Posted March 05, 2013

True grit and the inevitability of the DH in both leagues

Designated hitters

Dusty Baker was vocally displeased with Kirk Gibson after a dispute over whether to use the DH. [Paul Sancya/AP]

Dusty Baker was vocally displeased with Kirk Gibson after a dispute over whether to use the DH. [Paul Sancya/AP]

By Jay Jaffe

Monday’s exhibition game between the Diamondbacks and Reds featured a frosty home plate exchange between managers Kirk Gibson and Dusty Baker as they traded lineup cards. Baker had asked Gibson if the teams could play using designated hitters, because he wanted to get some extra at-bats in for Shin-Soo Choo, who’s dealing with soreness in his right quadriceps. It seemed like a reasonable request, something that happens with some frequency during the spring even between NL teams, but Gibson, who as the home manager had final say in the decision, refused to honor it because… well, apparently because he wanted to show he was more of an old school hardass than his opposite number, whose old school hardass-itude is hardly in question. Said Gibson:

“I had it happen last year with a team, they tried to put the DH in there and that’s not the way it’s done… I wanted to play a National League game. I notified them several times and they just wanted to do it their way and they couldn’t do it. So they didn’t like that. But we play by the rules here, that’s the way it is. We go over there we play by their rules. It’s very simple.”

Perhaps it had something to do with Choo not being gritty enough to tough it out enough for Gibson, but if there’s anything more pointless than putting a player at risk during an early March spring training game, it’s pitchers hitting, and if there’s anything pointless than pitchers hitting, it’s pitchers hitting during spring training games. Thanks to Gibson’s heroism, the Diamondbacks’ Brandon McCarthy went 0-for-1 with a first-pitch groundout, while Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmitt and Mark Teahen got pinch-hitting opportunities as five other Arizona pitchers failed to bat. On the other side, Johnny Cueto took three called strikes, while Choo and somebody named Tucker Barnhart went 0-for-1 in the pinch in place of the other Reds pitchers who came to the plate. Scintillating stuff.

Gibson can continue flexing his tough-guy muscles over NL rules, but the future clearly points in the other direction. With the move of the Astros to the AL to create two 15-team leagues, interleague games will take place all season long, which will put NL teams at a disadvantage from a roster standpoint. When I examined the history of DH production at Baseball Prospectus last year, I found that AL DHs had outproduced NL ones by a significant margin year after year, an average of 17 points worth of True Average (an expression of runs produced per plate appearance on a batting average scale after adjusting for park and league scoring environments) over the long haul, getting the upper hand in production at the position in all but two years since interleague play began in 1997. The gap appears to be widening, with margins of more than 20 points in five of the past seven years; last year it was 35 points (.277 to .242), as AL DHs hit a combined .256/.328/.430, while NL DHs hit just .234/.299/.389. Meanwhile, pitchers for both leagues hit a combined .129/.162/.166, with NL ones (.129/.162/.168) outproducing AL ones (.124/.148/.135) but boring the pants off of anybody watching.

In Sunday’s New York Post, Joel Sherman pointed out the way the new interleague format works against NL teams from a roster standpoint, as well as some of the other issues in play. Sherman quoted Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner as being particularly concerned about the additional injury risk to his constituents:

“The issue of [AL] pitchers running and hitting and getting hurt is a real one… Teams are going to have to be more careful. No one pretends the need for an interleague game every day is a positive consequence of [moving Houston to the AL]. No one wants [interleague games] throughout the year. So [an increase in AL pitcher injuries] is a real possibility.”

As I noted last year, pitchers such as Jake Peavy, Mark Prior and Chien-Ming Wang — NL pitchers as well as AL ones — have suffered career-altering injuries while running the basepaths in recent years. Numerous others from both leagues such as Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, A.J. Burnett and Randy Johnson have gotten hurt swinging the bat, forcing them to the disabled list. There’s no way baseball is a better game when it puts players at risk by making them do something with which they’re so unfamiliar. Dodgers reliever Matt Guerrier may have had his tongue firmly in cheek in this Dos Equis spoof when he said, “Find out what it is in baseball that you don’t do well, then don’t do that thing,” but in this case, it’s true.

Furthermore, as Sherman points out, there’s no way the union is going to allow 15 well-paid jobs — those of the DHs, who tend to be older and more expensive — to be bargained out of existence. On the contrary, even with teams getting smarter about staffing the position, the creation of 15 more such jobs, not to mention a wider array of choices for such players, is a development that will appeal to the rank and file. While phasing out pitchers hitting in favor of the DH didn’t come up during the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations in 2011, it’s likely to be on the agenda in 2016, when the next CBA is hammered out, if not sooner. Purists can thump their chests all they want in the meantime, but the everyday reality of the DH in both leagues isn’t far off.

42 comments
Michael10
Michael10

If the DH becomes universal, they might as well drop all pretense of separate leagues. The wildcard expansion has already diminised the importance of divisions--just play a full integrated season and wrap up with a seeded tournament in October. Sure there is far more manegerial strategy and situational excitement in the NL, but why should a $20 million dollar player have to bat when your team can just pay a $15 million dollar player to do it for him? That's only, what, another $5-6 bucks tacked onto the price of each ticket. Anyway, there aren't enough overpaid positions to go around. This will help keep fat veterans with bad knees employed for a few more years and, you know, feel useful every once in a while--kind of like letting old folks work as greeters at Walmart. Might even allow some guys to pad their stats enough to break some long-standing records. Just think, if the Astros had had a DH spot, Biggio might have eventually caught Pete Rose. Oh well, I'm sure baseball will work out whatever's best for the fans. They always do, don't they?

mjh0815
mjh0815

So let me get this straight the pitchers have to hit all season long and they don't need spring training but DH's do???  So those few extra at bats are going to make a difference for a hitter when he is called upon to be a dh when there is inter-league play???

 

Weak argument.

MJH

LennyDiWilliams
LennyDiWilliams like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

just another nail in the coffin for this grand old game.  The balanced leagues and the resultant interleague game every day is a terrible development that we're going to have to deal with but, now, to use it to ruin the game's intended strategy even further with the adoption of the DL across both leagues, is just an abomination.

 

American League games are so much less interesting than NL games, sorry to tell you, Mr. Chest-thumping Jay Jaffe.

 

 

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @LennyDiWilliams I disagree. There's nothing more frustrating and pointless than watching a pitcher flail at 3 straight pitches and then walk back to the dugout. It's virtually like having an automatic out at the bottom of the lineup. I really don't get why bunting and -wait for it- the DOUBLE SWITCH somehow make NL baseball radically more exciting than watching someone hit who can, you know, actually hit. I can't think of another sport where players are routinely asked to do something they're so obviously terrible at

LennyDiWilliams
LennyDiWilliams

 @Oilers21  @LennyDiWilliams can't argue with your logic or viewpoint, but the fact of the matter is that an AL manager is faced with almost no in-game decisions at all other than replacing a player or pitcher for poor performance. On the other hand, simply because the pitcher is in their lineups, NL managers are faced every 2 - 3 innings with the prospect of allowing a pitcher to bat or not, and these situations and the decisions made within often determine the outcome of a game.  The better managers know when to roll the dice and I like the idea that managers can help decide a result beyond just inking the original 9-man lineup.

 

I'm  a traditionalist in that sense; I love watching baseball of all types and from all leagues but I have always enjoyed the deeper challenges that the NL faces.

LennyDiWilliams
LennyDiWilliams

good story about the Edmonton Oilers and Jason Smith, they were the best team ever in the mid-80's, in my opinion (I'm from Philly and saw the Oiler dominance first-hand back then).  Never will be another team like that one.

 

Same to you, good chat here, hope to see you around.

Oilers21
Oilers21 like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @LennyDiWilliams It's the Edmonton Oilers, my favourite team since I was a kid. Oddly, I don't live in Edmonton so sort of a random choice. The "21" is Jason Smith; rock-solid stay-at-home defenseman whose slapshot wouldn't break glass but he played through all manner of injuries and was always getting stitched up or playing with a broken bone. He was our captain for a number of years in the late 90s/early 2000s.

 

Yeah, usually in a Comments section debate someone will pick out one small part of your argument and start yelling "F- YOU, YOU'RE STUPID, YOU'RE WRONG", etc; it takes a lot of energy to try and debate with those people. That's why I usually don't, and why in our world voices of reason tend to get lost in the shuffle.

 

Hope to see you around here, even if we disagree :)

LennyDiWilliams
LennyDiWilliams

 @Oilers21 same with me.  Typically, whether I'm commenting on sports or politics or world views, I write what I think and then I wince waiting for the frontal assault sure to come.  Lately, I've actually taken to posting my comment and then never returning to see the fallout.  I'd rather not get aggravated and getting called names for my viewpoint really makes me see red.

 

I'm guessing you've had the same experience and that is why you noted that you and I were actually having a reasonable discussion about this. Of course, this isn't exactly a passionate topic, as would be politics or religion, but I've been called names for my preference of music, for God's sake, so anything is possible.

 

All in, I cannot contest your final viewpoint, I get what you're saying about paying to see players do what they do best and a pitcher batting surely does not qualify as that.  I'm an old guy now, and a traditionalist at heart and if I were to bet, I'd say that the DH will be the law of baseball within a few years.  I've always hoped that would happen after I move on but I'm thinking now it will happen within 5 years time and I'm not ready to check out yet.

 

Anyway, great chat, looking forward to more positions from you and further civil debates.

 

P.S.  is the "Oilers21" moniker specific to Edmonton and hockey or Houston and the old football team?

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @LennyDiWilliams I think this might be the first time that I've been able to have a reasonable debate in the comments section of an article :) I think it's just a different way of watching the game; I prefer to watch the players do what they do best and that doesn't include pitchers hitting. For your side, you like to see the managers have a little more input in the outcome of the game. I do the find the "more strategy" argument slightly flawed in that if a pitcher comes to bat with a runner on first, he is ALWAYS going to bunt so in that sense it's not really a managerial decision. I can't remember ever seeing a pitcher swing away in that situation. In AL baseball, at least the batter MIGHT swing away. But I respect your viewpoint and can't really debate that overall, an NL manager probably has slightly more effect on the outcome of a game than an AL manager

kcopen
kcopen like.author.displayName 1 Like

Well I guess if they want to ruin baseball then it will indeed inevitably arrive in the NL. Nothing worse then the tedium of AL baseball

cjw5281
cjw5281 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

The union point is fair, so expand rosters by 2 to 27 and get rid of the DH. Union happy. Baseball better.

 

Anything else you'd like me to fix?

athelstane
athelstane

 @cjw5281 You'd have to grandfather in existing DH players, too.  But I think you're right that with enough concessions, it could be done.

 

Even better: Add two expansion teams to bring both leagues up to an even numbered number of teams, eliminating the need for interleague play.

badflounder
badflounder like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

 @cjw5281 Exactly.  This is the exact argument I always make.  The DH is idiotic, that's the other argument.

grimrapper27
grimrapper27

I do not like the DH a bit but I do understand the heightened concern for the standardization of the rules if both leagues are going to be playing each year all season. For all intents and purposes the notion that they are actually two separate leagues is antiquated and has been for some time. They are no longer two separate entities. but basically are like conferences akin to the NFL, NHL, and NBA current format. It's definitely coming and I'll whine about it...but I'll get used to it.

RobertSmith
RobertSmith like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hopefully not.  Hitters who can not play the field have no business earning a living from baseball.  Why not just go to offensive/defensive platoons like football?  Why just one DH ... why not put your best O at bat and your best D on the field?  Why bother to have ANY players who do both?

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @RobertSmith This doesn't make sense. If hitters who can't field shouldn't be playing, why should pitchers who can't hit be playing? In both cases, a player is missing a skill that they're apparently supposed to have to be in the majors

BryanCustard
BryanCustard

 @RobertSmith while you were being sarcastic, that really might be a fun way to play the game lol. offensive bats and skilled defenders at every position, that would be fun to watch lol but not as  serious professional sport, more as a novelty

StevenKeys
StevenKeys like.author.displayName 1 Like

DH in the NL is as "inevitable" as was abandonment of day-game World Series, football-gear finding its way into batter's box, dangerous maple bats and the AL-DH ('73).  In a sport long on tradition and priding itself on League distinctions, we fans asked for none of it and the greedmeisters, often with help of compliant media and today's sabermetric-heads, told us we need the change for good of the game.  Hogwash.

 

Baseball needs every player's blood tested twice a season in PED prevention and stadium pricing that encourages regular attendance of fans from all income levels, not resurrection every spring of the tired DH debate.  What we need, what most fans want and what we get are very different animals.  But keep pitching for the greedmeisters, Jay, and you'll probably get your NL-DH.  It's "inevitable."

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @StevenKeys I don't buy the "but it's a tradition" argument to oppose change. For instance, nobody used to wear a batting helmet. You could argue it's just as unsafe for a pitcher who never practices hitting to stand in the batter's box as it is for an actual hitter to stand in the box without a helmet.

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

 @Oilers21 Apology for way-lateness of my response, Oilers21.

 

You may not "buy" it, but you cannot deny the well-established fact that MLB has long prided itself on maintaining a certain level of "tradition" in its game that most fans, excepting sabermetric adherents, have long appreciated, if for nothing else in that it distinguishes baseball in a world where everything else seems to change.

 

As for your example, I think you're posing a straw-man (?) argument here (tradition vs. batting helmets).

 

Batting helmets were / are readily & widely accepted.  Tradition giving way to common sense (safety) and even profiteering, if it also seriously profits fans (expand NCAA tourney from 32 to 68 teams) seems a standard most of us appreciate.  PED use, maple bats, all day-game WS and expanding DH (into a NL workforce and fan-base who largely object) are all changes that fail to meet that simple standard.

 

Just as I won't always oppose change simply to preserve a tradition, I also won't always ditch a tradition simply for sake of change and making more change ($) for the greedy.

russt
russt like.author.displayName 1 Like

When will the NL just give up and start using the DH.  Every other league uses it including NL Minor league teams.  No one wants to see a pitcher get up and embarass themselves 3 times a game.  Having the pitcher hit is one of the dumbest rules in professional sports.

badflounder
badflounder like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @russt What's dumb is your take.  I will take a pitcher trying to lay down an important sacrifice over the mindless softball that occurs in the AL.  The DL is an abomination.

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @badflounder  @russt I get that there's a little more strategy in bunting, double-switching, etc, but I watch baseball to see players do something they're good at, not watch the manager cross out and rewrite names on a lineup card. Even with the strategy take, how is it even "strategy" to have a pitcher bunt when there's a runner on base? It happens EVERY TIME. It requires zero thought whatsoever for a manager. Usually the pitcher squares around before the pitch is even thrown. What fun! What excitement! At least with an actual hitter in that situation, there's a chance they WON'T bunt. That seems like more strategy because there's an element of uncertainty.

GeoffreyHolland
GeoffreyHolland

 @badflounder  @russt LOL! "important" and "sacrifice" are 2 words that simply DO NOT go together in a baseball sense.

Bunting is a sign of a weak mind.

GeoffreyHolland
GeoffreyHolland like.author.displayName 1 Like

I'm all for the DH being in both leagues. Double switches, bunts, weak whiffs, and .087 average SUCK.

athelstane
athelstane

 @GeoffreyHolland Some of us actually like double switches and bunts.  It's a pleasure to see actual strategy in a baseball game.

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @athelstane  @GeoffreyHolland but the pitcher bunts EVERY TIME when there's a runner on first. How is that really "strategy"? And the double switch developed in the first place to avoid having the pitcher hit again for the maximum amount of time. So why are they hitting at all?

badflounder
badflounder like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @GeoffreyHolland Go watch softball, if you don't enjoy real baseball strategy.  Oh wait, you already do...the American League.

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @badflounder  @GeoffreyHolland This makes zero sense. 8 out of the 9 players in BOTH LEAGUES are doing the same thing when they're at the plate. Why is it that because the ninth guy in the AL is an actual hitter, it's now "softball"?

GeoffreyHolland
GeoffreyHolland like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @badflounder idiot. Get over yourself and your so-called "strategy". There's no strategy involved in having a pitcher bunt or strike out. Nor is there any strategy in a double switch. Having pitchers hit would be like the NHL having goalies be the 1st shooter in the shootouts. LAME.

athelstane
athelstane

 @GeoffreyHolland  @athelstane  @badflounder  Look: the lineup card has nine players. Nine players should play. It's been that way for most of baseball's history.  Why is it such a bad thing now?  

 

The point is that there's actually serious managerial strategy without the DH. Removing a pitcher has a price. And some managers are actually better at handling it than others. That's part of the magic of watching a game - for me at least.  It deepens the complexity of the game.

 

Guys like Ortiz and Hafner have no business playing, I say, because they are no longer capable of doing anything whatsoever except swing a bat (and usually just for power, not for average). They can't field; they can't throw; they can't run. They're up there to swing and get home runs. Well: home runs are just about the most boring play in baseball to me. Your mileage may vary. So if it  comes to that, I would rather watch Roy Halladay strike out three times, or botch a bunt, than watch Ortiz make some lumbering attempt to run out a single. Whichever way you do this, you are going to be watching *some* player do something poorly every time through the lineup. I'd rather take the way that actually allows real strategy.

 

The NL is doing better in attendance, so I'm not sure why we need the DH in any case - since, after all, it's about the money, isn't it?

 

 

GeoffreyHolland
GeoffreyHolland

 @athelstane  @GeoffreyHolland  @badflounder  Oh yeah, pitchers bunting and double switches, only geniuses can pull that off. There is ZERO strategy in bunting and double switches, it's just automatic NL managing, and it's boring and it sucks.

 

Hey, if you'd rather see some pitcher weakly wave at 3 strikes instead of some slugger bat, you go. I'd suggest going to a girls under 10 game, sounds about your speed.

 

And saying that guys like Ortiz and Hafner have "no real business" playing is simply idiocy. I really doubt most fans would choose seeing a pitcher hit .047 over seeing one of those guys bat.

 

And in the long run, having the DH in both leagues will only HELP your precious NL. So just deal with it. The DH isn't going away. And I'll never get the animosity between leagues, especially with all the inter-league play. It's all baseball. Just get over being such a snobby idiot.

athelstane
athelstane like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @GeoffreyHolland  @badflounder The strategy comes in because removal of a pitcher comes at a price, unlike in DH leagues. And once that price is introduced, managers must make a hard decision. It introduces complexity into the game.

 

It also keeps lumbering or ancient oxen like David Ortiz or Travis Hafner - men hardly able to run the bases, let alone field them - out of a game they have no real business playing.

CaptainPower
CaptainPower

Pitchers getting hurt on the basepaths?.....are you kidding me?  It's BASEBALL...the game is you have NINE players who play in the field AND Bat....Not Nine who play in the field and EIGHT who bat with one other guy who sits on the bench... The problem is the Union will NEVER allow the DH to go away.....so?. being a realist?..most likely someday both leagues will use the DH...but I'm glad I grew up watching the game as it was supposed to be played.

BrotherKwan
BrotherKwan

Give me a break.  If you want to play baseball - you should bat.  Using the "pitchers might get hurt" excuse is pathetic.

MC1
MC1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

These 3 and 1/2 half to 4 hour ball games in the American League that end with 10 to 12 runs on each side are not the game that I care for.  Working around pitchers in the batting order is part of the game.  Give me the National League game every time.

zeebaneighba
zeebaneighba

Nonpitchers get hurt running the bases and in at-bats as well - look at Curtis Granderson. It comes with the game. As for it being useless for NL pitchers to bat in spring training, I'd say they can probably use the practice.

 

Today's pitchers are pathetic at the plate because they aren't asked to practice hitting coming up. It's rarely been a strong point, but .150 averages used to be pretty common and a .200 hitting pitcher was an asset. Make all pitchers hit again and you'll not only restore integrity to the game but make it more interesting too.

Dodger_James
Dodger_James

"While phasing out the DH didn’t come up" Don't you mean phasing IN the DH?

0clc
0clc

I don't understand why the NL consistently has higher attendance than the AL if the original rules of the game "[bores] the pants off of anybody watching."

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @0clc Probably because the total capacity for NL ballparks is 701581 as opposed to 560666 for the AL. You could probably make a pretty good case that each AL team has a proportionally HIGHER attendance than each NL team