Pitchers batting is dumb and the DH should be universal

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Adam Wainwright is likely done for the year after injuring himself while batting. Max Scherzer is likely going to miss his next start after jamming his thumb while batting. But hey, it was totally worth it. Because when you have a couple of guys who are a combined 117-for-622 for their careers at the plate, you have to have them take their hacks, right?

OK, that’s unfair. Everyone knows that Wainwright and Scherzer aren’t in there for their hitting skills. They’re on the hill every fifth day, when healthy anyway, because they are two of the best pitchers in all of baseball and they play for National League teams. Hell, the two of them could have been a career 0-for-622 and they’d still be on the mound and taking their hacks at the plate precisely because of that. The rules say that in the NL the pitchers bat so that’s what they have to do.

But it sure is a dumb rule. A positively stupid and senseless rule. A rule that, if we were starting anew today, we’d never adopt. But here we are, and there sit Wainwright and Scherzer, lost to their teams, one for a year and one for a little bit, because of the farce that is the National League rule.

Don’t misunderstand me. 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.

As for the first point, we can agree that pitchers can’t hit, right? They’re almost all awful. Even the ones who we laud for being “good hitters” suck. Zack Greinke is usually the first one mentioned. His career line: .214/.263/.325. That’s an OPS+ of 62. That’s worse than Mark Lemke’s career line. It’s roughly the same as Rey Ordonez. It’s only a little bit better than guys like Mario Mendoza and Ray Oyler who are historic punchlines for their futility at the plate. And this is the best we can do with pitchers batting. This is the guy we look at and say “hey, for a pitcher, he’s dangerous!”

So, why do they bat? Because they’ve always batted. Because that’s what they did for the first 100 years of the game in both leagues and have continued to do so in the NL. It’s the American League rule and the designated hitter which are somehow unnatural. Which are aberrations. Which are abominations, even.

I actually like that my friend Chris used that term — “abomination” — by the way, because it gives up the whole game for most anti-DH people. The word “abomination” is a religious term. And adherence to pitchers batting is more religion than it is reason. Based on beliefs, history and faith rather than reason and objective evidence. People who like pitchers batting tend to lean heavily on the idea that they did back when the game was invented. As if baseball, its setting and its rules as they were in the 19th century were given to us by Jehovah Himself, carved into stone, infallible. Every bit as infallible as all of the other rules of baseball which always have and always remain inviolate. You know, like the one that put the pitching rubber 45 feet from home plate and the one in which a baserunner is out if you throw the ball at him and hit him. Rules which are every bit a part of the original essence of the game as nine players facing off against nine players with nary a tenth to be seen.

“OK, so maybe the rules do change over time when it makes sense to do so,” my pro-NL rule friends may say, “but not in such a gimmicky way as we see with the DH.”

That’s a word you hear tossed around by anti-DH people a lot. “Gimmick.” As if it’s just a fad. Something like pet rocks and mood rings and other inventions of the 1970s, that most unfortunate of decades. Except that the DH has been a bit more enduring than that.

It’s been longer since the advent of the DH to today than it was between Babe Ruth’s called shot and the advent of the DH. My friend Chris Jaffe points out that the first DH game is closer in time to the last four Cubs NL pennants than it is to the present. It’s older than the lifespans of Akry Vaughan, Edgar Allen Poe, Glenn Miller, Malcolm X, Amelia Earhart, Che Guevera and Stonewall Jackson. The DH began eleven days before Federal Express issued its first package. Based on how long it’s been around, to call the DH a “gimmick” today, in 2015 is the same as calling commercial broadcast TV a “gimmick” in 1987. The thing is established at this point.

Which isn’t to say “hey, it’s here, you’re stuck with it.” It’s to say that if you want to argue against the DH — or any other baseball convention which has been around for pushing a half century — you have to do better than merely decry it as new and gimmicky and not natural and somehow against the spirit of baseball. You have to assess it on its own merits, not merely say it’s wrong because it hasn’t been around since Alexander Cartwright walked the Earth.

One non-tradition-based argument against the DH is “OK, fine, replace the pitcher with a DH. Then why not replace a shortstop with a DH? A second baseman? Why not have a whole team of designated fielders?” That sort of argument sounds compelling, but only for a second. In reality it’s the classic slippery slope fallacy. The belief that, because a step has been taken in one direction there is no way we could reasonably stop the “slide.” With the DH we have a couple of things arresting the inexorable slide into Designated Damnation. That clear delineation between your average hitting pitcher (terrible) and your average hitting position player (substantially better). You have a 42-year lab experiment in which every organized baseball league in the world not named “National” and “NPB Central” has utilized it without there being greedy calls for more designated positions. You have the limitation in roster size that can and has easily accommodated that extra hitter but cannot reasonably accommodate nine extra designated players. There’s a clear argument for replacing pitchers with a DH and nowhere close to a compelling argument to replace anyone else.

We see this in practice too, by the way. Major league teams have all but abandoned teaching their pitchers to hit. They just don’t see the point in it anymore. They can’t do it and, even if they play in the NL, they’re willing to punt pitchers’ hitting ability if it means more time for them to work on what they’re really there for: pitching. Teams still care if glove-first shortstops hit, though. It’s still important because they still get results by doing so.There’s no slippery slope here. There’s a clear, bright line between how pitchers’ batting is presented and how poor hitting by glove-first players or poor fielding by bat-first players is treated. The former has been totally abdicated. The latter has not.

So, if the DH isn’t some crazy fad, if it actually works and if it’s not the road to damnation, what’s the argument for keeping the NL rule? At least one not based merely on tradition? That it allows for pinch hitting and double switching. The old NL strategy thing. Intrigue. Cunning, etc. As if those are riveting events at the heart of baseball. And as if there isn’t pinch hitting in the AL. But sure, we’ll give the NL rule people that. It’s their aesthetic choice — heck, it’s my aesthetic choice as an NL guy — but it that’s all it is. An aesthetic choice, on equal footing with the aesthetic choices of people who don’t like to see .109 hitters flail ridiculously and ineffectively. Who, while they enjoy laughing at Bartolo Colon taking a swing at a pitch as much as the next guy, maybe think that the sideshow element of that spectacle isn’t worth it.

And certainly isn’t worth it when you think about the risks. About how the two favorites in the National League this year just lost pitchers to injuries that never needed to happen. Injuries that, yes, could’ve happened to a position player hitting. Or could’ve happened to Wainwright and Scherzer while they were on the mound. But injuries which, in those cases, wouldn’t have been sustained in the pursuit of a pointless exercise. In an effort to keep a couple of 117-for-622 hitters on the field and to keep the tradition of 19th century baseball intact.

 

The Cubs gave Rick Renteria a World Series Ring

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It was revealed, in the course of a Jerry Reinsdorf interview the other day, that the Chicago Cubs gave Chicago White Sox manager Rick Renteria a World Series ring.

Renteria, of course, managed the Cubs for one season — in 2014 — and was fired when Joe Maddon became available after exiting his contract with the Rays. Renteria did an OK job with the Cubs — they were 73-89, which was seven games better than they had been the year before, and in the normal course would never have been fired after that showing — but the thinking by the Cubs front office was that they wanted Maddon, and not Renteria, to be in charge of taking a young and talented team from the land of rebuilding to the land of contention. Which Maddon did, far more quickly than most expected.

It’s a nice gesture by the Cubs, and I have no issue with it at all. If you can do a nice thing that costs you little or nothing, it’s always good to do it. And, based on his comments before yesterday’s White Sox-Dodgers game, Renteria did appreciate it. He’s been nothing but gracious since his undeserved (even if understandable) firing by the Cubs. He’s a high-road guy.

Still, I’m wondering what the inspiration for it was, because as far as I know, it’s pretty unusual for a team to give a former manager a ring in this situation, especially if the former manager had no greater history with the club (Renteria never played or coached in the Cubs system before 2014). At the time the judgment — put bluntly — was that the Cubs had a better chance to win with Maddon than Renteria, so it feels sort of . . . revisionist for them to be doing this now. Or even disrespectful on some unintentional level. Isn’t it sort of like the ex who dumped you for someone else a couple of years ago giving you a gift on their wedding day? How would that make you feel? “Glad I helped make you a better person for your new partner,” no one would say, ever.

In reality, I imagine that the thinking is a benign and somewhat cosmic “it takes a village” kind of thing and that the Cubs brass believes that anyone who had even a small hand in what became the 2016 Cubs should be rewarded. And, like I said above: nice gestures are good things and this is a nice gesture.

Still, there’s an element to this that strikes me as weird. Almost as if it’s a guilt-assuaging move on some level. “Er, uh, sorry for that awkwardness when we dumped you for the prettier girl a couple of years back. No hard feelings?”

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 5, White Sox 4: Yu Darvish was OK, but not great in his Dodger Stadium debut and his teammates could only manage two runs off of White Sox starter Carlos Rodon, so they found themselves down 4-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth. As has so often happened this year, however, L.A. rallied. Cody Bellinger singled, Logan Forsythe doubled him in, Austin Barnes singled to put men on second and third and then Yasiel Puig came up to bat and doubled both Forsythe and Barnes in for the tying and winning runs. In so doing, Puig — who has been both hot and a consummate team player of late, will wonders ever cease? — becomes the ninth different Dodger to have a walkoff hit in their ten walkoff wins this year. They’re now on pace for 116 wins, which would match the all-time record.

 

Ok, let us all note right now that four games finished with the final score of 7-6 last night. This is important. This means something.

Brewers 7, Pirates 6: Milwaukee hit five homers yesterday, with Manny Pina‘s two-run shot in the eighth putting them over and giving the Brewers their fourth straight win. Keon Broxton homered twice and Neil Walker and Travis Shaw also went deep as Milwaukee moves into sole possession of second place in the central, a game and a half back of the Cubs.

Royals 7, Athletics 6: Oakland tied it in the bottom of the eighth with a Matt Chapman two-run homer but Alex Gordon hit a go-ahead RBI single in the top of the ninth to give the Royals the win. Here’s A’s manager Bob Melvin after the game, offering comments which basically mirror my internal monologue every time I have to recap a 7-6, 9-8, 10-7 (or something like that) game with lots of lead changes and crap pitching:

“It just was an ugly game all the way around. There was no pace to the game, and it just seemed like one of those games that was just blah.”

I’ve been recapping scores for a decade now and I can say that such games are the hardest to recap, mostly because there’s no great through-narrative. The easiest to recap are ones where a starter dominates. Not the best, just the easiest (“Shlabotnik tosses eight shutout innings, striking out 11 as . . .”). The best are ones are ones with big dumb fights and controversies or bad ump calls or something. Dramatic walkoffs are a close second. I should probably do a post some time with a bunch of bullet points discussing all of the dumb little things about writing these recaps that y’all probably don’t realize. The only thing stopping me is that you probably don’t care.

Mariners 7, Orioles 6: Yonder Alonso hit his first homer for Seattle and drove in three runs, Leonys Martin homered to give the M’s what would be their winning run and Marc Rzepczynski struck out Chris Davis with the bases loaded to end an O’s threat and the game.

Cubs 7, Reds 6: This game had everything. A first-inning grand slam, a stolen base from John Lackey (followed by Lackey getting picked off because he flew too close to the sun, apparently) and a walkoff wild pitch:

Mercy. I mean, really, how often do you see a game end when a catcher can’t handle a throw to the plate?

Red Sox 5, Cardinals 4: Oh, well, more often than I imagined, I suppose:

That was Mookie Betts lining that two-run double off the Green Monster with two outs in the ninth inning, capping Boston’s three-run game-winning rally. Xander Bogaerts opened the ninth with a solo homer. In between all of that, one of the weirdest things I can recall happening went down: Cards reliever John Brebbia was in his motion, when home plate umpire Chris Segal called timeout, negating the pitch and, you assume, messing with Brebbia’s rhythm. It wasn’t because the batter called time and Segal simply granted it too late — that happens a lot. No, it was Segal calling time on his own because “needed a break.” Really. That’s what he said to Mike Matheny when he came out to ask for an explanation. Matheny understandably went nuts and got ejected, saying “it’s not your show.” I’m no Matheny fan, but I’d be just as pissed in his place.

Padres 3, Phillies 0: Clayton Richard had a three-hit, complete game shutout. See: those are easy to write up. That’s really the whole story of the game. Next!

Ah, damn, not the whole story:

Wil Myers‘ feat marks the first time a player has stolen all three bases in the same inning since Dee Gordon did it in 2011.

Yankees 5, Mets 3: Aaron Judge hit a massive homer into the third deck of Citi Field — I’ve been up there, brother, and let me tell you it’s far — and Didi Gregorius broke a seventh-inning tie with a two-run double. I was watching this game at someone else’s house as I had been drafted to babysit their toddler. Observations: (1) it’s been almost ten years since I had a toddler, and no matter how cute and adorable they are (and this one is) I forgot how much is sucks to not be able to turn on a game until the fifth inning or so because of the playing and bedtime rituals and all of that, but I managed it; and (2) being forced to watch a Rick Sutcliffe-called game because you’re in a place where you can’t access your MLB.tv account is a high class problem to have but, buddy, it’s a problem. Lord he’s awful.

Blue Jays 3, Rays 2: Marcus Stroman allowed two runs while pitching into the seventh inning and Steve Pearce homered and scored twice. The Rays have scored two or fewer runs in nine of their past 12 games. They’re 1-8 in those games, which makes a lot of sense.

Rangers 12, Tigers 6: Texas sweeps the three game series thanks to Elvis Andrus‘ four RBI, which included the go-ahead run in the form of a solo homer. Joey Gallo (natch), Nomar Mazara and Adrian Beltre also went deep for the Rangers.

Astros 9, Diamondbacks 5Josh Reddick hit a two-run homer in a four-run eighth inning and Charlie Morton allowed one run in six and a third. The Astros win back-to-back games for the first time in three weeks.

Rockies 17, Braves 2: Well that was a beatdown. Trevor Story had two homers and knocked in six, Mark Reynolds homered and drove in four, knocking four hits in all, and Gerardo Parra added three hits and four RBI. This was only the second-highest run total for the Rockies this year because Rockies.

Marlins 8, Giants 1: Giancarlo Stanton‘s home run streak ended but he still had two hits, scored a run and stole a base, so maybe he’ll now go on some crazy small-ball tear. Tomas Telis drove in three for Miami. Jose Urena allowed only one unearned run over five and three Marlins relievers held San Francisco scoreless for the final four frames.

Angels 3, Nationals 2: Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer in the first but Luis Valbuena hit a solo shot for the Angels in the fifth and Cole Calhoun hit a two-run blast in the sixth and that was all the scoring there was. The Angels have won seven of eight and sit alone in the second Wild Card spot in the American League. Who woulda thunk it?

Indians vs. Twins — POSTPONED:

I’ve been loving you a long time
Down all the years, down all the days
And I’ve cried for all your troubles
Smiled at your funny little ways
We watched our friends grow up together
And we saw them as they fell
Some of them fell into Heaven
Some of them fell into Hell
I took shelter from a shower
And I stepped into your arms
On a rainy night in Soho
The wind was whistling all its charms