Sporting Charts

AL Pitchers and NL Designated Hitters in the World Series

In what was apparently an opportunity spotted by Kirk Gibson to out-old school current old school monarch Dusty Baker, Gibson recently demanded that the sacred National League rules are to be upheld not only during the months of April to November but during February and March as well.  According to reports Gibson tersely rejected a Baker request that they play a spring game with the designated hitter to get his players some extra at-bats.

Perhaps Gibson is sensing fewer future opportunities to stand up and defend the sanctity of allowing pitchers to bat.  While separate rules for the American and National Leagues have always been one of the biggest absurdities of Major League Baseball, with the Astros moving to the American League there are even more reasons than before to get all 30 teams playing by the same set of rules (imagine that).

In past years some interleague games were clustered together, allowing a National League team to, for example, call up a player from their minor league system if they were playing consecutive series on the road and needed a designated-type hitter.  However, now interleague series are sprinkled throughout the season starting with Opening Day for some teams and going all the way to the last series of the year.  It was difficult before to adjust a roster for a few games.  Now teams will have to adjust to an interleague game for as few as 2 or 3 days before resuming their intraleague schedule.  And as pointed out by Joel Sherman, this can negatively impact American League teams as well as they will have to prepare their pitchers to run and hit more frequently.

However, perhaps the greatest injustice with having separate rules is the fact that this discrepancy takes place in the World Series as well.  Since 1986, World Series games have been played with the rules of the home team for each game.  (This is at least an improvement over what was done from 1976 to 1985 when the designated hitter was applied to the entire series in even-numbered years.)  As it stands now after making it through a 162-game schedule and multiple playoff rounds, National League teams now have to scrape together a DH from their cast of bench players, while American League teams have to prepare pitchers to hit when they may not have even picked up a bat in the regular season.

And as should be expected, A.L. Designated Hitters in the World Series have significantly out-performed their Senior Circuit counterparts.  However, while all pitchers are rarely expected to produce offensive value, N.L. pitchers have significantly out-performed their counterparts:

 

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

AB/HR

WPA

DH AL

.241

.330

.423

.753

23.0

.006

DH NL

.217

.294

.357

.651

28.7

-.003

P AL

.096

.108

.122

.230

N/A*

-.029

P NL

.154

.176

.189

.365

143.0

-.023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All AL

.186

.246

.308

.554

37.2

-.013

All NL

.195

.251

.297

.548

4.1

-.012

An A.L. pitcher did not hit a home run in the World Series from 1986-2012

To no one’s surprise, A.L. DH’s have a higher OPS by 102 points.  However the difference in OPS between A.L. and N.L. pitchers in the World Series is even higher at .135 points.  In addition, when the offensive output of all Designated Hitters and Pitchers is combined for each league, they surprisingly produce at virtually the same rate (.554 OPS for A.L.; .548 for N.L.).  Interestingly, A.L. Designated Hitters are the only ones collectively producing value for their teams in the Fall Classic by looking at their average Win Probability Added (WPA), however when looking at the WPA for both leagues collectively that’s also negated by the significantly higher negative WPA produced by A.L. pitchers compared to their N.L. counterparts.

Since their output is so similar (at least in the Postseason), is it really necessary to change the rules and have all teams following the same set of rules?  In a word: yes.  When it comes to the World Series it is ridiculous that a Designated Hitter who may not have played the field in years could risk being benched because he’s unable to do something (play in the field) that his team did not need him to do all season long.

While rule changes in America’s pastime should always be done with great caution, adding the Designated Hitter to the National League would be correcting a mistake from the game’s past and not setting the game in a brand new direction.  While the league’s intentions at the time may have been admirable to enact the Designated Hitter experiment back in 1973, that is to raise offensive numbers from an historic low, they were not smart to put the DH in place for only some teams.

It’s true that allowing pitchers to bat can increase the intrigue of strategy late in the game.  However it’s even truer that watching pitchers hit seems downright unnatural, almost as if a hockey player is suddenly asked to throw a football.  I can safely say that I will not be disappointed if I never have to see a pitcher lay down an ill-advised sacrifice bunt with the third baseman charging as fast as he can and winding up a mere 15 feet away.

It’s nice to think that we continue to watch well-rounded athletes play the game we love.  However, specialization has already taken over the game and asking pitchers to do something that has been de-emphasized since they committed themselves to pitching when they were young is not in their best interests, nor is it in the fans’ best interests.  It is time for Major League Baseball to use the re-balancing of leagues as a springboard to improve upon the experiment first started back in 1973.

 


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