Sunday, May 21, 2006

Random Thought on the Designated Hitter

The interleague play this weekend always prompts a discussion of the designated hitter, given that many AL pitchers are forced to hit this weekend, and some DHs like David Ortiz of the Red Sox are forced to play the field. I am not a fan of the DH, but not primarily because it means the pitcher does not hit, and the double switch no longer becomes relevant. Bill James has argued that the DH might actually increase strategy by giving the manager more pinch-hitting options late in the game, and that the decision to pinch hit for the pitcher is usually obvious in most cases, as is the double-switch (unless, of course, you are Frank Robinson).

My main problem with the DH is the aspect related to guys like David Ortiz, which I like to call the "Greg Luzinski Dilemma." To me, it is a much more interesting strategic dilemma for a manager to be forced to play every guy he'd like to hit, and how he must "hide" good hitters with bricks for gloves in places like LF or 1B. I don't like it when this worry is lifted by the DH, which lets the manager send a guy like Ortiz up there 4 times a game without any cost. (The Post did an interesting story on how much time Ortiz actually spends on the bench in a typical AL game).

So that led me to this thought. What if the "DH" rule wasn't that you get to substitute a hitter for the pitcher, but that the pitcher simply did not hit, and you only had 8 batters in the lineup? In other words, you can't hid a bad fielder anymore -- if David Ortiz wants to hit, he must play somewhere in the field. But you would still have no "bad spots" in the lineup.

I don't think there is any magic to the lineup having 9 hitters. Having 8 would only give more plate appearances to everyone in the lineup. IIRC, the average game has about 42 plate appearances, meaning about 4.67 PAs per lineup spot. With an 8-man lineup, each guy would get, on average, 5.25 PAs. In other words, rather than giving the pitcher's plate appearances to one guy like Ortiz, you would spread them out over the 8 players, which seems, for some reason, more equitable to me.

What would be the effect of such a change? I'm not sure. Obviously, the counting stat records like hits or HRs in a season would be affected, as batters would get around 80 or so more plate appearances per season. I have not read of anyone discussing this option -- I wonder if it was considered back in 1972? I imagine that it would have been rejected because the primary point of the DH was to add offense, and this approach would not necessarily do that, because you could not add a good bat to the lineup. On the other hand, it would give some of your other hitters more at bats, so the effect is not that drastic. Perhaps it would reward teams with deeper lineups, and hurt those who need that extra bat.

Anyway, I had never thought of this before, and wonder if it has ever been discussed. If you know of any information on this approach, please let me know. And if I am missing something here, let me know that too.


At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe the idea of 8-man lineups is discussed in "The Diamond Appraised" by Craig Wright and Tom House. Wright was the first sabermetrician to be hired as such by a major league team (Texas Rangers) and House was the Rangers' pitching coach under Bobby Valentine at the time. Either way it is a very good book. Among the other topics it gets into is one of the first discussions of the issue of the possible effect of heavy workloads on young pitchers.

Simon Oliver Lockwood

At 9:53 AM, Blogger Carl said...

Interesting idea. But my opposition to the DH has always been based on the purist's notion that baseball is a multi-skill sport. If you want to hit, you HAVE to play in the field, and vice versa. So an 8-man lineup wouldn't make me any happier.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger El Gran Color Naranja said...

I don't know how relevant it actually is but the general impression I get is that the DH exists to extend the careers of veteran players.

The union is all about $$$ and stars. The DH extends a star's career, and it allows players who can just hit to have a regular spot on the team. They make more than guys who can just field driving up the salaries for all players. 8-man lineups wouldn't really do anything to make up for these things.

At 6:19 PM, Blogger DM said...

That is probably the most relevant point, and one I forgot to address in my post -- it is clear now that the MLBPA will fight tooth and nail to keep the DH for that very reason.

But I was thinking more in a fairy tale, non-greed-laden world.

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Leonard Koppett's book "The Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball," he has a short chapter on the DH. He thinks the DH hasn't made all that much difference and at the end he suggests an 8-man batting order as a way to increase offense, if that's the goal. But he points out that it would give players more at-bats per game, which purists might have a problem with in terms of comparing players from different eras.


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