Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The time has come: Bring the DH to the NL

Save your slings and arrows for another day, please. Spare me your double shifts. Go lock yourself in a room with your grainy baseball movies. Wax poetic about late-inning strategy with someone else. This is not some blatant "knee-jerk reaction" to recent events, but recent events bubbled this back up to the surface.

The time has come: Bring the DH to the NL.

Someone needs to explain to me the allure of watching NL pitchers try to hit. What's so captivating, so nostalgic, so poetic about watching some guy step in the bucket three times so he can get back to the bench? And if he gets on base somehow, run around in a windbreaker? Why is this so wonderful for our game? Because it makes us look/feel/act smart to discuss double shifts while saddled up at the bar? Because that's what our grandpappy used to talk about?

I tiptoed around this idea last year, particularly when Wang got hurt running the bases and was lost for the year, summarily ending the Yanks season. And what happened last night?

St. Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter appears headed for the disabled list after straining his left rib cage swinging the bat Tuesday night.

Carpenter was injured grounding out to third base to end the top of the fourth. Carpenter went to the mound to warm up before the bottom of the inning, then called for a trainer.

"
I felt it just a little bit on that swing, and every warmup pitch got worse and worse until the last one bit pretty good," Carpenter said after the Cardinals' 7-6 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 10 innings. "So there's nothing I could do about it but come out."
Why? Was this necessary? Really?

Carpenter, fresh off a one-hit effort as he battles back from major arm/shoulder injuries, has NO business swinging a bat. He's paid (very well, I might add) to pitch, not hit. Sure, there are guys like Zambrano and Sabathia and Owings who can hit AND pitch. So let them hit, if the organization wants to risk their arms.

With the premium paid to pitchers, particularly the best pitchers (and Barry Zito), NL ownership should be picketing to have the DH installed in the NL to protect these investments.

The esteemed Nate Silver, czar of forecasting for Baseball Prospectus, had a fun exercise in assessing pitchers' hitting values (2008). He leads off:
In the six years that I’ve generated PECOTA forecasts, I’ve never bothered to run hitting projections for pitchers. In fact, I’ve regarded pitcher hitting as something of a nuisance; I specifically screen out any pitchers so that they won’t be selected as comparable players. This isn’t an aesthetic judgment by any means—watching pitchers try (and fail) to hit is one of my favorite pastimes. But since even the pitchers who make 35 starts a year won’t usually get more than 80 or 90 plate appearances, I've generally figured that it wasn’t quite worth the trouble. ... pitchers and position players are selected to play in the major leagues based on totally different skill sets. (The gap between pitcher and position-player hitting has grown steadily since the dawn of baseball time).
[...]
Note that the bad-hitting pitchers don’t hurt you as much as the good ones help you, simply because the bar for getting any kind of offensive contribution from your pitchers is so low. Still, Ben Sheets is a lifetime .079 hitter in the major leagues, and that sure doesn’t look good on the back of a baseball card.
Precisely! Why is this element of the game so important, so fantastic, so ethereal? Why the navel gazing?

And in my research efforts this morning, I came across this article written by Howard Bryant (2007):
Since we live in an age of money, an age of offense and an age of power, it is time for the National League to stop worrying and start loving the designated hitter.

It's the unfortunate, but correct, thing to do; I find myself arguing for a position with which I don't completely agree, yet can't find a better compromise.

According to sources high up in the baseball hierarchy and low on the field among managers and players, there is no discussion about the NL's adopting the designated hitter in the future, meaning baseball will continue its 35-year tradition of playing the same game under two sets of rules, depending whether the game is being played in an AL or NL city.
Even FOTB, Splice's Russ Smith, had this to say last year "The NL Needs the DH":
Sure, the strategy required of an N.L. manager is more intricate than A.L. counterparts with double-switches and more sacrifice bunts, but the two leagues might be more competitive if older free agents (or crummy fielders) could extend their careers as a DH.
Lastly:
The National League needs to get rid of its die-hard advocates who insist that the American League’s innovative genius to inspire the introduction of the designated hitter is but a sham on the game’s integrity. The DH was the first solid attempt by MLB to get rid of any superficial or perfunctory aspects of a game whose otherwise proud and purposeful intent was being undermined. The National League dinosaurs continue to insist that the DH removes a distinct strategy that is integral to the sport’s identity. But all it truly does is remove a little-skilled or no-skilled hitter for a competent one, thus allowing for more competency where it is appreciated by all observers of the game. A pitcher (now-a-days) can’t even bunt properly and stands a good chance of smashing a finger or two.
The time has come to put the DH in the NL.

Rob Neyer, the reason why many of you are here, had this to say:
I don't care if I ever see another pitcher hit -- but I still say the game's just a little more interesting if there's a difference between the leagues. So, no.
I don't see how it's more interesting, honestly. Is it more interesting to see guys flail at pitches? I'd rather watch a skilled hitter work against the opposing pitcher. I think a league with uniform rules is better than a league with half the teams playing by different rules. Especially a rule as major as the DH, particularly when it comes to the World Series.



Feel free to post your hate mail in the comments below.

24 comments:

Rick N said...

I agree. It's time for the NL to use the DH. It will bring some excitement to the NL and having a pitcher hit is an automatic out.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

No hate mail. I like Carpenter, and I'm cheering for him. However, if he did this swinging a bat, I'm not sure he wouldn't have strained it somehow later. He's fairly injury-prone, and he's on the wrong side of 30. This kind of reminds me when Hank threw a fit after Wang got hurt last season rounding third. Players get hurt.

BUT:
If we want to talk about the value of having a pitcher hit versus a DH and if it would even things out, then yes it is time. It doesn't hurt NL teams so much at home, but I'd be interested to find the numbers for NL teams on the road against AL teams. Few NL teams have a good enough bench player to be a decent DH in the AL, and when they play interleague games away, they are at a pretty severe disadvantage. It was Greg Norton vs. Hideki Matsui (kind of, metaphorically) last season. That's no contest. It would also help guys like Chipper prolong their careers as he could play 20-30 games as the DH without having to come out of the lineup.

I'm not sure if using the DH in the NL is a good idea. Times change and the two leagues trade off beating on each other. I would hate to overreact and put this in knowing that the NL could grab the momentum back without it. But I'm not sure it's the wrong idea either. I like things to stay the same, but we give pitchers little batting practice and the added offense (and star power of some DH's) would bring more fans. On the whole, I guess I agree with the argument, though not with what brought it about.

Jay said...

The one problem would be that the NL rosters are not configured for DH's yet, and it would initally set them back in interleague play and ultimately the World Series. Aside from baseball purists, NL owners would be up in arms as well.

I'm on board with the idea, but Baseball is always slow to change, and I think this stumbling block might ultimately prevent it from happening.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Jay: That's exactly it; the NL is at a disadvantage in h2h games with the AL, including the WS. Remember how shorthanded COL was against the Sox a few years back?

Mark, I also agree that this should not be the catalyst, but it's just the latest. To me, it's not unlike banning maple bats BEFORE someone is killed. We've seen the evidence (maple bats and DH's) that things need to change, or SHOULD change.

Carl the Big Fool said...

Pass the Haterade!
Baseball is a multi-skill sport. If you want to play in the field, you have to hit, and vice versa. It's how the game was meant to be played. If Carpenter can't swing a friggin' bat without hurting himself, maybe he shouldn't be a baseball player. (Agree with Mark as well--if it hadn't been swinging the bat, it would have been something else, getting up to get sunflower seeds or something.)

ditmars1929 said...

Personally, I don't like the DH. I think that if you're a baseball player, you should be able to both field and bat.

But having said that, if you're going to have it in one league, you should have it in both.

I'd prefer banning the DH, but if that's not possible, then the NL should adopt it.

Ron Rollins said...

Michah Owings, C.C. Sabathia, Felix Hernandez.

Tony Pena, Jeff Francouer, Andy LaRoche.

Easy pickings for me who I want to see at the plate.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Ron: you cherrypicker! ;)

Alex C said...

Might as well expand the rosters and have 9 players field and 9 players hit. It is ridiculous that your star sluggers are forced to risk injury by running around in the outfield and having baseball hit in their direction at high velocities.

The time for change has come. Baseball needs separate offensive and defensive squads.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Alex: You don't think that the skills and talents required to be a pitcher aren't different than everyone else?

I know you're "tongue and cheek"-ing it....

Raoul Duke said...

I'm going to "slippery slope" this one. Are catchers going to be next? What is there four good hitting C?

tadthebad said...

Ah yes, the old "it's the way the game was meant to be played" argument. Which sounds good until you realize that the game was meant to be played without gloves, and that it was meant to count walks as hits, and that it was meant to be played with no ground-rule doubles and no elevated mound... Tradition does not equal good, and relying on that argument speaks a great deal more to nostalgia than logic or rationale.

Josh said...

Not gonna lie, I'm a huge fan of the pitcher hitting. There is nothing better than watching Oliver Perez swing the bat!

-jorgesaysno

Anonymous said...

Carpenter is a bad example, because (as was pointed out above) he's injury prone anyway. But I still disagree with the main point. Carpenter was hurt PLAYING THE GAME. I don't want to get all nostalgic here but how many pitchers managed to survive their 90 or so plate appearances a year without incident over the first 100 years of baseball history? I hate to say it but if it was good enough for Sandy and Walter and Cy and Nolan, why not for Chien-Ming and Andy and the like?

I do understand the greater financial investment in pitchers and the risk of injury they face before entering the batter's box. Wang's injury last year seemed senseless because if that had been in an AL park he'd never have been hurt. But if you want to protect the pitchers from injuries like that, the right thing to do is eliminate inter-league play. Yeah, it's been here for over a decade now and it's probably not going anywhere (like the AL's DH). But it's unbalancing league schedules and hurting some teams' playoff hopes. It led to Wang's injury last year. And when is a Royals-Pirates game interesting (besides 1978 perhaps)? Because for every Subway Series that energizes a fan base, there's three or four of those snoozer series. I have sympathy for an AL pitcher that is injured at bat or on the basepaths, but not so much for an NL pitcher whose job has been to hit for 140 years.

I have no problem with the AL having the DH and the NL not. It distinguishes the leagues. Over the last 20 years, the AL does have a 12-7 advantage in the World Series (two in 7 games that could've gone either way) but the two financial giants, the Yanks and Sox, have won 6 of those and the Jays were third and first in payroll in their title years. I submit that the AL has long had a big advantage in money and that has led to the advantage moreso than the DH.

I say help pitchers by eliminating interleague play and raising the height of the pitcher's mound (and calling a strike a strike!). I await being picked apart.

--C

Chris said...

No DH

8-man batting orders

Anonymous said...

now I dont have the exact stats, but I know the Cubs #9 spot in the batting order in 2008 did better than 75% of AL #9 hitters...and by did better: hits, runs, rbi etc

Anonymous said...

I like Chris's idea. 8 man orders, then Rob Neyer would still be satisfied since the leagues could be different

Daniel said...

I really like the differences between the leagues. I enjoy watching pitchers go up to the plate and I love it when they get a hit, I feel so good for them.

I don't like coddling pitchers and I don't like old men who can't do anything but hit on the bench. I like the athleticism demanded of pitchers and players. If you take the field, you should damn well take up a bat.

Quite frankly, claiming that we're blatantly wrong for liking to see NL pitchers hit is a strange statement. I don't see how you can claim that I don't really like to see it when I clearly do. I don't see how you can claim that it doesn't force more strategy when it clearly does. The NL has to play under tighter constraints (bad hitters in the lineup), so they have to improvise and strategize more.

So Carpenter went and hurt himself swinging a bat. Do you think that if he was in that fragile a condition he wouldn't have hurt himself throwing a ball? Clearly some of the same muscles are being used if it hurts him when he throws a ball. It's not a foolproof statement, but the guy just isn't in full-healthy mode.

What's to stop the replacement of all the players with hitters? Catchers take a lot of strain behind the plate and make millions. Should we not risk them by forcing them to pick up a stick? We could go all day with this argument with every position. No, the pitcher should hit like every other player on the field.

I'll end my comment with this: knowing that there's a fat, unathletic ballplayer like David Ortiz just biding his time on the bench waiting for his mandated chances to hit nauseates me. Sure, there are poor defensive players on NL rosters on the bench, but putting one in to pinch hit carries that risk of having him out on the field.

Anonymous said...

The addition of the DH in 1972 wasn't some grand idea of owners to improve the game, it was a crass money grab by a group distressed by falling attendance.

My opposition to adding the DH to the NL isn't because I really enjoy seeing pitchers hit. It's because the game needs balance. If you want to hit, play the field, if you want to play the field take your turn at bat. That's baseball.

The DH is an artificial construct. It was a big government type program to try and fix a temporary problem (low attendance) with a permanent solution. It's stuck around long enough that now people actually buy into it's neccessity.

There is no grand need for the NL to add the DH. Attendance at NL stadia was actually higher per game than in AL locales last year.

There is certainly no need for increased run scoring.

And pitchers don't need to be coddled any more. The way starters are used, they don't bat more than once a game anyway.

And lastly, pitchers like micah owings and carlos zambrano and adam wainwright that can actually swing a bat deserve to have that advantage. They are better baseball players than pitchers that can't hit at all.

Jason Marquis' Rockies beat Rich Harden's Cubs yesterday in no small part because Marquis drove in two runs with a basehit, while Harden might not get 2 RBIs in his career.

It's a shame Carpenter got hurt. It's a shame Wang got hurt. But it's part of the game, and it should be. They are baseball players, they should have to play baseball, not just one half of the game.

Alex K said...

You made the big time on this one Jason. Congrats.

I do like having the pitchers hit in the NL. I have no good reason for it, I just do.

JoeOrange31 said...

For all you pitcher hitting enthusiasts, are you for real? Every single league in America uses the DH, from Tee ball to the Junior Circuit. To say that the leagues should be different is being oppositional for no reason. Why? Different bats? Different Gloves? Different Balls? Different Parks? Is the skill set needed to play AL ball different from the skill set playing NL ball? The Naysayers didn't want the Wildcard or Interleague play either, and look at how well THEY have done?
Can you imagine it if the AFC your punter had to be your kicker as well? Or if your center had to be your long snapper? What if in the Western Conference you had to limit your bench to fifteen minutes a game? The time has come to unify the rules. Selig is talking about expanding to foriegn countries...how can he do that when he can't unite one country (well, two) under the same rules?
C'mon....say yes, NL Fans. Well let you have first crack at Prince Fielder. :)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out that if there were a DH in 1918, Babe Ruth would probably never been traded to the Yankees.

JoeOrange31 said...

To anonymous: The Red Sox were making bad decisions as far back as 1918. It wasn't about skill...it was about dough. The owner of the Red Sox wanted money for an ill fated run on broadway.

Anonymous said...

As a guy who grew up on the NL and now in Seattle territory (great park, fun town), I still find the DH game a little boring. When your team is down, not hitting, losing, NOTHING HAPPENS. They just keep running those same 9 guys out there till they run out of outs. The bench depth isn't very good (they never play anyway). Why didn't they just bat 8 players?

Though pitchers batting isn't a thrill, it's how the game changes and the late-game shake-up of the batting order that often creates rallies, excitement and drama. My wish is that they would modify the DH so that he was entitled to bat the first 3 times around the order, at which point either the pitcher bats (unlikely, unless he's going all 9 innings), or the DH takes the field, and the late inning strategies and batting order shake-ups come into play. This makes bench depth important (and gets these guys in the game), and you don't have the monotony of just running your starting nine out there until you run out of outs. Call it the modified-DH. Everybody gets what they want, for AL fans, pitchers would hardly ever hit, for NL fans, you maintain the strategy. Surely though, any pro athlete should be capable of both hitting AND fielding, and I've never seen why starting pitchers at least, don't take hitting as seriously as any player, they do it every 5 days, more often than bench players. Braves pitchers always hit well. I think the minors are to blame. As kids, pitchers are the best athletes and often great hitters. They get DH'd for all the way up to the majors, at which point they have to face the best pitching in the world........

Modify the DH.....