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March 7, 2012

Prospectus Hit and Run

Inspecting the Spectrum, Part IV: The Designated Hitter Question

by Jay Jaffe

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I'm not known around the Internet as the world's biggest A.J. Burnett fan. During last Wednesday's BP roundtable, I even dusted off an old Simpson's riff: "I'm a well-wisher in that I wish him no specific harm." Now, to set the record straight, any voodoo dolls I may have referenced over the past decade or so for any player exist only in my breathlessly hyperbolic narratives, and I would never actually wish injury on a ballplayer, particularly not such an injury as befell Burnett later that day. The recent trade that sent the enigmatic righty from the Yankees to the Pirates mandates that he practice his hitting and bunting, and unfortunately, a less-than-stellar bit of work on the latter sent a ball into his own face, fracturing his right orbital and necessitating surgery. Fortunately, it does not sound as though he suffered a detached retina, which could have threatened his career.

Even limiting myself to Yankees past and present, it's not hard to come up with a short list of pitchers injured in the line of carrying out offensive responsibilities for which they were increasingly ill-suited. Last year, Dustin Moseley, then in the midst of a career resurgence with the Padres, dislocated his non-throwing shoulder twice while swinging a bat and was forced to undergo season-ending surgery in August to repair tears in his labrum and shoulder capsule. Randy Johnson strained his shoulder swinging a bat for the Giants in 2009, missed two-and-a-half months, and never started another game. Chien-Ming Wang's downward spiral began with a torn tendon in his foot suffered while running the bases in 2008. Bartolo Colon hurt his lower back hacking away in 2008, one more injury during a stretch of them that put his career on the ropes.

Moving past the pinstripes of yore, the Palooka Formerly Known as Fausto Carmona strained his quad while running the bases last year and needed a DL stint. Boston's Clay Buchholz lost more than three weeks to a hamstring strain suffered running during his first major-league plate appearance in 2010. Teammate Josh Beckett hurt his back in batting practice that year as well, and made just one start in a two-and-a-half month span. The Blue Jays' Scott Downs injured a ligament in his toe coming out of the batter's box in 2009, and soon needed ligament replacement surgery. Jake Peavy injured his ankle rounding the bases in May 2009 and hasn't pitched a full season since. Perhaps tiptoeing past direct causality, Mark Prior violently collided with Marcus Giles while running the bases in 2003 and landed on his throwing shoulder. While he remained in the game, he missed his next four starts while on the DL with a sore shoulder, and some have attributed the injury to the beginning of Prior’s own descent into arm woes.

While these anecdotal points don't themselves constitute an epidemic of injuries, it's fair to ask again, "Why are we still letting pitchers hit?" The designated hitter rule has been on the books in the American League since 1973, has been used in the World Series since 1976 (in even-numbered years through 1984, and all games in AL parks since 1986), and in AL parks during regular-season interleague play since 1997. Baseball hasn't become less popular during that timeframe, and the world hasn't stopped spinning on its axis. Meanwhile, pitchers have only gotten worse as hitters. In 1954, the rolling five-year True Average for pitchers was .176. In 1972, the last year before the DH went into effect, it was .153. Last year it was .145, just up from its all-time low of .143, via a .141/.175/.183 line. Less of this, please.

Some may feel that the designated hitter has eliminated a certain class of strategic options in such games, but how much affection should we have for sacrifice bunts and the underperformance of pinch-hitters (rolling five-year TAvs ranging between .231-.240 since 1988)? How are those near-automatic outs worth exposing pitchers to additional risks for which they're increasingly ill-suited? The mound is dangerous enough as it is when it comes to throwing and fielding, and losing talented pitchers to preventable injuries elsewhere on the diamond is a particularly awful way to go. Furthermore, teams and managers could arguably gain more out of their pitchers if their removal weren't so circumscribed by the rhythm of the batting order. Perhaps the uniformity of the DH would help roll back the tide of La Russaism to reduce the size of pitching staffs, avoiding the tedious burning of extra pinch-hitters and lefty specialists.

As a lifelong NL-first fan, I'll admit that arguing on behalf of the designated hitter's adoption across both leagues wasn't something I planned on doing when I set out along my journey across the defensive spectrum, but it does provide a conveniently topical opener as we peer into an enduring mystery. Recall that the spectrum (first defined by Bill James) runs DH-1B-LF-RF-3B-CF-2B-SS-C, with the positions to the left, which require the least defensive responsibility, open to the widest pool of hitters and therefore likely to be the most productive. Yet when we examine annual True Averages by position, we find that designated hitters—who have absolutely no defensive responsibility—haven't been living up to their end of the bargain. Here's a rerun of the graph showing the annual TAvs by position:

Here's a closer look at the left portion of the spectrum using five-year rolling TAvs:

As noted in the opening article to this series, designated hitters have consistently underperformed relative to their far left position on the spectrum. They've never—not once in 39 seasons—actually ranked as the most productive position according to True Average, and have ranked second only five times in that span. Only in 1983, when they had an edge of less than one-tenth of a point (.27556 to .27547), did they actually overtake first base; both took a back seat to left fielders (.2766) that season. A great deal of the time, DHs haven't even been able to outhit corner outfielders or first basemen; their average annual ranking since the advent of the rule is 4.15, and they've ranked fourth seven times in the past 11 years. To be fair, they've also ranked second three times in that span, in 2006, 2007, and 2009, and last year ranked third at .276.

Looking back at either of the above graphs, that recent performance—which includes seven straight third-place rankings from 1994-2000—is actually significantly better than the first two decades or so of the position's existence. From 1973 through 1993, DHs hit for a .267 True Average, and held an average 4.95 ranking, finishing sixth nine times in 21 years, and seventh once (1977)—behind catchers, even, and ahead of only middle infielders—while ranking second only twice. They never actually fell below the league average of .260, because back in the shag-carpeted ‘70s, the gap between shortstops and the rest of the pack was so huge. However, even during the mass-market era of James' annual Baseball Abstracts (1982-1988) when the concept of the defensive spectrum was first widely propagated, teams struggled to find bats effective enough to fill the position. Perhaps their shortfall in a measure (True Average, née Equivalent Average) that was still more than a decade away from being invented is excusable. Hell, James himself didn't pontificate about the importance of on-base percentage nearly as much as his latter-day sabermetric followers have given him credit for.

A quick scan of the most popular DHs from 1973-1993 shows a tolerance for true mediocrity. Of the 100 with the most games at the position, 23 had OPSes of 700 or lower, and 40 were at 722—the AL's average OPS over that span—or lower. Forty-three of them had OBPs of .328 (AL's long-term average over that span) or below, including many an aging star: Tony Oliva (.328), Hank Aaron (.327), Willie Horton (.321), Tommy Davis (.321), Harmon Killebrew (.313), Ted Simmons (.311), Dave Parker (.306), Cecil Cooper (.298), Carlton Fisk (.291). Thirty-six had slugging percentages of .394 (again, the AL's long-term average) or below, including Simmons (.392), Al Kaline (.390), Fisk (.387), Oliva (.386), Ken Singleton (.385), Aaron (.367), Davis (.365), Killebrew (.355), Alex Johnson (.353). Reggie Jackson hit just .227/.332/.407 in 2,563 career PA as a DH, while Carl Yastrzemski hit .264/.350/.411 in 1,712 PA; neither would have gotten a bronze plaque in Cooperstown for that kind of work.

Since 1993, DH performance has actually been on the uptick, a counterintuitive finding given that the majors have expanded twice during that span—if not creating more AL teams (there have been 14 since 1977, with the Rays replacing the Brewers in 1998), then creating more major-league jobs where mashers who might be less competent fielders might take refuge. Then again, the player pool has expanded, with more Latin American and Asian players in recent years (Hideki Matsui says "Konnichiwa"). After hitting for that .267 TAv from 1973-1993, DHs have hit at a .274 clip since.

If we instead move the cutoff to a more logical point—before and after the advent of interleague play in 1997—the difference narrows by about two points (one of which is lost in the rounding), to .268-.274. Last year it was .276, the position's highest mark since 2007. That was up from .268 the year before, the lowest mark since 1993, when it was .264, creating a perception that I believe carried over into last year despite the significant improvement. Adam Dunn alone (.176/.305/.314 as a DH) was a walking confirmation bias of the position's perceived decline—walking back to the dugout after striking out again.

The split between pre-interleague and interleague eras is restored to seven points (.268-.275) if you exclude NL DHs, who have hit for just a .258 TAv—slightly below what a league-average hitter would do—since interleague began, albeit in a sample size that's 5.7 percent the size of their AL counterparts. Note how closely the MLB combined line hews to the AL line, and how the extreme spikes on the NL side only cause a maximum of three points' deviation in either direction:

The gap between AL and NL DH performance raises the question of whether the junior circuit's advantage comes from generally having a roster spot dedicated to the position, while the senior circuit scrambles for the next available bench guy to fill the role, or if there's something else at work. Here's how the two leagues' batters have performed when not DHing or pinch-hitting (which I've excluded from the sample because of their notoriously mediocre performances) in the same season:

Surprisingly, it's the NL with the stronger caliber of hitters, something that's been the case in all but the first two years of interleague play; over the course of the 1997-2011 span, the margin is a sizable seven points, .281-.274. So the AL DHs hit one point higher in their DH role than in non-DH, non-PH roles, but the NL hitters fell off by a whopping 23 points. What this suggests is that rather than promoting a bench player to the role—after all, there aren't a lot of .280ish TAv hitters riding pine—teams tend to move some of their most productive players to the DH spot for interleague play, either for a general breather or as a means of staying in the lineup when at less than 100 percent. Some combination of minor injury and the pinch-hit disadvantage might explain why those NL hitters still struggle so. It's also worth noting that an hitter may be taking those good hitters' spots in the field, somewhat balancing things out somewhat, but I didn't attempt to confirm that theory.

One of the oft-repeated theories about the offensive shortcomings of DHs as a class—and I'm sure I've been guilty of this somewhere—is the perceived decline in the number of full-time or near-full-time DHs, the David Ortizes and the Travis Hafners. At the 500-plate appearance level, there's a wee bit of truth to that, but we're dealing with a fairly small number of players. At the 300- or 400-PA level, it just ain't so:

The number of DHs at the 300- or 400-PA levels has actually been trending upward since 2004. Which isn't to say that their performance has:

Here we have a bit more of a clue as to what's been going on in recent years: The performances of the most-used DHs have been declining, and in a small population of players, that makes a difference. Note that the 2005 spike of the 500-PA DHs is the composite performance of Ortiz and Hafner—and nobody else, so of course it's a long way down from those heights, which were actually a bit lower than the two sluggers' 2006 marks (.338 for Ortiz, .349 for Hafner). Note that at whatever cutoff point we draw for regulars, their performances exceed those of the DH population as a whole by at least 20 points from 1999-2007, but that they've converged much closer since—not coincidentally, since Ortiz and Hafner themselves have aged and become vulnerable to injuries. The former fell from .343 in 2007 to .293 in 2008 and then to .273 in 2009, his low as a Red Sock. The latter fell from .349 in 2006 to .293 in 2007, and then was limited to 233 PA and a .229 TAv by shoulder woes in 2008. In the three years since, he has exceeded 400 PA just once, though his TAvs have rebounded into the .290-.305 range. As a matter of fact, the DH population is an aging one:

Again note the lack of an impact on the overall average by the NL DHs. Furthermore, note that while the average age of all hitters (weighted by plate appearances) has been relatively stable, it's been trending slightly downward for the past seven years while the average DH age has been increasing, to the point where the gap between the two groups has nearly tripled, from 1.3 years in 2005 to 3.8 years in 2011, with the five-year rolling averages increasing from just under two years to over three. Last year, the average DH age reached 32.5, its highest since it was 32.6 in 1998. With the likes of Matsui (462 PA as a DH in his age-36 season), Johnny Damon (596 in his age-37 season), Vladimir Guerrero (582 in his age-36 season) all currently jobless, and with few DH spots apparently vacant, it could be that we're in for a correction this year.

It could also be that we're approaching a tipping point. The 2013 realignment will send the Astros to the AL and necessitate at least one interleague series at any point on the schedule due to the odd number of teams in each league. MLB hasn't finalized the actual number of interleague games for each team; at one point it was rumored to be 30, and it may yet be, though current signs point to 15-18 as in recent years. Familiarity may breed contempt, but the prolonged exposure to the DH in place of lame pitcher swings (and lame pitchers) may push the conversation toward adoption of the rule in the NL. It's logical step given the other wide-reaching, tradition-challenging changes of the Selig era such as the wild card and interleague itself, and you can bet that the Players Association wouldn't object to the possibility of another 15 jobs at above-average salaries. A.J. Burnett might not object, either, and after poring over the data for the past couple of weeks, neither would I.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

43 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


Pitchers hitting 9th adds a whole other strategic level to the game and makes the coach and bench players way more important, something the Players association would also like.

It would also reduce the number of long and boring mid-inning pitcher replacments, as most will be replaced via pinch hitter.

Mar 07, 2012 00:38 AM
rating: 2

I'm not convinced the players association is four-square behind coaches, since they aren't members, and your second statement,which I'm assuming is a recommendation for pitchers hitting, simply doesn't make sense.

Mar 07, 2012 05:09 AM
rating: 0

I had long been a warrior for the "death to the DH camp" but this article makes a ton of sense. Also as a Cubs fan your mention of the Giles-Prior collision is giving me very bad 2003 flashbacks.

Mar 07, 2012 04:53 AM
rating: 0

Hey, I've got this great idea. If we're going to adopt the DH in the NL to shield these poor pitchers from injury in bunting practice, why stop there? Pitchers also face ruinous injury from batted balls, as Juan Nicasio and Chris Young and Bob Gibson and Herb Score and lots of others can tell you. So why not make those screens that they put up for guys throwing batting practice a regular part of the game? You can even put a strategic element into it by making the screens adjustable, so a pitcher and manager can decide which way they want the ball to carom off it.

While we're at it, outfielders get hurt a lot by running after fly balls, don't they? Who's looking out for their interests? So have a cadre of designated fly-ball-runner-downs to do the chasing for them. In fact, invite kids from the stands to do this job! And you can even pay them MLB minimum wage for the game they're out there, and require them to become union members. That'll make a lot of people happy, and it'll swell both the union coffers and the crowds, without doing anything so committal that it inconveniences owners. That's what's important, isn't it?

I mean, come on -- if you're going to trivialize the role of being an actual athlete when baseball is played, do it right!

Mar 07, 2012 05:56 AM
rating: 1

Well said, Bill.

I'll add that Jay says "Less of this, please", referring to poor pitchers-as-batters performance, but I ask: Why? How does it decrease the fun/enjoyment of a baseball game to watch someone be totally overmatched every ninth batter? It's a David-vs-Goliath story 4-5 times a game!

And what's more exciting than a pitcher actually hitting a homerun in that situation? The most memorable part of a Mets game I saw in their last year at Shea was Felix Hernandez cranking a grand slam off of Johan Santana. If it weren't for that, I would have remember absolutely nothing about that game.

Mar 07, 2012 06:21 AM
rating: 1

Thanks for ruining this Mets' fan's morning with that reminder. :-P

Speaking as a transplanted Mets fan in Massachusetts, I've often suggested to my Red Sox-loving friends and neighbors similarly that if we're going to designate a hitter for the pitcher, why not the other position players? I always think back to Rey Ordonez, who in a fielding-only position would have been a perennial All Star. The DH simply suggests that a one dimensional player like David Ortiz has more merit than Ordonez did, a stipulation I don't love.

Mar 07, 2012 08:32 AM
rating: -1

Okay, modify the DH rule to allow one position player or the pitcher to not hit.

Mar 07, 2012 13:49 PM
rating: 0

That's already the way the rule reads. Managers can DH for whichever of the nine fielders they want to.

Mar 07, 2012 15:24 PM
rating: 2

Excellent! Disaster averted. NL can join modern MLB society, and pitchers can still hit if they can convince their manager to DH for the shortstop.

Mar 07, 2012 17:41 PM
rating: 0

Well then, why stop at one? Surely if we want everyone to do what they're good at, we should create specialists. Baseball rosters can be like football.

Mar 08, 2012 13:52 PM
rating: 0

Plus, as NL-only fantasy players, we need the extra 2 K's a day our starting pitchers will pick up in the NL by facing those 9th place hitters! :-)

Mar 07, 2012 10:26 AM
rating: 0

I can't wait for the pitcher's at-bat to end, because either he flails embarrassingly, or he watches three strikes. It does reduce my enjoyment. As for pitchers homering, it feels like random bad luck for the opposing pitcher, rather than an accomplishment. Not unlike a missed extra point kick. It's so rare and fluky that it seems to weigh unfairly much on the outcome when it does happen.

Mar 07, 2012 19:08 PM
rating: 0

Oh, lest I forget, the pitcher might just be in a situation where he will automatically bunt, without exception. Strategy, not.

Mar 07, 2012 19:16 PM
rating: 2
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

While I can sort of appreciate the spirit of your modest proposal, it's pretty obvious how quickly those ideas fall apart - nobody is talking about building a new edifice on the field of play or allowing anybody who's not on a roster onto the field, nor should they. We're simply talking about extending a rule that's been in existence for four decades across 30 teams instead of 14 (or 15, as of 2013) teams.

The argument boils down to this: it's better to watch people do what they do best, than what they do worst, particularly when their ineptitude at the latter exposes them to injury - not just bunting but swinging and running the bases.

Mar 07, 2012 08:05 AM

"it's better to watch people do what they do best, than what they do worst"

Fans of "The Room" will disagree.

Mar 07, 2012 08:21 AM
rating: 4

If we are going to take it to extremes, why not talk about a DF - Designated Fielder. He's the slick fielding SS from San Pedro de Macoris who can't hit water if he fell out of a boat. He does what he does best, which is field, just as the pitcher does what he does best, which is pitch. The hitter does what he does best. Pretty soon you are like football, with 11 offensive players and 11 defensive players.

The beauty of baseball is everyone hits, fields, and throws. If you are weak at one of those, it will be exposed and teams will take advantage of it. And if you have a pitcher who is a good hitter (or good runner) that is a tactical advantage.

Mar 07, 2012 14:50 PM
rating: 2

Reluctantly I have slowly switched sides on the DH issue as
well. The real culprit for less strategic moves in late game situations for positional players is the advent of 12 man pitching staffs which took away 2 bench players per team. A standardized rule between the leagues makes a lot of sense for 2013, as you point out. I will miss the Micah Owings at bats but a DH in all MLB games is the way to go.

Mar 07, 2012 06:12 AM
rating: 2

Pitchers hitting is fun.

Mar 07, 2012 06:15 AM
rating: 2

Ooooohhh...Look at me double switching!

Ooooohhh...Look at me intentionally walking Jose Lind 19 times a season!

Ooooohhh...Look at me pulling my ace for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 6th inning!

I actually have no problem with pitchers continuing to hit in the NL, but to say it leads to superior (or even more interesting) strategic thinking or game play is silly.

Mar 07, 2012 06:53 AM
rating: 8

The biggest complaint about baseball is it's slow boring very little exciting things happen, removing the pitcher's automatic out every 3-4 innings would partially address that complaint.

Mar 07, 2012 06:57 AM
rating: 1

Really, in all honesty, I don't know how much I really care. But to those who hold that pitchers are ill-equipped to hit, or that no one wants to see a player do something he's not good at: what's the non-hypocritical argument against having designated fielders?

Wouldn't it be a higher quality product if the Tigers could have great fielders at first and third, while Prince and Cabrera (and, next year, Martinez) were only required to hit?

What's the difference?

That's a serious, not antagonistic/rhetorical, question.

Mar 07, 2012 07:18 AM
rating: 4
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

It's a fair question. Effectively you're suggesting that instead of one DH, teams have multiple ones, the logical extension of which is separate offensive and defensive units, like in football.

My response to that would be that fielding doesn't pose a tremendously inflated - and in my mind, unnecessary - risk to most hitters the way offensive responsibilities do to pitchers. Furthermore, the spread between a bad fielder (Cabrera at 3B) and a good one (Brandon Inge, to keep it with the Tigers) is still less than the spread between Rick Porcello (e.g.) as a hitter and Cabrera as a DH.

Furthermore, I think it might be tougher to find players willing to settle for designated fielding roles, but that's just a guess.

Mar 07, 2012 08:37 AM
Dave Pomerantz

"Furthermore, I think it might be tougher to find players willing to settle for designated fielding roles, but that's just a guess."

Not to be a dick, but... really? You don't think there's a TON of slick fielding minor leaguers who can't hit a curve, who would be chomping at the bit to get a shot in the majors? That seems not fully thought out.

Mar 07, 2012 14:59 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Not to be a dick, but nearly anytime one starts a statement with that phrase, they're pretty much issuing an ironclad guarantee of being a dick (this reply included). I suggest a different rhetorical strategy, particularly when replying to a comment that was clearly labeled as an off-the-cuff answer.

And no, I don't think there's a ton of such players who would settle for that. Some, sure, to get their foot in the door, but when they realize the extreme limitations of their value to the team - basically the acknowledgement that they're so bad at offense that they don't merit a shot - and its impact on their futures, well, that's gonna leave a mark. Because even if it were so, I can't imagine teams willing to pay very many of those players the going rate for minimum salary of a two-way player. And if you're willing to work for far less than that, you devalue your own services.

Mar 08, 2012 09:37 AM

In volleyball, there's a relatively new position called "Libero". This player cannot spike or block, and cannot set the ball within ten feet of the net. He's the designated digger/defensive player/serve returner. Having a great libero is essential to winning high-level VB.

(as a 5'7'' setter myself, libero will be my position when I slow down a touch)

Mar 08, 2012 15:02 PM
rating: 0
Shaun P.

I'll take a shot. The serious answer is logistics.

Your hypothetical of the Tigers having designated fielders in 2013 for Prince, Cabrera, and Victor Martinez would require the Tigers having 3 guys to man the field for those 3 at a given time.

Current MLB rosters are limited to 25 players. Teams typically carry 12 pitchers and 13 non-pitchers. Of the 13 non-pitchers, the Tigers would need, for a game using your hypothetical:

1 catcher
1 Prince Fielder
1 designated fielder (DF) for first base
1 second baseman
1 shortstop
1 Miguel Cabrera
1 DF for third base
1 right fielder
1 center fielder
1 Victor Martinez
1 DF for left field (could be right field instead; wouldn't be catcher as the Tigers would never take the bat out of Avila's hands)
1 designated hitter

That totals 12 guys, leaving a one man bench. Even if you allowed a non-fielder to take the field in place of an injured DF, or when a DF had to shift to another position to cover an injury, I can't see any team agreeing to the set up (except maybe the Rays with their many multi-positional wonders).

The solution would be to convince teams to go back to 10 man pitching staffs (will never happen) or to increase the 25-man roster to, say, a 28-man roster. I'm sure the MLBPA would love that, but I can't see the owners going for it, whatever improvements might result in the standings and on the field.

Mar 07, 2012 08:43 AM
rating: 1

I wasn't thinking of the question in terms of a statis in roster construction. Rather, as I thought about this last night my mind was wandering off to what Jay Jaffe mentioned: the gradual evolution to a football-like game, with separate offensive and defensive units. Clearly rosters would have to expand significantly, but that's a rather minor issue compared to a game-wide DH, especially when the union's theoretical desire for more paid positions is taken into account. You're right, though, the owners' stance is a clear stumbling block.

Mr. Jaffe, your argument about unnecessary risk is, to me, the most compelling one. Do you have any idea what percentage of injuries in the NL--or in all games without a DH--have occurred (a) to position players in the field vs. at-bat, and (b) to pitchers at-bat vs. pitching? That could be interesting to see.

Mar 07, 2012 09:15 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I can ask Corey Dawkins if he's got enough data on the topic to give us an answer, though I suspect that incomplete reporting makes it a more difficult issue on which we can gain a longer-term perspective.

Mar 07, 2012 09:47 AM
BP staff member Dan Turkenkopf
BP staff

This isn't something that's captured in our injury database, but Corey might be able to determine it from some of the primary sources.

Mar 07, 2012 10:15 AM

Anecdotally, I would say players get injured more often fielding than hitting. Why is 2B a short lived position? Who wins in the battle between the wall and an outfielder?

Mar 07, 2012 14:55 PM
rating: 0

I agree it's a reasonable question. For me the answer is that no one else on the roster is as all-out terrible at fielding or hitting as 95% of pitchers are at hitting. It's a matter of degree, and it's a big difference in my view.

Mar 07, 2012 19:23 PM
rating: 2

Really? They're considering a 72/60/30 schedule format? I thought they might minimize interleague in favor of intraleague what with 40% of the playoff spots now being determined by records within the leagues. That would mean a 60/90/12 format with exactly one interleague series being played at a time (just enough to fill the schedule). The 72/60/30 format does retain the 18 Red Sox/Yankee matchups a season (must have been added to the Constitution when we weren't looking), but it means that the Yankees would have as many games against the Mets as the Angels, and they won't be fighting the Mets for a playoff spot.

Mar 07, 2012 07:42 AM
rating: 0

If two teams are bidding for a 5 win player, and that player's worth is divided up as 4 wins from batting and 1 win from defense, then the team looking for the player to play defense will value the player more highly than the team that is looking for the player to DH. Given the scarcity of good players, perhaps it makes sense that the DH position is less productive than what might be expected since the good players are being asked to play defense and not DH.

The article stated "One of the oft-repeated theories about the offensive shortcomings of DHs as a class...is the perceived decline in the number of full-time or near-full-time DHs,... At the 300- or 400-PA level, it just ain't so."

I beg to differ with your conclusion. 400 plate appearances is just 2.46 plate appearances per game over a 162 game schedule. That's well short of the 3.1 plate appearances per game needed to qualify for the batting title. I'd hardly call that a full-time job, especially for a position that does not require the player to play defense.

It looks to me like what has happened over the past 15 years or so is that the DH position has not been considered as a position requiring a dedicated player. Rather, it is a position that is used give players a half-day off, to keep hitters in the lineup who's injuring keep them from playing defense, etc. In other words, the position is seen as an extra lineup spot provided for flexibility.

Mar 07, 2012 08:56 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

My point wasn't that 400 PA constituted a full-time job. I did throw the "near-full-time" qualifier in there, and was attempting to set off a 400 PA as a DH - with others as PH or position player - that would further raise the player's total number of PA. Hideki Matsui (462 PA as DH, 119 in the field), and Bobby Abreu (462 as DH, 115 elsewhere) are a couple of generalized examples of what I meant, though they clear the cutoffs by a wider margin than most.

Another way of looking at this is by calculating the average number of PA by those clearing the 300-PA bar. I can't drop a graph into the comments but you can see the data here:

1997 452.0
1998 476.3
1999 467.0
2000 462.7
2001 418.6
2002 462.2
2003 427.0
2004 464.0
2005 431.0
2006 463.8
2007 499.2
2008 418.9
2009 423.9
2010 445.9
2011 451.2

The average has risen over the past three years even as we've got an increasing number of players - double digits in each one, for the first time since 1998 - reaching the threshold. More of the playing time is in fewer hands (because it would be more dispersed among those not reaching the threshold) and performance is actually on the rise.

Mar 07, 2012 10:06 AM

Regarding the designated fielder idea, I disagree that you will find it tough to find players willing to settle for designated fielding roles. I would imagine that there are a lot of good-field-no-hit players that can't get MLB jobs today because they can't hit. A designated fielder position allows these player to play everyday in MLB whereas before they couldn't get out of the minor leagues or if they did make it to MLB, they're stuck riding pine until called in as a late inning defensive replacement. Also, since all they have to do is field, the pool of players expands. The good-field-no-hit players we talk about today actually have some hitting ability. I have to imagine that there are players out there that are even better fielders, but whose hitting ability is below the already low threshold set for good-field-no-hit players.

Mar 07, 2012 09:07 AM
rating: 2
Seth Cohen

Nice article. I would be interested to see how the evolution of the DH 'position' relates to how much teams spend on the position. I would think that a team that knows they aren't going to contend in the immediate future would choose not to overspend on a DH (or a big name closer). If this were true, then the lack of production from the position could be something akin to a selection bias.

Mar 07, 2012 09:54 AM
rating: 1

The fact that pitcher's hitting is such a mess seems like an opportunity as much as a problem.

I suspect if Billy Beane and Andrew Friedman were afforded the opportunity to play in a consistently DH-free environment (rather than a splash of inter-league games,) they'd find a way to gain an offensive or roster-flexibility edge in this out of the spotlight area.

It might be through acquisition (trade for an Owings / Big-Z type) or draft (the next Brooks Kieschnick) or player development (what if that next crossover type like Kenley Jansen or Casey Kelly or Rick Ankiel or Adam Loewen was cultivated as a stick/glove and an arm all the way up through the minors?)

It seems there might be some useful skill combinations out there (spot starter / backup catcher, LOOGY / skilled outfielder, long man that doesn't need to be hit for, pinch hitter who can stay in the game and pitch, etc.)

Mar 07, 2012 10:13 AM
rating: 1
Erik Visokey

Seriously? Are you saying that asking a professional athlete to run 90 feet is too much of a burden for him? Granted, some of these guys are not in great shape. I suggest they get in shape.

Mar 07, 2012 12:59 PM
rating: 5

If we want to find an ideal situation from the fan's standpoint (while disregarding Player's Association objections), why not throw the following into the mix for discussion purposes:
An 8 hitter lineup.
No pitcher hitting, no designated hitter.

Mar 07, 2012 13:33 PM
rating: 2

I like it.

Mar 07, 2012 15:47 PM
rating: 0

Crash Davis said it best: "I believe there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter."

Mar 07, 2012 13:48 PM
rating: 1

I still maintain the best thing about having the DH in one league only is that it keeps a distinction between the leagues. For the first 50-60 years of the AL, the two leagues kept apart and often played different styles. There weren't even all that many trades between the two. Through the '60s (undoubtedly started in the '50s), that distinction went away for a variety of reasons (TV comes to mind as a main one) and the DH helps bring that back.

That said, it was never enjoyable watching Mark Redman hit, especially the night I saw him fail utterly to bunt in *two* at-bats, breaking a finger on his glove hand along the way (a "feat" he managed at least twice in his career).

Mar 07, 2012 16:55 PM
rating: 3
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Fair points on both sides of the question, Llary. I had forgotten about Redman in the litany of pitcher offense-related injuries.

Mar 08, 2012 09:55 AM
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