Why The DH Isn’t Baseball

I have been a fan of the National League style of play for as long as I can remember.  At first, it may have been prompted solely by my choice in favorite team (I’ve been a Cubs fan since 1989, when I was 10 years old).  But, over the years, I have grown to appreciate the National League style as a style that incorporates more of what the game of baseball is supposed to be.  National League teams tend to be grittier, more willing to press and grind out runs by any means necessary.  Meanwhile, American League teams are more frequently the kinds of teams that are waiting for the 3-run HR trot.  There’s nothing necessarily right or wrong with either style of play – it’s a personal preference.  And, let’s not forget that there are exceptions to these rules of thumb – I love watching the Kansas City Royals, because they play much more like a National League team (Eric Hosmer‘s dash for the plate in Game 5 of the World Series will be forever etched in my memory).

That being said, I believe one of the contributing factors to the difference in styles is something that should never have taken place – the Designated Hitter.  When you look back at the history of it’s use, you’ll find that while it had been discussed for decades, it only gained real traction in the late 1960’s.  However, if you consider the kind of pitching that was going on in that era (Carl Yastrzemski won the AL batting title in ’68 with a .301 batting average), everyone was struggling at the plate.  This wasn’t just a “pitchers can’t hit” issue.  So, in an effort to increase offense around the league, the DH was put in place in 1973, on a trial basis.  And, baseball was forever changed.

Fast forward 40+ years to today (though, you really don’t have to go that far forward to find these results).  Now, we look at a guy coming up to the majors who has some power.  But, he’s not very good at fielding any position on the diamond (not even first base).  So, instead of treating him like a baseball player should be treated – instead of making him work to hone the craft of catching and throwing the ball the way he should – we say, “well, he’ll make a good DH in the American League one day.”  In other words, let’s not worry about getting a player to play all of the game, as long as he’s good at one part.  Instead of being interested in a 5-tool player, we’re now satisfied with a 1-tool player.  As a result, we have more and more Evan Gattis‘ – a guy who is a detriment to his team in the field, is sub-par at getting on base (.294 career OBP as I’m writing this), will strike out at a high rate, but can hit some home runs (averaging 23 per year).  Since he can’t do but one thing well . . . let’s make him a DH.

Fans of the DH will point to the likes of David Ortiz as their hero.  First of all, believe me when I say that Ortiz is the exception.  2015’s DH list is littered with guys like Gattis, Adam LaRoche, C.J. Cron, and Billy Butler.  But, secondly, let’s not ignore the fact that Ortiz isn’t just below-average in the field . . . he’s awful.  A total of just over 2,000 innings at first base (a National League equivalent of about a season and a half), and he has 22 errors to date.  Twenty-two!  At, by far, the easiest position on the field to defend.  Pedro Alvarez (a guy shifting from third base) was the only NL first-baseman to have more than 9 errors the entire 2015 season.  Oh, and guess where Pedro is this year . . . DH’ing for the Orioles.

In recent years, and particularly this past offseason, I was troubled by the increasing discussion of the “need” for the DH in the National League.  I would like to suggest that the only “need” regarding the DH in baseball . . . is the need to do away with it!  We’ve already seen how it creates one-dimensional players, rather than legitimate baseball players.  And, this has become problematic all the way down even into the college ranks, where the DH is now the norm – further escalating the issue of the 1-tool player.  But, I also would like to consider more carefully the arguments in favor of the DH, and why they don’t actually hold any water.

The DH Produces More Offense

On the surface, this sounds like a legitimate argument.  After all, we see plenty of pitchers batting below .100, and taking swings that look worse than my 7-year-old son’s.  But, when you look at offensive production across the league, you’ll find that just having a DH in the batting lineup, instead of the pitcher, doesn’t necessarily translate into that much more offense.  Over the last three seasons (ever since Houston moved to the American League, and there were an even number of teams between the two leagues), the AL has averaged 670 more runs per season than the NL.  That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?  But, when you break it down, between the teams, that translates to less than 45 more runs per team.  That’s 0.28 runs per game per team.  So, the average American League game is going to have barely more than half a run more than the average National League game.  I don’t think that extra half of a run per game is the kind of offensive explosion that will create more baseball fans (one of the reasons “more offense” is used as an argument in favor of the DH).

So, why isn’t the DH producing more significant offense?  Money.  Plain and simple.  Instead of paying 8 position players “starter” salaries, American League teams now have to essentially pay 9.  And, when a guy that only does one thing is getting $7-10 million per season, or more, the team is going to have to make sacrifices at other positions.  So, in many cases, you get a shortstop or a second baseman that’s above average defensively, but because he only hits about .240 (and offensive numbers drive the salary train), you can afford to have him in your infield and the power-hitting DH.

What proponents of the DH often do is compare the average DH to the average pitcher.  But, that’s an unfair comparison.  Yes, the DH is taking the pitcher’s spot in the lineup.  But, because of the way American League teams have to organize their budgets differently, I say the comparison needs to be between #9 hitters.  Generally speaking, the #9 hitter in your lineup is your lightest hitter.  In the National League, that’s almost always your pitcher.  If you look at this year’s stats so far – there are 5 American League teams (Astros, Angels, Indians, Twins and Rays) in the bottom 10 in batting average from the #9 spot in the lineup.  And, there are 3 National League teams (Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Cubs) that are in the top 10.  The American League has a .219 average from the #9 spot, while the National League is batting .187.  Last year wasn’t much different (.228 in the AL, .182 in the NL).

While the “more offense” argument sounds reasonable on the surface – the reality is that there is no lack of offense in the NL just because pitchers are batting.

The DH Protects High-Priced Pitchers From Injury

Again, on the surface, this sounds like a very rational argument in favor of the DH.  That is, until you get down to the nuts and bolts of it.  This argument received a lot of attention last year when Adam Wainwright suffered a torn achilles while running to first base.  The outcry was, “See?! If he hadn’t had to bat, this never would have been an issue.”  Even Wainwright himself chimed in with a similar sentiment.  Meanwhile, everyone seems to forget how injury prone Adam Wainwright has been in his career.  He missed the entire 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery – not related to batting.  In 2008, he missed more than 1/3 of the season due to a finger strain in his pitching hand – not related to batting.  So, of the potential 9 seasons Wainwright has had in his career as a starter, he has suffered significant injuries in 3 of them.  Who’s to say that the next time Wainwright had to cover first base on a ground ball, he wouldn’t have blown out his achilles anyway?

High-priced players are going to get hurt.  For the 2008 and 2012 seasons, David Ortiz was paid nearly $28 million – and he only played 109 and 90 games, respectively, due to injuries.  Injuries happen when you are playing a sport.  Pitchers get hurt throwing the ball (right, Shelby Miller?).  Pitchers get hurt covering first base (Garrett Richards, 2014).  Pitchers get hurt when the ball is hit hard back at them.  If we’re going to create new rules or positions just to keep pitchers from ever getting hurt, then we’re going to have to resort to letting pitching machines do all the pitching.  Adding the DH to the National League is not going to prevent a significant number of injuries to pitchers.

The Bottom Line

In the end, the DH is nothing more than a band-aid solution to a perceived problem with offense.  Instead of adding the DH to the National League, it should be eliminated from the American League.  No more 1-tool players.  Let’s get back to having baseball players playing baseball.

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A New Commissioner?

That’s right . . . baseball has finally named a new commissioner to follow in the footsteps of Bud Selig.  Someone who will step into the office at the end of the 2014 season, when Selig’s contract expires. Someone who will take on the task of keeping harmony between owners & players, fans & teams, media & … well, no one really gets along with the media.  And, you heard it here first … the new commissioner of baseball is:

ME!!

Okay, so maybe that’s just wishful thinking.  But, can you imagine being the one to sit at the head of MLB’s table?  To be the one who has that kind of power in this sport?  Kind of fun to daydream about. But, I wanted to do a little more than just muse about it.  I’d like to propose to you the top 5 things I would change about the game, if I really were the commissioner.  Five areas of the game that don’t make sense to me, and I would change almost immediately after taking office.  So, here they are, in order of what I believe to be the most important to the least.

1. The DH – I despise the DH.  First of all, I don’t think it enhances the game, as was originally intended.  In fact, I think it makes the game less interesting.  A large part of what makes baseball more interesting to watch than most will give it credit for, is the strategy: infield & outfield alignment, pitch choices, when to steal bases, hit & runs, etc. And, the DH takes away one of the more intriguing portions of strategy that every manager in the NL has to deal with – the double-switch.  It impacts a manager’s decision-making especially late in the game.  And, since I’ve always contended that ortizbaseball is a thinking-man’s game, taking one more strategic element out of the game is ridiculous.  Second, it has lost a lot of its luster over the last few years.  The average DH spot in the American League this year is batting all of .246.  That doesn’t really exude offensive prowess, which has always been the primary argument in favor of the DH.  Most team’s DH’s are barely more than an easy out – which is exactly what you would consider most pitchers batting in the NL.  Lastly, the DH creates an enormous amount of confusion and controversy when it comes to Hall of Fame voting.  Many of the voters won’t even consider a DH, no matter how good of a batter he was, because he rarely played in the field.  So, what’s going to happen with a guy like David Ortiz?  He could very well end up with 500 career home runs, yet has played in the field in less than 15% of his career games – primarily because he has been viewed as more of a liability in the field.  And, is it fair to consider Ortiz’ 500 home runs on the same level as others who achieved the same mark, and had to play the field day in and day out?  Players who suffered injuries on the field?  How can you possibly compare a guy who’s participation in the game was so singularly focused, to guys who played the whole game?  Let’s end the debate, by putting an end to the most meaningless position in the game.

2. Season Length – I have always been in support of the Wild Card teams in the playoffs.  I also appreciate the addition of a second Wild Card team, and the one-game Wild Card round of the playoffs.  I think it gives the division winners the appropriate advantage over the Wild Card teams.  All that being said, however, I do not enjoy the fact that the playoffs now consistently go into November.  Baseball is not a cold-weather sport.  Let football have November to itself.  In fact, let football have late October to itself.  162 games is such an arbitrary number, and it’s just too many, now that the playoff system in place is so much longer.  It’s absurd to have baseball games in Minnesota, Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, etc. when it’s 45 degrees outside with a wind chill of 30.  And that doesn’t just apply to the end of the season either – early April is no better.  My solution is a 140-game schedule.  No regular-season games would be played prior to April 15th or later than September 15th.  This accomplishes a number of things: a) Prevents the likelihood of having games “snowed out” in colder-weather cities; b) Makes August a much more meaningful month for baseball – a month which, by the way, isn’t meaningful in any other legit sport, giving baseball an entire extra month of interested viewers; c) Brings back a lost portion of baseball’s history – the double-header.  Each team would play 8-10 double-headers during the regular season, in order to allow them enough off/travel days in the 154-days from April 15-September 15;  d) The playoffs are finished right around the time the NFL is really getting rolling (week 6/7), thus preventing the loss of interest by some viewers.  Some will complain about how this will effect the record-books, or what this does to HOF voting once a player has played an entire career in 140-game seasons.  But, as much as I love the numbers of this game, isn’t it time we started doing what’s best for the sport, rather than holding on to the way things have “always been done”?

3. The All-Star Game – I’ve always said that the All-Star game impacting who has home-field advantage in the World Series is one of the dumbest decisions ever made by baseball.  Why should a bunch of players in July (most of whom won’t even sniff the playoffs, much less the World Series) have any impact on the championship of the sport?  This is especially bothersome to me in light of the 102875689_crop_650x440fact that everything else about the game screams exhibition – not meaningful game.  The fans vote on who gets to start the game – a notoriously biased group in favor of certain teams and players regardless of their worthiness.  And, every team has to be represented – regardless of whether or not anyone on the team even deserves to be called an “All-Star” (take a look at Miami and Kansas City’s rosters right now – it’s a stretch to name anyone on either team that deserves to be in the game this year).  So, my solution is an either/or situation:  a) Scrap the whole home-field in the World Series nonsense and go back to rotating home-field, and letting the All-Star game be the exhibition it’s set up to be; OR b) If the players and owners really like home-field being determined by the All-Star game, I’m a reasonable man.  As commissioner, I’m willing to allow that continue, but only if we take the exhibition side of the game out.  The vote will be determined in 3 parts – the fans, the coaches, and the baseball writers.  Each will be given equal say, which is much less biased, and more likely to actually get the best players in the game.  And, if a few teams aren’t represented – so be it.  If you want to see your team represented in the All-Star game, then call your team’s owner and tell him to start putting some talent on the field.

4. Playoff Format – this is a fairly minor change, but it’s one that has become more obviously needed to me over the last few years.  The 2-3-2 format of the LCS & World Series is not as advantageous to the team with home-field advantage as it should be.  I would much rather see MLB implement a 2-2-1-1-1 format, as the NBA has done for many of their playoff series.  If the first two games of the series are split, for example, the team without home-field advantage now gets to go home for 3 games, in the 2-3-2 format.  They could either win the series at home, or expect, at worst, to have to go back to the opponent’s home field, and be up 3-2.  Additionally, game 5 is frequently a pivotal game in a 7-game series.  It could be an elimination game, or it determines who breaks the 2-2 tie.  Why would we allow such an important game to be played on the home field of the team without home-field advantage?  Just think how different the ’06 or ’08 Series might have been, had the Tigers or Rays, respectively, had the chance to come home for game 5, instead of being forced to face elimination on the road.  Or, what might have changed had the Yankees been able to go home for game 5 in ’03 with the series tied 2-2, instead of playing that pivotal game on the road.  Let’s make home-field advantage mean something in the LCS and World Series.

5. Mascot Races – no more.  Milwaukee can keep theirs, because from what I understand, theirs was the original, and it’s been going on for more than 20 years.  But, no more Presidents Race (WSH),sausage-race or Pierogi Race (PIT), or Dot Race (TEX), or racing of Pepsi products (TB), or generic hot dog races (CLE & KC), or any other races of any kind!!!  Not only is it possibly the dumbest between-innings ritual I’ve ever seen, but I can promise you that at least 3/4 of the stadium isn’t paying any attention to it.  Let Milwaukee keep it as something unique to visiting their stadium.  It might be cheesy, but if that’s the one place you get to see it, then it might actually be fun to say you got to see the Sausage Race in Milwaukee.  But, when everyone else is coming up with their own lame version, it’s just becomes sad and pathetic.  So, enough is enough already.

What do you think?  Be sure to have your commissioner voice be heard, and vote in the poll below!

Hall of Fame Vote

I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but this is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the issue of steroids and the Hall of Fame.  It’s an entirely different perspective from anything I’ve ever heard – and I really appreciate the guy for writing it.  I think you will, too, when you read it.  Just follow the link below:

http://www.sbnation.com/longform/2013/1/10/3857198/barry-bonds-mlb-hall-of-fame-voting-steroids

I’d also be very interested to hear your thoughts after you read it.  Feel free to post your responses below.

Ring #2??

Prior to this season, who would have been considered the “great” coaches in baseball?  Many would point to LaRussa, Torre, and maybe Bobby Cox in recent years.  But, those guys are all gone.  So, who would be the guys you would consider great today?  I think Jim Leyland has to be on the list – considering what he accomplished in Pittsburgh, the title he won in Florida, and what he’s done in Detroit.  Mike Scioscia would likely be near the top, as he has had sustained success with the Angels, and a ring in ’02.  Now that the Indians have hired Terry Francona, he would likely be on the short list of great coaches, considering he was able to get 2 rings in Boston, but we’ll see how he does without one of the highest payrolls in baseball.  Then there’s guys like Showalter in Baltimore, Maddon in Tampa, Baker in Cincinnati, and Washington in Texas that have been close, and many recognize how good they are at what they do – in spite of the fact they don’t have a ring.

Here’s the thing – how long would it take for you to think about who the really good coaches are in baseball today before the name Bruce Bochy would come to mind?  Be honest.  How long?  Prior to this season, I probably would have had him somewhere in the middle of the pack.  I mean, a guy wins one World Series, and it could be because he was in the right place at the right time (a la Bob Brenly in 2001).  But, take a look at Bruce Bochy’s record.  Four division titles and a World Series appearance . . . with San Diego.  The Padres haven’t made the playoffs since Bochy left.  In 6 seasons with the Giants, Bochy has led them to four winning seasons, one championship already, and he’s well on his way to a second.

If Bochy wins ring #2, he will be in elite company.  Not only is it a fairly short list of managers to win multiple World Series titles, but he would join Francona as the only current managers on that list.  Perhaps it’s time we give Bruce Bochy the credit he deserves for being one of the best coaches in baseball.

Great Baseball Quotes

Ben: “You know what’s really great about baseball? … You can’t fake it. You know, anything else in life you don’t have to be great in – business, music, art – I mean you can get lucky. You can fool everyone for awhile, you know? It’s like – not – not baseball. You can either hit a curveball or you can’t. That’s the way it works…You can have a lucky day, sure, but you can’t have a lucky career. It’s a little like math. It’s orderly. Win or lose, it’s fair. It all adds up.” – from Fever Pitch

What a great quote from a great baseball movie.

For the Romantics

I suppose it’s appropriate that I should begin my baseball blog one day after one of the most exciting nights of baseball in history (September 28, 2011).  The unfortunate part about it all is . . . I missed it.  That’s right – I went to bed.  I saw Tampa Bay losing 7-0 in the 7th, along with Boston hanging onto a 3-2 lead.  I saw St. Louis winning by 7, and Atlanta holding a 3-2 lead late.  My thought process was – at worst Boston will have to play a play-in game on Thursday, if they blow their lead, and at best Atlanta holds onto their lead, and they have a play-in game for the NL Wild Card.

Imagine my shock when I woke up this morning.  The two teams that have played some of the worst baseball in the month of September proved why they don’t belong in the 2010 playoffs.  Just after Boston choked up another loss, the Rays walk off with a win in 12 innings, giving them the Wild Card.  And, Atlanta gives up the lead, the game, and their hopes of the playoffs, as St. Louis rolls into the postseason.  It’s amazing to think that Boston had the best record in the American League at the beginning of the month.  It’s hard to imagine that Atlanta had the second-best record in the NL at the beginning of September.  Two of the most historic collapses in baseball history . . . in the same season.

As a baseball fan, I love it!  I feel bad for Red Sox & Braves fans, but watching Longoria round the bases gives me chills!  This is what makes baseball so great.  As Brad Pitt’s character, Billy Beane, says, in the movie MoneyBall, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

And, that, my friends, is exactly what this blog is going to be all about.  This blog is for those who are truly in love with the game.  I won’t be writing about the disparity between the Yankees’ payroll and the Pirates’ – except on the rare occasion that it’s pertinent to an intriguing story.  I won’t be writing about the ridiculous things that come out of Ozzie Guillen’s mouth.  I really don’t even want to spend much time talking about rule changes, or additional playoff teams, or instant replay, etc.  I want to write about the plays, games, players, and teams that we love.  This is for the passionate baseball fan.  I hope not to disappoint . . . .