Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Great DH Debate

Last week two American League pitchers were injured while either swinging a bat or running the bases in National League parks. The Yankees' owner, Hank Steinbrenner, had this to say after his team lost its top pitcher due to an injury while running the base paths:
"It's time the National League joins the 21st century."
Hank wants the NL to switch to the AL-style DH rule so pitchers don't have to bat. Is he right?


Pauly said...

I got this from a site I like to read. I think it's the most compelling argument for not allowing pitchers to hit.

OPS by Position, NL 2008
C: .726
1B: .838
2B: .743
SS: .729
3B: .790
LF: .787
CF: .746
RF: .800
P: .367

Pitchers are just so much worse than everyone else, with only like 1 decent exception (Owings). I also think the "strategy" arguments are kind of bogus (as if it's a tough decision to decide to PH for a pitcher in the 7th with runners on the corners).

Chairman said...

Sure, pinch hitting and double switches aren't particularly novel or anything. But I think that it's not so much the in-game strategy that's interesting, but the strategy with which you build your roster that's interesting.

For the purists out there, one important thing is that having a DH lets you expand your pitching staff by one slot. I believe that every AL team has 12 pitchers, while most NL teams have to decide between 11 and 12 (no one uses only 10 pitchers anymore, I don't think, barring injury). Bigger bullpens means more pitching changes. So, AL games, despite not having the double switches and stuff, actually run longer than NL games by a couple minutes.

Additionally, by having a big guy who can only hit, you reduce the overall skill level of the players on rosters. You get more of the relatively boring, station to station baseball, with so-so defense.

But the biggest reason that the NL likes not having the DH is the impact on salaries. The DH is expensive. You add a big bopper on to the roster, and you're probably adding a salary that's on average $9 mil.

I don't know if we'll ever see the NL adopt it, really. And I think that I'm OK with that.

Greg said...

Paul, may I ask what site you got those OPS stats from? Also, just for fun, I'm curious what the DH OPS is in the AL...

Chairman, I hadn't thought of the DH adding so much $$$ to an AL team's payroll. However, now that I think of it, that does make sense: A DH typically costs quite a bit more than a journeyman middle reliever.

I haven't decided how to vote in the Web poll yet, mainly because my thinking has been changing on this subject this year. In the past I've preferred the NL rules but thought it was just fine for the AL to have a DH. If anything, I thought things were fine the way they were.

However, I would be curious to know how often pitchers get injured while playing offense. If the case could be made that pitchers are more likely to be injured while batting or running the bases than other position players, then that could factor into my thinking.

On the other hand, if you look at a guy like Greg Maddux, he won what, 15 games 16 years in a row? I think he's only been on the DL once (if at all), and he did that playing his entire career in the NL (and having to bat and run the bases).

My biggest curiosity, though, is the "headhunter" factor. Are AL pitchers more likely to throw at hitters, knowing that they themselves will never have to face a pitcher in return?

When Roger Clemens beaned Mike Piazza in 2000 (knocking him out cold), it was done in Yankee Stadium (an AL park). The Mets manager (Bobby Valentine) said afterward that Clemens wouldn't have done that in an NL park where he would have needed to bat later in the game. As it turned out, the Mets and Yankees met in the World Series later that season, but Clemens only started Game 2 (at home in their AL park where he wouldn't have to bat). It wasn't until the next season that the Yankees played at the Mets and Clemens pitched. I remember watching Clemens in that first at-bat. He was scared. (And he looked like a sissy striking out. You could tell the #1 thing on his mind was to not get hit by a pitch.)

But again, in looking at the data I might be surprised to learn that the NL has as many cases of pitchers throwing at batters as the AL does.

Pauly said...


You can find the OPS stats on Baseball Prospectus' stat page, under 'League Batting by Position'.

You have to calculate the OPS yourself, however. DH would be "AL 10" I guess.

Greg said...

Okay, thanks Paul. Although, I'm not sure if I'm reading the chart properly. If AL 10 is the DH, then what's NL 10? Also, what would AL 11 and AL 12 be?

Greg said...

Okay, I finally voted in the web poll. I went with the third option: Keep the AL and NL rules as they are. I think it's fun for the two leagues to be different. Also, regarding the AL pitchers getting injured while batting, well, there's no crying in baseball.