The game has evolved. Maybe it’s time for DH haters to evolve too.
By Kyle Magin
National League loyalists fetishize pitchers hitting.
Their backwards-ass rule requiring pitchers to hit instead of allowing a stronger, professional designated hitter to step into the box is worn like a badge of honor with the NL set.
They will tell you their league never evolved because it’s like an alligator or great white shark or something—nature got it right in ancient times and is sticking to the plan. They will tell you it’s fun to see semi-pro sluggers connect at a rate and with the same pop that would get nearly anyone else sent to the minors (that’s the best argument), or worse, that the act of toting a bat actually improves their performance on the rubber.
The numbers refute these claims in nearly every way. NL partisans sell you this sophistry, devoid of facts, because they have no facts and having your pitcher deflate the game in the nine hole is connected to some sepia-stained nostalgia.
This is the way your great-grandfather played the game when players popped amphetamines in a segregated league and took money from bookies to throw World Series games. Let’s not forget that Crash Davis was a lifelong minor leaguer when he asserted his hatred for the DH.
Let’s look at the average OPS of the NL’s top 30 pitchers in terms of at-bats in this, the year of Our Lord 2015: .298. League average for all players is slightly above .710.
In MLB’s second lightest-hitting position, second base, there’s exactly one player who’s gotten even half a season of at-bats with a lower OPS, the Cincinnati Reds’ backup 2B/infielder Kristopher Negron. He’s presently plying his trade in AAA ball because a sub-.500 OPS is objectively terrible.
“Hold it,” you might say, “it’s unfair to compare pitchers to position players because pitchers take little, if any batting practice in the preseason and almost none or none in the regular season.”
Thank you for making the case against pitchers hitting for me, disembodied devil’s advocate.
This season I’m paying an average MLB ticket price of $29 and a discounted rate for MLB.tv of $120. Cable packages including more than weekend MLB games will run you anywhere from $30-$115 or more monthly. Asking fans to spend this sort of jack to see 1/9th of the lineup fail at an absurdly above-average rate is ghastly.
Any attempt to claim that pitchers actually improve at pitching when they “hit” is a dubious. Batters actually hit 7 percentage points better against NL pitchers than they do against AL pitchers. There’s no sound statistic backing the claim that a pitcher improves at his primary craft by attempting some tertiary one.
Finally, you’ll find pitcher-hitting backers bragging about the NL’s supposed strategic superiority because managers must master double-switches and agonize over pulling a hot pitcher in the late innings for a pinch hitter. This is maybe the most asinine argument of all because it advocates the merits of a strategy entirely based on an artificial construct.
Bashing an AL manager for not getting it would be like teasing a visitor to your home for his inability to work your kitchen faucet, which spits out boiling hot water when you turn it to ‘C.’ Fix the defect and your experience in working around it becomes utterly useless.
Since pitcher-hitting fans tend to argue aesthetic and subjective points—again, they don’t have a statistical leg to stand on—let’s walk down that road shortly. I think Max Scherzer was entirely correct in his original read on pitchers hitting, namely that nobody wants to pay to see it.
I certainly would rather see David Ortiz or Victor Martinez—players schooled in the art of hitting, players who can work a pitcher to the benefit of their team and occasionally mash big ol’ taters—grind on a pitcher for a handful of at-bats nightly rather than some defective Frankenstein’s monster of a pitcher and his pine-riding pinch hitting posse in the nine-hole.
It gives me, and I suspect most AL fans and casual baseball fans, no great joy to watch a manager execute a double-switch to allow a terrible hitter to avoid an at-bat for an inning or two. It’s like watching paint dry without the pleasant accompanying fume-high.
The DH has improved baseball immensely. It’s time for the troglodytes to catch up.