matter of health, stamina, pain recovery, or other reasons that are dictated by the individual pitcher.
Some pitchers can pitch with short rest — like knuckleball specialists — while others need as much rest between pitching as possible. Factors include a pitcher’s age, general health, injury history, time of the season, etc. — there are almost too many to list. It’s really up to the individual pitcher, in consultation with his manager or perhaps even the team trainer.
7. Can MLB pitchers lick their fingers?
In general, no. This rule has changed often over many decades, but today a pitcher may lick his fingers only if entirely off the pitcher’s mound. That is, outside of the dirt circle in the center of the infield. This is true also for blowing on the throwing hand (unless it is extremely cold and the umpire allows it for both teams).
To lick fingers on the mound could be ruled by the umpire as a balk, awarding a ball to the batter (if bases are empty), or one base per runner.
However, umpires always have discretion to call out anything they see that appears unusual or might give the pitcher an unfair advantage — such as completely spitting on a ball off the mound. Typically in such instances an umpire will issue a warning, though they do have the authority to otherwise punish the pitcher per their discretion — up to and including ejection.
It’s the same discretion the umpire has if a pitcher (or even fielder) purposely scrapes the ball on the ground to cause scuffs or scratches to help the pitcher. Usually the umpire will warn the offender, and replace that ball. Repeat offenders can be punished; umpires have much discretion in this regard.
8. What is the average height of a MLB pitcher?
The average MLB pitcher is 6-feet, 3-inches in height. Compare that to the average male in the United States, which government data says is 5-feet, 9-inches. Pitchers today are tall, mostly.
9. What is the average size of a MLB pitcher?
The average height of a MLB pitcher is 6-feet, 3-inches, while the average weight is about 215 lbs.
And they just keep getting bigger. The average height was an inch shorter just a decade ago; and compare today’s pitchers’ weight with the average of 6-feet-tall and 178 lbs. In 1920.
See More: Does Height and Size Matter in Baseball?
10. What is the average number of years a Major League Baseball pitcher pitches?
It’s pretty well-accepted that pitchers have shorter careers than players of any other position. The human arm was not designed to throw a 5-ounce object as hard as you can, overhand, over and over and over. A number of things can go wrong with an arm, oftentimes ending a career.
The best answer is an average of about 4 years — according to this study in 2018. For other positions, it’s over 5 years.
11. Do MLB pitchers lift weights?
Yes, most MLB pitchers do lift weights, but few do it excessively to bodybuild. Muscle and tendon strength is good for any athlete. However, pitchers depend on the complicated physiological makeup of elbows and shoulders, and too much muscle could hinder movement and agility.
Few trainers today would recommend that pitchers alter too much that natural makeup of the arm and body areas that support it. Major League Baseball pitchers make too much money and are too valuable to their teams to jeopardize their health with too much weightlifting. Usually they go with lighter weights, and more repetitions.
12. Do MLB pitchers have to rest?
All MLB pitchers need rest after performing, meaning, pitching in game play. How much rest depends on the pitcher’s health at the time, and how much he threw in the previous game, or whether or not he is recovering from an injury.
Major League pitchers also can ask a manager for rest whenever he feels it’s necessary for the health of his arm, or body overall. Sometimes it’s not just the arm that gets tired, but other areas vital for pitching such as the legs. Very tired legs can force the arm to carry the torque burden of throwing a baseball, making it more prone to injury.
For starting pitchers, the general rule is 4 days off between starts. That means they start a game every 5th day. That’s right: pitching is so hard on the arm that if you pitch more than, say, two innings in real game play, you’ll have to take a few days off to rest the arm.
Relievers can pitch several days in a row, depending on how many innings total they pitched, and the stress level of those innings. Very stressful innings means more energy and exertion expended, and usually more pitches. Still, it is rare for a relief pitcher to throw in more than 3 consecutive games.
13. Do pitchers bat in the World Series?
Major League pitchers bat in the World Series when games are played in the stadium of the National League team participating. This means the pitchers bat in either 3 or 4 games of the 7-game series, depending on which team secured home-field advantage meaning they get to host 4 of the games.
In World Series games played in American League parks, the AL rules are applied, meaning a designated hitter is available for use, to hit for the pitcher. In this case, the pitcher will only throw and play defense, but not step into the batter’s box.
14. Do any MLB pitchers throw a screwball?
In today’s game, not more than an isolated toss, or experiment. Screwball-heavy pitchers like Carl Hubbell, Warren Spahn, Jim Brewer, and Fernando Valenzuela are things of the past.
The screwball is a very difficult pitch to master. It also is very hard on the arm, much like the slider. Young pitchers either never mastered the screwball, or avoid it for fear of injury and shortening a career.
15. Why don’t current major league pitchers throw the screwball?
See above: the screwball is among the rarest pitches in baseball, because it’s hard to throw well, and it can cause a lot of stress on a hurler’s arm.
The screwball curves the opposite of the curveball, that is, toward the throwing-arm side of the pitcher (and not away from it, as normal with the curve and other breaking pitches). To make this odd, backward break, pitchers have to use an inside-out snapping motion upon the ball’s release — and it’s very hard to do effectively.
It’s hard to think about another single position in the major sports, that differs more than the other positions on the same field or court, than the pitcher in baseball. More so than the goalies of hockey or soccer, or maybe the kickers in the National Football League. Pitchers in the MLB play under different rules, whether written or unwritten.
The next time you watch a Major League Baseball game, consider some of these facts as you watch the pitcher labor out there on the mound, all alone to himself, making everyone else wait for him to deliver the ball and to once again begin play. Over and over and over and …