Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Offensive Baseball

Back in April, Jayson Stark wrote about how the DH will eventually spread to the NL.  If it does, it won't be for some of the reasons he said.

"Now, though, let's look ahead. To late September, when the two teams traveling to National League cities in the last week of the season happen to be the Red Sox (to Denver) and Tigers (to Miami). Now let's say those are must-win games. And let's say people notice that Felix Doubront and Rick Porcello are heading for the plate instead of Big Papi and Victor Martinez. Anybody think this will suddenly seem like a much bigger deal? Yeah, thought so."

This is sort of falsely presented.  It's comparing the strength of a team with a DH vs. the strength of that team with no DH.  But it's not the Red Sox with Big Papi vs. the Red Sox with Doubront.  It's the Red Sox with no DH vs. the Rockies with no DH.  You can't complain that the Red Sox aren't using their nine best hitters, when the Rockies aren't using their nine best hitters either.  Besides, this is only looking at the scenario from one way.  What if the Rockies were traveling to Boston?  Are they supposed to get mad that their DH isn't as good as Ortiz?  No, because it comes with the territory.  The home team always has an advantage.  AL teams are at a disadvantage in NL stadiums and NL teams are at a disadvantage in AL stadiums.  But guess what?  That's the case all year; not just in September.  The Red Sox aren't at more of a disadvantage playing in Colorado in September than they would be in July.  You're either going to win those games or you won't.

Oh yeah, let's not pretend that Big Papi and Victor Martinez are prevented from playing.  If they're such a liability defensively that they can't be put into the lineup, how could fans be mad they're not playing?  If their managers thought they would help them win, they would play.  If they don't, that means the manager thinks they'll have a better shot winning without them.  It's as simple as that.

His next point:
"Or what happens if, say, the Mariners get rained out in the final game of their interleague series in St. Louis -- on Sept. 15? Do they have to fly back to St. Louis from Seattle, after a night game, on their only remaining off day (Sept. 26) to make that one up?"

What happens if Seattle's September 19th game against Detroit gets rained out?  Do they have to fly back to Detroit (a longer trip, by the way) from Seattle, after a night game, on their only remaining off day (Sept. 26) to make that one up?  As I see it, the potential problem Seattle faces with St. Louis is the same one it faces with Detroit.  Besides, if there is more potential scheduling conflicts than in years past, that comes from year-round interleague play, that's not a problem solved by having a DH; that would only solved by going back to having an even number of AL and NL teams.

What about the soaring cost of pitching?
This point was made by Brewers GM Doug Melvin: "'Now, when we're starting to pay pitchers $20 million a year, don't we have to start thinking more about whether we want pitchers hitting?'  He adds, 'When you think about the competitiveness of a Zack Greinke or a [Clayton] Kershaw when he's hitting, there's a danger of those guys overdoing it in any at-bat and getting hurt.'"

Pitchers getting injured from hitting?  How often does that even happen?  The injury concern you should have with pitchers should come from pitching; not hitting.  If the injury risk that comes from pitching isn't enough to prevent you from paying a pitcher $20 million, then the risk of injury from hitting shouldn't really bother you either.

"But any time the National League is ready for this, it won't have to worry about convincing these AL managers who find themselves already playing by NL rules -- in April."

Every AL manager should either be embarrassed by this or offended by it.  Do they really have that much trouble assembling a NL lineup?  Something they only have to do 20 times a year (while their NL counterparts do it 142 times a year)?  If so, they should be embarrassed.  On the other hand, if they don't think it's too hard, then they should be offended that Jayson Stark would suggest as much.

Now maybe Jayson wasn't referring to the day-to-day managing as much as he was referring to the challenges of roster construction, something he touched on:

"What's the toughest part of playing interleague games one series at a time from April to September? Putting a roster together that can function by the other league's rules. That's more challenging than ever, now that teams no longer have most of their interleague games scheduled in one block in June.  

'When I was with the Diamondbacks,' said Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, 'we signed Wily Mo Pena as a minor league free agent [in 2011], brought him to spring training as a non-roster player and then sent him to Triple-A, with the express idea that when we reached this nine-game window in June where we were playing in American League parks, he was going to play on our big league team and be our DH. He wound up coming up, hitting a couple of home runs, won us a game in Kansas City and then nine days later he was designated for assignment.'"

Stark mentions that a proposed solution could be expanding the roster to 26 players, for interleague games.  That sounds like a way better solution than expanding the DH, because that quote does more to point out the absurdity of the DH position than it does advocate for its expansion.  A player is not good enough to play in the major leagues, but is good enough to play DH?  What kind of position is that? 

I'm sorry, but none of these seem like sufficient reasons to have a universal DH.  It seems like people are just trying to come up with excuses to expand DH, because they want there to be a universal DH.  Which brings me to the final reason people like the DH: it creates more offense.  But how much offense does it really create?  Here's the average runs per game by AL and NL teams, over the past five years:

AL    4.45
NL    4.22

AL    4.46
NL    4.12

AL    4.45
NL    4.33

AL    4.82
NL    4.43

AL    4.78
NL    4.53

Five-year average
AL    4.59
NL    4.33

The difference is less than one run per game?  You're giving up the strategy of pinch-hitting and double switches for less than one run per game?  Personally, that seems dumb.  I'd rather watch a team have to use more strategy to get four runs per game than less strategy and get five runs per game.  But that's me.  If fans of AL teams like having a DH, good for them.  I'm perfectly ok with them doing whatever they want.  But as a fan of the NL, I don't want to see the DH expand.

While some people like the more offensive baseball that the DH provides, others just find it offensive.

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