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Rob Manfred Forced Me To Write A Very Serious Blog About The Designated Hitter

Rob Manfred held an extremely disappointing press conference today updating the masses on the state of negotiations. Hubbs breaks it down perfectly if you don't want to take my word for it. Calling it a clusterfuck would be disrespectful to clusterfucks everywhere. 

There's no movement. No good faith bargaining. No momentum or even remote sign of hope. But even so, MLB firmly believes they're doing "everything they can" to get things done. 

I know horseshit when I smell it but in this case it's being shoved down my throat. I'm long past the state of identification and well into the process of eating it. Manfred's message today was essentially one degree removed from blunt force trauma to our fucking skulls and it sucks. He could have easily delivered the same points with a simple hand gesture. 

Giphy Images.

I say that with exception. There's a notable development that emerged today and it's the universal DH. Long awaited and now finally here, the DH has been officially adopted in the National League.  

People have responded predictably strong, most of which in the same tone: It's About Fucking Time. I could spend the next calendar month copy-pasting tweets of this effect into the body of this blog and I wouldn't put a dent in the available inventory. The people have spoken. This is a good thing. 

Personally, I don't entirely disagree. I'm a sentimental guy so of course I've got emotional assets invested in the sanctity and continuity of major league baseball's history. But that's such a puss-bag soft spot to lay my head at night. I'm not leaning on the game's history to dictate my feelings but rather using my brain to make informed decisions. So in that spirit let's talk about the DH. 

Let's really explore the space.


Baseball Prospectus - The DH was adopted by the American League in 1973, after a season in which scoring fell to 3.47 runs per game, the fourth-lowest in league history (3.41 in 1968, 3.441 in 1908, 3.443 in 1909). The intent of the DH was primarily to improve scoring, since the changes adopted in 1969 (lowered pitchers’ mound, smaller strike zone) proved to be only a temporary fix.

For all the people objecting over history, it's worth noting that MLB has already altered the sacred texts regarding the DH. They did it 49 seasons ago when they originally invented the position. I wasn't there but I can only imagine the NL egos at the time. 

Those fuckin Yankee pussies

One of the chief arguments would've been You can't drill the opposing pitcher if he isn't hitting and that's simply awesome. I will always support public policy arguments rooted in the fundamental need to exact justice The Old Fashioned Way. It's sincerely funny to think how much the argument has shifted over the years. And yet still the need remains. People want more offense. But will they get it? 

2020 Data

Call to the Pen - NL teams scored 4.8 runs per game in 2019; with the DH in 2020, that average dropped to 4.7. Of the 15 teams, eight saw declines in per game offense even after replacing the offenses of pitchers with that of their DH.

A lot of moving parts here. There's new baseballs and bizarre circumstances of 2020 and limited sample size relative to a full 162. You have different rosters and thus different data points to compare. But there's certainly enough meat on the bone for a statistical meal. The most recent available benchmark shows minimal impact to the penultimate baseball stat: total runs scored. 

League vs. League

National ReviewIf you only looked at the run totals in both leagues, you would have difficulty noticing the difference in the league rules. In recent years, American League games have featured 0.12 more runs per game than National League games

That report goes back a couple years but not long enough to compromise the point. There's fractional increases to games with a DH and the explanation continues to emerge over time. Fact is starting pitchers collectively just don't go deep enough anymore, and with them goes their plate appearances: 

In the National League, less than six percent of plate appearances involve pitchers.

And from that, the AL scores about 2.5% more runs per year than the NL. That's because the pitchers are lucky to get two plate appearances per start. The concept of leaving your pitcher in with a lead is all but dead. Bullpen talent and depth is too high. Analytics have been proved conclusively. There's just not that many scenarios where a manager has a true coin-flip decision to make on whether to pinch hit or not. The data is there:

BP - In 1973, 54 percent of starting pitchers went seven innings or more. In 2016, that figure was only 23 percent.

So take your strategy argument and stuff it. Managers aren't sweating these decisions any more. It's basically all science and no art when it comes to taking out the starting pitcher. There's so much conclusive data for nearly every decision. As a resut, the underlying conflict that even creates the reason to be strategic in the first place has progressively diminished. Should we take him out or pinch hit? 

If you have to ask, the answer is pinch hit.

Baseball Prospectus - AL starters lasted at least a tenth of an inning longer than their NL counterparts in nine of the 14 years beginning in 1974, the year after the DH was established. It’s happened only four times since 1988.

That's a side-word-salad worth of shit. Point is the NL pitchers routinely pitch more than AL starters because AL managers are quicker to the bullpen. That means NL starters are throwing more pitches even though they’re an “automatic out” in the lineup.

Takeaway = The DH makes for quicker pitching changes vs. pitchers hitting for themselves meaning there’s MORE bullpen strategy with a DH, not less. This means more demand for developing arms and less so for developing bats. Proven arms are cheaper than proven bats. Are you following? Because projecting your investments is important in business and now it’s time to talk money  


Call to the Pen - In 2019 – the last season players were paid their full salaries — the average player signed by an American League team to be its primary DH got $13.65 million. That was three times the average $4.35 million salary for all positions that season. Six of the 15 primary DHs were paid in excess of $20 million, topped by Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera at $30 million. Seven were the highest paid players on their team.

I'm surprised owners agreed to the universal DH when I read this. That's a lot of money. But on the other side is that the NL has such a hard time attracting free agent sluggers vs. the AL. You can give more years on a deal in the AL if you know you can move an aging superstar into the DH role. You can carry more defensively limited guys. There's less emphasis on versatility with your reserves. The AL has been mopping the floor with the NL when it comes to roster construction and forecasting plate appearances. The fact the NL has come around to accept the DH speaks volumes about the owners willingness to share in the higher costs. Especially when the return is nominal at best. 

Average WAR last year? 


Again: the data's there. DH's are more expensive. They clog up your roster. They aren't overly valuable relatively speaking. They're not dynamic offensive threats adored by the super computers. They're older guys with big bats and shitty gloves. You don't groom a prospect to play DH but rather let the really good hitters grow and evolve into the spot. And even so, the run differential from AL to NL is nominal. And injury risk is offset with NL starters throwing more pitches and innings. And NL managers aren't really even strategic with their pitching changes anymore. In fact that started to slow down over 30 fuckin years ago! 

Giphy Images.

So….. What Does All This Mean?

The reasons they're selling us are mostly bullshit. This isn't about more offense or making the game more fun. That's what the owners want you to believe but if that's the case then just green light steroids and get outta the fuckin way. 

Personally I think the owners want it because there's more predictability on the roster and payroll. There's less emphasis on NL clubs to be creative and versatile with their reserves. So you're ultimately solving fewer problems while relying on fewer bodies in the long-run, which thus makes it much easier for the front office. If this doesn't come with a corresponding permanent 26th roster spot, then it's not good in the long run for the player's association. By creating a full time job you're effectively cutting out the 2-3 meaningful spots that filled it. The end result = more security for fewer players. 

At least that's the way I read it. Maybe I'm wrong but those DH spots aren't generally going to the new guy save for Yordan. They're going to the guys who already broke into the league. So the young guys trying to earn a spot will have less opportunities to pinch hit and (way more importantly) play the off day because you can just shuffle the DH spot. There's more certainty, but that means less opportunity. 

If This Doesn't Make Sense, Think About It Like This:

The owners won't agree to anything that doesn't instantly and objectively benefit them. And conclusively, the offensive upside just isn't there because of the DH. They're taking this on because they think it will help them manage costs in the long-run because that's legitimately the only thing they give a fuck about. 

Money Money Money Mo-ney. 


The Most Important Consideration

We don't have to watch pitchers hit any more. It's downright painful. That alone should make for a better product and that's good news and more than enough for the NL to adopt the DH. 

But the rest of the stuff? 

They're full of shit. Don't ever forget it.