For those new to baseball, understanding all of the different positions and responsibilities can be quite daunting. So I wanted to put together a complete list of every baseball position and their roles so those who are learning about baseball can easily understand what those positions are and what they are responsible for.
In short, there are nine core positions on every baseball team:
- 1 – Pitcher
- 2 – Catcher
- 3 – First Baseman
- 4 – Second Baseman
- 5 – Third Baseman
- 6 – Shortstop
- 7 – Left Fielder
- 8 – Center Fielder
- 9 – Right Fielder
Some baseball games will also count a 10th position, which is known as the designated hitter. This player only has offensive duties, which will be covered later in this article.
Also, the positions listed above are the exact same numbers scorekeepers use to score baseball games. So let’s dive into the details about each baseball position and their roles.
Pitchers take their position on the pitching mound, which is located in the center of the infield. Here, the pitcher begins every individual play by pitching the ball to the catcher, who is behind home plate.
Pitchers seek to get batters out; in other words, they work to prevent hitters from reaching base.
There are a lot of ways for the defense to get an out, but a few common ways to record an out would be:
- If the batter hits the ball and the ball is either caught in the air by a defensive player before it hits the ground
- By a defensive player throwing the ball to a base before the batter gets to the base (force out)
- By a strikeout, which means the hitter recorded three strikes in his at-bat
Before every pitch, the pitcher must comply with a couple of rules. First, at least one foot must be touching the rubber on the top of the pitching mound. And second, their windup, which is the body mechanics before throwing the ball, must also follow other guidelines to prevent a balk from being called.
Great pitchers can not only throw the ball inside the strike zone but also at specific locations according to each opponent’s weaknesses. The strike zone refers to the space above the home plate, of the same wide as this one and a height that goes from above the batter’s knees to below the armpits.
What’s more, pitchers add other factors to their game to make it more difficult for batters to hit the ball. For example, pitchers learn to throw the ball in different ways with the goal of getting the batter to swing and miss.
The most popular pitch types include:
- 4-seam fastball
- 2-seam fastball
Elite pitchers have these 5 in their pitching repertoire. However, these are not the only pitch types in baseball. Other known pitch types include the sinker, knuckleball, cutter, and the rare eephus pitch.
Expanding the pitching repertoire allows pitchers to deceive the batter more easily, as they can vary the movement and speed of his throws. Likewise, a wide pitch repertoire reduces a batter’s chances of guessing the pitch and thus, hitting the ball.
Right-handed vs. Left-handed pitchers
Both right-handed and left-handed pitchers can play at the highest baseball level. Both have won awards in MLB as Pitcher of the Year, also known as the “Cy Young award.” Nevertheless, left-handed pitchers have a natural advantage that makes their throws a bit more difficult to hit for batters.
First, batters have a hard time dealing with the perception and movement of left-handed pitchers. Most pitchers are right-handed so most batters are used to facing a right-handed pitcher.
Another advantage of left-handed pitchers is preventing stolen bases. Pitchers must watch and hold runners on from the stretch and they commonly do this with runners on the first base.
Right-handed pitchers have no other way to hold a runner on first base besides showing their back to the runner. If the pitcher wants to check the runner on first base, they’d need to pivot their whole body to throw the ball, giving runners time to safely return to the base.
Instead, left-handed pitchers are naturally facing the first base. This situation makes it difficult for runners to lead off too far away from the base, as they could be easily caught stealing in their attempt. Consequently, when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound runners don’t take as big of a lead, so they would have to cover a larger distance if they were to attempt to steal second base.
Roles of the Pitcher
Pitchers can be classified as starting pitchers and relief pitchers and the responsibilities of each role depends heavily on the situation of the game.
Starting Pitcher Responsibilities
Starting pitchers throw from the first inning until the manager decides to bring a relief pitcher. Although some pitchers are able to last the whole game, it is very common for a relief pitcher to come in for the starting pitcher at some point towards the middle part of the game.
Sometimes, pitchers throw the entire game without giving up a hit, walk, or any runs. That feat is known as a perfect game and is a coveted stat by many starting pitchers.
Usually, starters are pitchers with remarkable control over the strike zone and have learned to throw a variety of pitch types. When they get tired, their throws get slower and less accurate, which usually allows batters to hit the ball with ease.
Relief Pitcher Responsibilities
A relief pitcher may come in at any point after the game has started and a lot of teams use multiple relief pitchers in a single game. Normally, relief pitchers have lower stamina than starters and they typically rely on about three pitch types.
We can also break down the responsibilities of a relief pitcher into four more sub-categories:
- Long relief: a pitcher with higher stamina than typical relief pitchers. They enter the game when the starter can’t make it through the first few innings.
- Middle relief: used before the last two innings of the game. Usually, these pitchers will not pitch more than three innings.
- Setup: this is the pitcher in charge of maintaining the team’s advantage during the second-to-last inning. If they succeed, they are awarded a stat that is called a “hold”.
- Closer: the pitcher who tries to get the final three outs and close the game for the win. In the Major Leagues, these pitchers must come into the game with their team up by no more than three runs in order to be awarded a stat called a “save”. When pitchers successfully close a game, they are awarded a saved game.
For many, the catcher is the most demanding position in baseball and is often referred to as the hardest position to play in baseball. A catcher’s position is behind home plate and it is the only player who sees the entire field with the same perspective as batters.
Catchers are the players with the most roles in a game of baseball. They not only contribute to the offensive and defensive aspects but also have to be leaders on the field.
In the defensive role, the catcher’s main job is to receive the throws from the pitcher. To receive throws from the pitcher they do that while being in a low squat behind home plate in order for the pitcher to deliver the ball through the strike zone.
It’s important to catch every pitch because otherwise, the ball will go past the catcher and allow base runners to advance. Also, in very competitive leagues, umpires will not call a strike unless the catcher actually catches the ball.
A catcher must also throw out any base runners that attempt to steal a base. This is done by quickly catching and throwing the baseball to the base the runner wants to steal. Sounds simple enough, but any catcher will tell you that it takes a lot of practice to get good at quickly catching and throwing the ball to a base.
The good news for catchers is that on offense, catchers don’t tend to be the star batters of a team. So catchers who excel at hitting add more value to a team than other catchers. Normally, catchers are in the lower part of the lineup, even though they do have enough power to hit home runs.
Another factor that separates good catchers from elite catchers is intelligence. The number 2 position on the team demands to be a leader on the field and, on some teams, is even considered as a type of coach by their teammates.
An important responsibility for most catchers is to call the pitches the pitcher will make, which means they are also responsible for keeping the opponents scoreless. Catchers indicate to the pitcher what pitch to throw and its location. Other catchers, however, just receive the calls from the manager.
The catcher should also have a good relationship with their pitcher so they know when to call time and briefly meet with the pitcher to give their pitcher some time to cool down or to strategize for the next batter.
Being right-handed is almost a requirement to be a catcher, as it allows a quicker release of the ball in case of steal attempts – especially to third base. Left-handed catchers do exist, but they are extremely rare.
In summary, catchers need to be tough guys to endure the whole game squatting, have strong arms, quick feet, and quick hands to prevent runners from advancing bases.
3. First Baseman
The first baseman is the closest player to first base, typically positioned several steps behind the base and a few feet into fair territory. This allows the player to cover enough space on the field to field ground balls as well as being close enough to cover first base on a ground ball.
Besides pitchers and catchers, first basemen usually get the most action during a game. Whenever a ball gets hit into play there’s always a chance another infielder will throw the ball to first base to get the force out.
The main role of a first baseman is to quickly run to first base when a batter hits a ground ball and catch the throw to complete the out. When a first baseman catches a ball and gets a force out, the first baseman is awarded with a stat called a “put out”.
First baseman tend to get the most put outs in a game because a lot of force out plays happen at first base.
Both right-handed and left-handed players can cover this position, but left-handed individuals are slightly preferred. Left-handed first baseman can quickly throw to the other bases without turning or pivoting as much a right-handed first baseman have to.
Having a left-handed first baseman also represents an important defensive advantage, as more double-plays can be completed when the first baseman is left-handed. When left-handed first baseman receive a ground ball, they are already in position to throw to second base to begin the double play.
On the offensive aspect, the majority of first basemen have the power to regularly connect home runs. They are usually large players with more strength than speed.
Famous First Basemen
4. Second Baseman
Also known as one of the middle infielders, second basemen take position between the first and second base to cover the middle-right of the infield.
When a right-handed hitter is taking an at-bat, the second baseman typically plays closer to the second base. When the hitter is left-handed, the second baseman positions themselves right in between first and second base. This positioning helps prevent groundballs from passing through to the outfield.
A second baseman needs to be quick on their feet. After the batter makes contact with the ball, the second baseman has a few quick seconds to field groundballs. Likewise, second basemen must be agile players to catch the ball, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
The second baseman is involved in many double-plays (where two runners are retired in the same play. Normally one runner is out at second base and the other is out on first base). Agile players can quickly run to second to complete the first out and then throw to first in the shortest time possible.
Unlike first basemen, the second baseman is almost always a right-handed player. Even in Little League, it is extremely rare to see a left-handed second baseman.
The reason for coaches favoring a right-handed second baseman is that the throwing arm is naturally directed to first base (because most runners are retired at first base). As a result, a right-handed fielder can quickly release the ball without having to rotate the body in the process. Every second counts when playing infield.
Because the player is closer to first base than the rest of the infield, it is not imperative for the second baseman to have amazing arm strength. Their main role is to cover a lot of ground, be as good as possible with the glove, and get those easy force outs.
In the offensive aspect, second basemen are known to be patient batters. They try to reach first base either by receiving a walk or hitting singles. Once they reach first or second base, their speed becomes a threat for the opponents because second basemen typically run fast enough to steal bases or score with on a base hit.
Famous Second Basemen
5. Third Baseman
Lots of people, even those brand new to baseball, know this position by it’s nickname – the “hot corner”. Playing third base has earned this nickname because ground balls and line drives often come out of the bat with a lot of power, which demands a very quick reaction from the third baseman.
The positioning of the third basemen is somewhat similar to the first baseman. They stand a few feet behind third base and a few feet into fair territory.
Against a right-handed hitter, it’s recommended to stay closer to the foul line, while against a left-handed, it’s recommended to play a few steps towards second base. This is simply because it is difficult for left-handed hitters to place a batted ball directly down the third baseline.
Third basemen are very complete athletes. They need a strong arm to retire runners due to the first base being so far away. Also, they need quick feet. A third baseman has to be able to run forward when the batter bunts the ball so they are able to quickly make that out at first.
Similar to the second baseman and shortstop, right-handed players typically cover the third base. Once they receive the ball, they are in a much better position than a left-hander would be to make a throw to any base.
Offensively, the third baseman tends to be a power hitter and will bat closer to the top of the order.
Famous Third Basemen
The shortstop is the other middle infielder, along with the second baseman. Shortstops position themselves between second and third base, usually a little closer to second base. They are considered the anchor of the infield, thus they are the most defensively-skilled player on the team.
The role of a shortstop is to retire batters who hit the ball to the area between the second and third baseman. Shortstops are also responsible for being the relay man between the infield and the left-half of the outfield.
A shortstop must be aware of everything happening in the game because many plays require an assist from the shortstop. For example, if a player attempts to steal second base, the shortstop will either receive the throw or back up the second baseman. Also, the shortstop assists the second baseman in double-plays and helps outfielders by being a cut-off man.
Other qualities required in a shortstop are agility and arm strength. Oftentimes, shortstops dive to catch a ball and then immediately get up and throw to first base. Consequently, they need a strong arm and an accuracy throw to retire runners after making a diving play.
Almost all shortstops are right-handed because it’s easier to take the ball out of the glove and throw to first base and second base without having to pivot their feet as much as a left-handed player would need to pivot.
On offense, a shortstop’s role is to hit singles or doubles and steal bases. Only a few shortstops are both great fielders and great power hitters.
Did you know shortstops weren’t always positioned in between third base and second base? For a brief history of the shortstop position, check out my other article on why shortstop is the 6th position.
7. Left Fielder
The left fielder is one of the three outfield positions in baseball along with the center fielder and right fielder. Specifically, left fielders position themselves in the outfield corner behind third base, into fair territory.
When starting out with baseball a lot of people confuse left field and right field. An easy way to remember where left field and right field are at is to imagine you’re standing at home plate and facing the pitcher. The outfield spot that’s to the left is left field while the outfield spot that’s to the right is right field.
Among the three outfielders, the one in the left typically has the weakest arm. This is by design in case of a throw to third base is needed. Outfielders very rarely make a throw to first base so left fielders don’t need the arm strength to throw it to all the way to first base.
Both right-handed and left-handed players can play in the left field. Some coaches have a preference for left-handed players in left field because they like the player’s glove-side to be closer to the foul line.
Offensively, left-fielders can be either a power hitter or decent hitters with enough speed to steal bases. If they are power hitters then they are usually placed in one of the middle spots of the batting order. Otherwise, they are placed at either end of the lineup.
Famous Left Fielders
8. Center Fielder
The center fielder is the outfielder who has to cover the largest area of ground and is typically the fastest player on the team. Their position is in the center of the outfield (the area behind second base) and they are usually considered the leader of the outfielders because they normally have the best defensive skills.
Elite center fielders all share some common characteristics. First of all, they are the fastest member of the team. The center fielder is responsible for catching balls hit toward the entire length of the center area of the outfield, plus a good portion of the middle-right and middle-left outfield.
When the center fielder and one or more teammates go for the same flyball, it is the center fielder who has the priority of catching the ball. For that reason, center fielders can and should lead the defense by calling for catchable fly balls and making the catch.
However, great speed is not enough for an elite center fielder. Center fielders must also possess a strong throwing arm. The roles of a center fielder include quickly returning the ball to the infield to prevent runners from taking an extra base after a hit, and accurately throwing out runners in second, third, or home plate.
It’s very common to see center fielders be the lead-off batter. Their speed poses a great threat early in the game if they get on base. Also, managers might ask left-handed center fielders to bunt in the very first at-bat of the game, as these players could reach first base by relying on their speed.
Famous Center Fielders
9. Right Fielder
The right fielder is the other corner outfield position. Because there is a prevalence of right-handed hitters, right field is where the least number of balls are hit.
As with the other outfielders, right fielders also need to cover a lot of ground, but right fielders also need a strong arm in case they need to make a throw to third. Additionally, if they can’t quickly return the ball to the infield, runners can easily turn a single into a double.
Although managers prefer to see right fielders who can cover a lot of ground and have a strong arm, it’s also common to see managers place power hitters with less mobility in this position. This is because because right fielders are not strongly involved in the game so they will not need to use their mobility as much as other positions would require.
As you’ll notice from the famous right fielders’ list below, right fielders tend to be the power hitters of the team. So a lot of right fielders will bat towards the middle of the order.
Famous Right Fielders
10. Designated Hitter (DH)
Although it’s not a traditional defensive position, the designated hitter is an important position in some baseball leagues. For example, in the MLB there are two leagues – the National League and the American League – but the designated hitter only exists in the American League. In most Caribbean leagues, the designated hitter is a common position.
The role of the designated hitter is simple – hit the ball. Designated hitters have a spot in the batting order, but they don’t play defensively. They can be used in place of any defensive player in the batting order, but typically designated hitters will take the at-bat in place of pitchers, who normally are not very good hitters.
A team can also choose to play without a designated hitter. In that scenario, the pitcher (or whomever the DH would normally bat for) would take an at-bat as long as they are in the game. If the manager wants to bring a pinch hitter, that player must be removed from the game first.
Designated hitters tend to be power hitters and bat in the middle spots of the lineup. It’s very common to see designated hitters as fourth batters, which is considered the “clean-up” spot in the batting order and is usually occupied by someone who can hit home runs on a constant basis.
Famous Designated Hitters
Each position in baseball certainly has a common player profile and set of responsibilities to follow while on the field. However, each play has it’s own small variations and each player brings a different set of skills to their position. It’s small things like these that make the game so interesting and exciting.
Baseball has been played for over a century, and the perfect way to strategize around a game hasn’t been found yet. There are strategies that have worked great in the past, but not be relevant as new information is discovered about the current players. So, it’s wise to fall-back on the common characteristics of each baseball position and learn about their roles and responsibilities.