Over at NBC’s Hardball Talk, my friend Craig Calcaterra wrote a piece this weekend entitled, “Pitchers batting is dumb and the DH should be universal.” It was injuries to Adam Wainwright and Max Scherzer that got him thinking about it, but he says those injuries are not the sole basis for his opinion:
I am not so naive, sensationalistic and alarmist to say that the NL rule is dumb simply because Adam Wainwright and Max Scherzer got hurt. No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I appreciate that Wainwright and Scherzer’s injuries — and Chien-Ming Wang’s and any other injury which happened to a pitcher while batting — were freak occurrences. They could’ve happened while they were fielding their positions or messing with frozen hamburger. Two bad instances like this are not, in and of themselves, justifications for scotching the rule even if they are the impetus for thinking about the rule.
No, the NL rule should be scrapped because pitchers can’t hit a lick, there is no rational basis for not having the DH in both leagues and, as such, the risks to NL pitchers while batting, however small, are unacceptable.
(The whole article, like most things Craig writes, is worth reading. The comments, not so much.)
Craig’s stance on the DH is a little surprising, because he is a National League fan. In fact, Craig doesn’t like the idea of bringing the DH to the NL, but he thinks it’s best for the game.
I am in the same boat. I am a Dodger fan, and it is built into my DNA to believe that National League baseball is a better, more pure version of baseball than that garbage they play in the American League. I’ve been known to say snobby things about AL managers not knowing how to double switch and how much more challenging it is to manage a game around the pitcher’s spot in the lineup.
But Craig’s point, which I totally agree with, is that there are very few valid reasons (other than Tradition!) to keep having pitchers bat in the NL. People talk about slippery slopes (“Why not have a second DH for the weak-hitting shortstop, too?”), but the DH has been around for 42 years, so the slope can’t be that slippery. People talk about strategy, but the strategy is not lesser in the American League, just different. Instead of figuring out when to double switch and whether to let a pitcher battle through an inning because he’s leading off the bottom half, AL managers have to figure out how to pitch to a lineup that has David Ortiz instead of Justin Masterson.
One of the greatest moments I have ever experienced in person in a baseball stadium was when Clayton Kershaw hit a home run off of George Kontos in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 0-0 game on Opening Day in 2013. There is a part of me that gets sad to think about never experiencing a moment like that again. But there is also a part of me that can remember the other hundreds of times I’ve watched pitchers hit, and they were not nearly as exciting. The only other time I’ve seen a pitcher hit a home run in person was on April 18, 1992, when John Smoltz hit one off of Orel Hershiser at Dodger Stadium. Smoltz finished that season with a slash line of .160/.222/.200 for an OPS+ of 18. Kershaw’s OPS+ in that 2013 season was 42 (.182/.241/.260).
Even the best-hitting pitchers in baseball are not good hitters. Former Silver Slugger Zack Greinke has a career line of .214/.263/.325 (62 OPS+). The latest slugging pitcher du jour, Madison Bumgarner, has slashed .162/.203/.249 for his career (28 OPS+).
And this is not a new thing. Wes Ferrell, who hit more home runs than any other pitcher in history, had a career OPS+ of exactly 100 (.280/.351/.446). And among pitchers with at least 20 career homers, Ferrell was by far the best hitter. Here are the others, with their career OPS+:
- Bob Lemon 82
- Red Ruffing 81
- Earl Wilson 76
- Warren Spahn 43
- Don Drysdale 45
- Carlos Zambrano 62
- Bob Gibson 50
- Walter Johnson 76
- Bucky Walters 69
- Jack Harshman 73
- Milt Pappas -3
- Dizzy Trout 56
Since 1901, there have been 48 pitchers to have more than 20 career plate appearances with an OPS+ of at least 100. If we raise the threshold to 100 plate appearances, that drops us down to eight pitchers. Eight. In 115 years of baseball, there have been only eight pitchers who were above average offensively, and only one since World War II — Micah Owings, who was not a good pitcher.
Injuries to two star pitchers in the same weekend is not a good reason to implement the DH, but when you combine the general risk of injury with the fact that there is zero benefit to pitchers actually hitting, it becomes clear. I’ve never heard an argument other than “tradition” or “strategy” for making pitchers hit, and until I do, I come down in favor of bringing the DH to the NL. I hate myself for saying it — I am literally punching myself in the head right now — but that’s my verdict. I’d rather pay money to watch people do things they are good at.
What do you think? Do you have a good argument other than tradition or strategy for why the NL should not adopt the DH? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @snidog.