The Absurdity of Pitchers Hitting (Bring It On, Haters)
I have been mulling over my stance on the Designated Hitter for a while, and hashing it out on Twitter with other diehard types leads to some good discussion. I always stall on one thing that’s too long to describe in 140 characters: Pitchers hitting is completely absurd in comparison to other sports. It’s its success in spite of that absurdity that I think draws so many people to keeping the DH out of the National League. But the charming 13 out of 100 successes NL pitchers enjoy in order to maintain an OBP of .133 thus far in 2015 is not enough for me. American League DHs average a .332 OBP. That’s significantly better (I did the math in my head) and more fun to watch than mostly hoping for a stroke of luck.
So allow me to make a couple of comparisons to three other major sports – here’s how one would make Basketball, Hockey and Football just as “quirky” as National League Baseball. (Sorry soccer fans, I don’t follow the sport well enough to speak with any authority, though I acknowledge that it is, indeed, major).
Basketball: every ninth possession the tallest or bulkiest or least skilled man on the court has to shoot a three. Every ninth possession. And if you sub for him before that trip down the floor, he can’t play the rest of the game. Some big guys are not terrible shooters, and so maybe won’t embarrass themselves too badly out there. They may shoot 13%, though a few will likely shoot in the low single digits. And sometimes you would sub for your oaf in a very important situation late in the game and he’d be out. Certainly worth it down three in the last minute of the game.
And sure, every once in a while Dikembe Mutombo would have nailed a three and the First Union Center or whatever it was called in his Sixers days would have gone absolutely crazy. Or, and hear me out here, you could just do the sane thing and let Allen Iverson shoot. Maybe. Just don’t give it to Tyrone Hill. Dude had the offensive instincts of a down comforter.
Hockey: every nine shifts, a goalie has to play center, (though somehow he’s allowed to take the pads off). Sub for him on a big power play in the third period, and you have to use your backup in goal the rest of the game. Sometimes the goalie would do fine – they are all hockey players, after all – but there’s a fair chance some goalies would be dreadful all the time. “And now the puck comes behind the net, and Steve Mason fans on the pass like he does 87 percent of the time”, etc. Subbing in hockey is too fluid for this to be a good comp, but you get the point. And no, I wasn’t picking on Steve Mason’s stick handling.
Football has the best comp. Every nine plays you have to run the Wildcat with one of your starting backs or receivers. Sometimes it’s useful but not a tragedy if it fails, i.e. a run up the gut for a couple yards on second down and five is like a sacrifice bunt. Sometimes it’s really inconsequential, like a pitcher swinging away with no one on base, kind of like a Wildcat pass on first and ten. When it occasionally connects, it’s like a pitcher getting a hit. The same pass for a touchdown is like a home run. But sometimes that ninth play is fairly important, and the distance to go is long, and you have to pass. Something like a two-out AB for a pitcher in the fifth inning of a close game with two men on, would be like forcing a Wildcat QB to pass on 3rd and 8 in the two minute drill of the first half. And if you sub for the guy, he can’t play the rest of the game.
The dire situation in football is not so absurd, and it’s a pretty good comp – if you could sub for the Wildcat on 4th and 10 in the fourth quarter with your backup QB, and the Wildcat then had to sit the rest of the game, you would probably go ahead and do so, like you would with a pitcher in the eighth inning of a close game with a man on base. Also, you’d likely not use your #1 wideout or starting tailback as your Wildcat – you’d use Riley Cooper or something. So good riddance, there, IMO.
I suspect the diehard National League fan is the most likely to care about pitchers hitting. We have seen and can recall amazing events where their pitcher was successful at the plate. Even bad hitting pitchers have done so; Joe Blanton and Brett Myers had huge postseason moments for the Phillies in 2008, which I will always recall fondly. But Matt Stairs’ monster home run off Jonathan Broxton is etched in my memory as well, and Stairs was nothing if not DH material by that point in his career.
The casual NL fan probably looks at the DH in the AL and thinks of David Ortiz and wonders how healthy Ryan Howard would have been the last couple years if he never had to take the field. Sure, that fan may also think that move would have freed up room for Darin Ruf to start everyday at first and hence, give him the requisite plate appearances to morph into a superstar, but that doesn’t mean said fan’s not right about the DH.
Anyway, that’s my take on the absurdity that is “making pitchers hit”. But as I’ve said before on Twitter, the ideal situation for me isn’t the DH. It’s two DHs and a Designated Fielder. Extra power at the plate, extra glove in the field.
Oh, and mandatory bat flips. That’s my National Pastime. Come on Manfred – make it Happen!