Craig Calcaterra

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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.

 

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

John Farrell Dustin Pedroia
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Orioles 18, Red Sox 7: Scoring 18 runs is neat. Doing so with the benefit of only one homer — a solo shot — means this was less of a big walloping than it was a continued and sustained beating. Kudos to the Orioles for avoiding those rally-killing bombs for the most part. Seven Oriole batters had multiple hits and four had three hits. Delmon Young drove in five runs and three others drove in three runs each. The Red Sox’ collective starting rotation ERA is 5.75. Which isn’t good, in case you were curious.

Yankees 6, Mets 4: A-Rod homered — he’s one away from Willie — and the Yankees took two of three in the Subway Series. Which means, based on the coverage I saw about all of this late last week, they now officially own New York. The Mets will sign over the deed to Citi Field in a noontime ceremony today. All persons identifying as Mets fans in the city, please report to the Javits Center for reeducation.

Phillies 5, Braves 4: Ryan Howard hit a homer for the second straight game as Philly takes two of three from Atlanta. Major League Baseball officials will meet in New York today to see if the second one counts, however, as it came against Trevor Cahill, who is under investigation for being a secret agent embedded with the Braves to bring them down from the inside. An alternative theory is that he’s really two kids, one on the other’s shoulders, in a trench coat disguised to look like a Braves uniform. That’s my theory anyway.

White Sox 3, Royals 2White Sox 5, Royals 3: Avisail Garcia with the walkoff single. Which, since it came at the conclusion of a game that was suspended in the ninth inning and had thus just resumed, probably felt a tad less climactic than these sorts of things tend to be. In the second, full game David Robertson got the save. After having won the resumed game, which he began. Meaning he threw the first and last pitch of the day. Which sort has my mind all blown up in here.

Tigers 8, Indians 6: I was at various stores and bars and places over the weekend and everywhere I went seemed to have a Tigers-Indians game on. I didn’t really watch a lot, but as I looked up from my lunch or a beer or while paying for a shirt or something at a cash register, it seemed like Cleveland was giving Cabrera an intentional walk. Probably wise. In this one he homered and drove in three. He has three homers on the year, all against the Indians.

Pirates 8, Diamondbacks 0: Francisco Liriano and the pen combined to toss a three-hitter. Liriano walked six as he did it, but sometimes even hitters are at a disadvantage if the pitcher doesn’t know where the ball’s going. The Pirates rapped out 14 hits. Which is a term I love. “rapped out.” I get a mental image of the Pirates on a stage, “Super Bowl Shuffle”-style, saying “We’re the Pittsburgh Pirates and we’re here to say . . .” Remember when sports teams did that stuff? Holy crap.

Cubs 5, Reds 2: Addison Russell started the season 2 for 19 with 11 strikeouts, but maybe his double with the bases loaded in the fourth inning, clearing the bases, will kickstart him. Or maybe it’ll take a while. I dunno, he’s a kid. Think about what you were like when you were 21. My god, we were all awful at everything when we were 21.

Marlins 6, Nationals 2: I’m not the alarmist type. I’ve seen enough baseball to where an otherwise good team struggling in April turned it around and, come August, people had forgotten all about that poor start. But the Nationals were supposed to be good a couple of years ago and never got off the ground so I imagine some Washington fans are a tad concerned. This game finished off the sweep by the Marlins, giving them their fifth win in a row. Giancarlo Stanton hit an RBI triple. And he scored after literally crawling back to third base, because fundamentals:

 

I feel like I’ve seen more messed up rundowns so far this season than I’ve seen in the past three seasons combined.

Rays 5, Blue Jays 1: The sweep continues Toronto’s futility at Tropicana Field. Which is weird because it’s the one ballpark in which they can maybe squint a bit and feel like they’re back in Rogers Centre. Chris Archer tossed seven shutout innings. He hasn’t allowed an earned run since his first start of the season, back on April 6.

Brewers 6, Cardinals 3: The Cardinals stranded eight runners in the first three innings and 14 overall. If hitting with men on was a special St. Louis skill like so many Cards fans insisted to me a couple of years ago when their RISP average was super high, maybe they’d have done better  here. Absent that, I’m gonna say that maybe there’s some luck involved in all of that.

Rangers 5, Angels 4: Less of a series than a meeting between mom and dad to swap custody of Josh Hamilton. The Rangers salvage one in the three-game series here. Leonys Martin hit a homer in the 11th and the Rangers scored a second run, which proved necessary, on an error.

Astros 7, Athletics 6: The win came on a two-run rally in the ninth when Evan Gattis hit a two-run double on a pitch up in his eyes. The A’s had walked Jed Lowrie to load the bases and get to Gattis, but he showed them. The Astros swept the A’s. Houston is in first place in the AL West.

Twins 4, Mariners 2: Joe Mauer with a two-run triple with two outs in the 11th. It was hit hard and likely falls in against anyone, but it’s probably not crazy to say that a better right fielder than Nelson Cruz at least gets to that ball faster, takes an angle that allows him to cut it off and doesn’t let it roll to the wall. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I feel like M’s fans are gonna be dealing with the tradeoffs Nelson Cruz creates all season.

Padres 3, Dodgers 1Alexi Amarista and Derek Norris homered to help the Padres avoid the sweep and their fourth straight loss. Brandon Morrow allowed one run on five hits over seven innings.

Giants vs. Rockies: POSTPONED: The rain came down

Soaked the old habachi
And I wish I could sing, like allen callaci
And then you would know
How sad it was, when the rain came down

Drop by drop
Gallon by gallon
Brother if I could sing,
If I could sing like allen
You would know
And understand how sad it was when the rain came down

Jose Fernandez becomes a U.S. citizen

Jose Fernandez
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It hasn’t been the best year for Jose Fernandez, what with the Tommy John surgery and all. But it’s not like he’s been sitting and watching TV the whole time. He’s been doing stuff:

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez is officially a U.S. citizen. USCIS held a special ceremony at their field office in Kendall Friday morning where Fernandez, along with 140 other South Florida residents, became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

The Marlins presented Fernandez with an American flag that previously flew over Marlins Park. Pretty cool.

Just looked back to see what other players we’ve posted about becoming citizens since the blog launched. I see Robinson Cano and Orlando Cabrera. David Ortiz did in 2008 back when I was writing a personal blog.

No reason. Just think it’s neat. Thanks to Old Gator for the heads up.

Noah Syndergaard was given a talking-to by the Mets for feeding the trolls

Noah Syndergaard
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Mets minor league pitcher Noah Syndergaard got into it with a fan/troll on Twitter last night. The guy who started it has deleted his account so his tweets are gone, but the Internet doesn’t forget anything. Background: Syndergaard got scratched from a start because he was sick.

I love how quickly that dude backed off the minute the object of his scorn responded to him. But that’s trolls for ya. They talk big until someone talks back. That said, Syndergaard later tweeted some stuff about the guy’s “pathetic 9-to-5 job” and probably got a lot more personal than one might usual do in a simple snipping back-and-forth with a troll.

The Mets aren’t exactly pleased about this:

My penchant for engaging with trolls notwithstanding, I’d probably tell Syndergaard the same thing. I mean, when you’re a pro athlete, any of that kind of interaction with a fan is probably going to either be perceived as punching down or else the sort of thing that will just invite other people to try to get a rise out of you.

Rob Manfred was asked again about the leaks in the Josh Hamilton case. His answers weren’t much better.

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This is kind of fun.

Some of us dead-enders who still think the Joint Drug Agreement means something were a bit perturbed that someone — we don’t know who! — leaked information about Josh Hamilton’s drug relapse to the press. And leaked about the process going down during his disciplinary hearings. And about what the Angels thought about it all. You can read our dead-ender outrage about it here, and about how Major League Baseball said it would not investigate the leaks here.

Flash forward to today when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred appeared on NBC Sports Radio’s “Under Center” with McNabb and Malone. It’s a good show! I’m on it every week, but obviously the Commissioner is much more important. Our ex-quarterback friends asked the Commish about the stuff he’d expect on sports radio like attendance and pace-of-play and the recent fisticuffs in Royals games. Manfred answered those questions in a pretty polished matter. He’s had these things on his mind all week.

But then Mark Malone shifted gears and asked him why the league hasn’t disciplined anyone with the Angels for leaking Hamilton’s business. Malone: a man after my own heart! And while I don’t have the audio handy in embeddable form just yet, I listened to it. And know that Manfred, to my ears anyway, lost a bit of his polished tone, probably because he didn’t expect to be asked this. Mostly because no one else seems to be asking it. Here’s what he said, though:

“The assumption that the leak came from the Angels is one that may not be correct. We have tried mightily to determine exactly how that information became public. We’ve been unable to do so. That’s often the case with respect to press leaks. As you know, members of the media and sources — a little difficult sometimes, but you know, a number of people knew about the relevant facts here, not just the Angels, and we really haven’t been able to establish any misconduct on the part of the club.”

It’s quite a leap from saying, two weeks ago, that the league would not investigate the leaks to now saying that they’ve “tried mightily” to do so. How one concludes that they can’t establish misconduct without actually mounting an investigation is beyond me.

But what do I know? All I did for several years in my career was assist and in some cases run internal investigations of companies at the behest of management. It’s more art than science, but I know this much: when an investigator is tasked with figuring something out from people over whom they have actual authority — like, say, MLB has over the Angels’ front office — it’s not the hardest job ever. At the very least you can find out — before even getting to the substance — the universe of people who had the information that was leaked. And then it’s just a matter of talking to them in conference rooms. Contrary to what you see on TV and in movies, people aren’t very good liars and most of them don’t like to lie.

But again, that’s just if you’re super inclined to figure something out. Something like, say, a violation of a provision of the Joint Drug Agreement that, on its very face, is described as “essential to the Program’s success.” I mean, really, why would you even have a meeting about that?