Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Which Position Is The Most Important In Sports?

I'll make arguments for each of the top 3 positions that typically surface in this conversation.  I'll start first with the most favored position traditionally and give the lesser favored positions the opportunity to rebuttal all those favored higher.  I'll also focus on what impact each position has on each game they play vs. the impact on a given season to give all positions a fair shot.  Lastly, I think it's important to think about this debate in terms of the ultimate goal in all sports, championships.  Which positions matter most with everything on the line?

First, quarterbacks are favored in this argument.  Quarterbacks have the ability to put points on the board and, to a certain degree, keep points off the board for opposing offenses.  QBs that consistently get first downs increase time of possession for their teams, by limiting the amount of possessions of their opponents.  Also QBs that score often change the way their defenses play.  With a high scoring offense a defense can be more aggressive and take chances which increases the likelihood of turnovers.  QBs also have the ability to read defenses, call plays, change plays, lead other players, limit the impact that low performing players have on the game, and put other players in positions to be successful.  Think Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees.

Next, is what I'll call the shooting guard/forward in basketball.  Just to clarify Lebron James and Kevin Durant are shooting forwards, Dywane Wade is a shooting guard, and Derrick Rose is a shooting guard playing the point guard position.  For this debate basketball is complicated and usually doesn't get a fair shake mainly because most great players play different positions and roles throughout the game.  I don't think centers and power forwards are as valuable as they use to be with the increasing speed and athleticism of shooting guards/forwards.  SG/Fs are also able to move and be more effective without the ball if they constantly get double teamed, unlike C/PFs.  SG/Fs bring the ball up the court regularly and run the offense just as often as a QB calls plays.  They also possess all the characteristics of QBs (read defenses, call plays, change plays, etc...).  Unlike a QB, SG/Fs can play defense, which is extremely important because the SG/F can take an opposing team's best player completely out of a game on both sides of the ball.  On the contrary, the SG/F is able to be neutralized by the opposition more so than a QB.  Top QBs in the NFL account for about 50% of their teams points.  Top SG/Fs account for about 25% of their teams points, but the fact that a SG/F in basketball can play defense, and play the entire game impacting both sides of the court, balances out the traditional QB advantage.

Lastly, is the pitcher.  The pitcher is the least favored usually because they rarely can produce any runs, and only National League pitchers have the opportunity to do that.  The fact that a pitcher starts about once every 5 games is irrelevant, because we're looking at their impact when they play, as opposed to throughout the season.  Another, not so obvious, disadvantage to pitchers is the fact that baseball is such an individualized sport compared to other sports, and the pitcher appears to be the most individualistic.  Pitchers stand alone on the mound, and we rarely see them help the defense or offense, although they do occasionally.  The average runs scored by a team per MLB game was just over 4 runs last season, the top pitchers in the league have an earned run average (ERA) of just over 2.  So on an average night for the league's top pitcher, you are guaranteed a win.  Although you can make a similar argument for QBs, the difference is less drastic.  The average points scored by an NFL team is 22 points and the average points produced by a QB is just under 18 points, or 21 with extra points.  That does not guarantee you a win. The amount of predictability this gives your team on a given night is astounding.  In addition, on a good night a pitcher has the ability to take every player on the opposing teams' offense completely out of the game.  Although the pitcher doesn't typically score runs, which we have a biased for since that is most exciting, no other position in this debate is able to eliminate the possibility that any other player on the opposing team will score.

One quick note about championships.  QBs and SG/Fs are nearly equivalent in their ability to win championships by throwing the final touchdown or hitting the final shot with everything on the line, although SG/F have the added ability to make a key defensive play to win as well.  It's what separates the good from the great.  Pitchers on the other hand, can not help their teams produce a game winning run, but can prevent the opposition from scoring a game winning run.

In business, the QB is most similar to a plant manager in a manufacturing facility because they run the operations, provide work direction for all employees and have the ability to put people in positions and situations to be successful.  The SG/F is equivalent to a sales manager because although they can put people in positions to be successful, whether or not an employee sells depends on the employee.  This is a more similar dynamic to the SG/F in basketball, than it is to QB in football.  Also, the SG/F can play defense, unlike the QB, and the sales manager can sell, unlike the plant manager.  Finally, the pitcher is the individual contributor that doesn't manage anyone, but designs and creates products that can stifle the competition with innovation and gain market share for your company. 

So based on my arguments, which position do you think is the most important in sports?  Vote on the upper right section of the page.

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