Why Two Sets of Rules Deplete Competitive Balance

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a boxing fan.  Your favorite fighter has agreed to a title bout with the reigning champion.  Except, of course, that one of the fight’s conditions is that throughout the months leading up to the fight, your favorite fighter is not permitted to practice with a left jab, while the reigning champ is.  Further, during the forthcoming title fight’s evenly-numbered rounds, left jabs by either fighter are not allowed, whereas in odd rounds left jabs are allowed, despite the fact that the challenger hasn’t used one in months.  Would one ever be able to form a respectable argument that the rules of the championship fight are fair to both parties?

 

And yet, these are close to the circumstances that the Major League establishment places on the World Series and on inter-league games each year.  For the six months leading up to the championship-crowning event, the National League will use 8 regular hitter/fielders and one pitcher; meanwhile, the American League will use 9 regular hitters, 8 of whom will regularly field, plus one pitcher.  When the two leagues’ champions meet in the Fall Classic, the hosting team’s rules will be used.  However, when the National League team is the host of a Series game, playing under their rules is no advantage to them; both teams merely play with 9 chosen starters.  Contrast that against when the American League team is the host, playing under their rules is a considerable advantage, as all 9 of their regular hitters will get to play, while the National League team must promote an otherwise bench player to their starting lineup.

 

Of course, in any one game, it will be hard for the objective viewer to tell the difference.  Clearly though, over the course of a large sample of games, the American League team’s representatives should be expected to win more than what we might expect from a fair fight.  Why?  Because the fight isn’t fair.

 

I believe that baseball using the designated hitter is not the optimal way to play baseball.  I believe that baseball where inferior-hitting pitchers are expected to bat is not the optimal way to play baseball.  Even more so than either opinion, though, I feel most strongly that the practice of playing with two sets of rules compromises the athletic integrity of the contest between American and National League teams, when in fact teams from both leagues meet in a game or series of games.

 

Over a large sample of inter-league games, it is reasonably predictable that:

a.)    When playing in a National League stadium, American League teams will have superior options to choose from when constrained to eight hitter/fielders, by virtue of their having nine regular hitters;

b.)    When playing in an American League stadium, National League teams will have inferior options to choose from when expected to field nine hitters, by virtue of their having only eight regular hitter/fielders;

c.)    That these disparities will make for a mismatched contest between the two teams;

d.)    That this mismatch will cause over a long sample of games a noticeable edge toward the American League teams.

 

Pitchers being expected to hit is foolish.  Giving a starting job to a has-been compromises the game.  Neither do as much damage to the game’s competitive balance, though, as each half of the league playing under two sets of rules whilst both teams compete for the same title.

Published in: on August 7, 2008 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Why Pitchers Hitting is a Bad Idea

There are several reasons to believe that the idea of pitchers hitting in a baseball lineup is an awful idea. Specifically, a pitcher hitting compromises athletic integrity and reduces offensive options without enhancing defensive ones.

 

When a pitcher (or any hitter) takes an at bat, it is done under three possible circumstances:

  1. Bases empty,

  2. Runner(s) on with two outs,

  3. Runner(s) on with less than two outs.

 

With situation c (unless bases are loaded), ordering the pitcher to bunt is so automatic that no one is surprised when we see it. We understand that pitchers are generally awful hitters, we might as well salvage from their at-bat what we can. Further, by permitting them to swing away, the batting pitcher’s manager risks a double play. At that point, the hitting team would prefer a called third strike to a ball in play.

 

In situations a & b, though, the pitcher is given free reign to attempt to swing away as a normal hitter does. Since virtually all pitchers are awful hitters, this practice actually contradicts what we expect as athletic integrity. This practice is the approximate equivalent of an all-conference high school basketball player being given an honorary 6th spot in the starting lineup of an NBA team. We can approach this situation in one of two ways: appreciate how a team handles the burden of handling a position with no relative talent, or recognize that we want to maximize talent and conclude this as absurd.

 

Further, we measure baseball teams’ quality based on the differences in talent of their respective players relative to their competitors. Cal Ripken Jr was better than Rey Ordonez; over a season, a team will do better with Ripken than Ordonez because of that. I bring this up because it is rare that a pitcher is a significantly better hitter than his peers, and when it is the case it’s largely insignificant.  The bottom line, adding the 6th man high school player doesn’t add anything to the game here; we can adequately measure the differences in talent of the teams in question without adding a pitcher.

Pitchers tend to be awful hitters.

Pitchers tend to be awful hitters.

 

I don’t doubt for a second that every National League pitcher would love to not waste the at-bat they’re given, particularly with runners on. It’s just the case that his hitting performances virtually always fail to stack up against Major League pitching, and everyone knows it. Playing under this rule hands us at best a strategy we can duplicate elsewhere, and more likely an athletic contest with compromised athletic integrity.

 

I have not, to this point, refuted the prevailing argument of those in favor of pitchers hitting. It generally includes an enjoyment of the double switch, and a particular appreciation for the in-game “dilemma” of knowing when to pull a pitcher from a game after factoring in his offensive ineptitude. Frankly, though, there’s rarely a dilemma at all. When a pitcher’s health and pitch count warrant it, he’ll continue to pitch late in a close game or with a significant lead. When significantly behind, he’s probably been pulled from the game anyway. The decision on when to pull a pitcher is not made by chess-playing managers, but almost always by the circumstances that the individual game hand us.

 

It’s also common for people to prefer the pitcher hitting because of what it isn’t: it’s not the designated hitter. To have the privilege of batting regularly, this argument goes, one must be burdened with the responsibility to field. I agree with the argument, and I don’t spite the person who prefers pitchers hitting in defiance of the DH, because until now they didn’t have an alternative that is neither the DH nor forces us to watch a pitcher hit.

With the 8-man lineup, though, they do.

Published in: on August 7, 2008 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Why the DH is Bad

The designated hitter has been widely controversial since its institution by the American League in 1973.  This site certainly desires to fan the flames of controversy further. It’s my opinion that the use of the DH strips some athletic integrity from the game and widens the long-term performance gap between rich teams and poor ones.

When we evaluate an offensive player, we remember to consider where they might fit into a defensive scheme when thinking about their potential place on a baseball team. We don’t care how well potential third basemen pivot for the double play, but a second basemen better be able to. We don’t care if a potential shortstop can hit the cutoff man, but a right fielder should. To the extent that the defensive positions are different from one another and demand unique skills, we look for those skills in making up a team’s defense. In addition to these defensive considerations, players must be able to adequately hit.

That diversity in defense, by the way, makes for a superior game. When multiple players must bring multiple skill sets, the possible combinations of in-game quality are only enhanced. This isn’t, of course, unique to baseball, either. Point guards generally aren’t judged on their shot-blocking, but they better be able to find the open shooter.

If you want to make the argument that more specialization is good for baseball, though, then why not argue for the route of American football? Permit 8 fielders to form the defensive team, and 8 hitters to form the offensive team. That is, of course, the logical extreme. We don’t do that, though, again because the game is better by demanding some diverse talents from everyone.

Baseball, though, robs itself of only one part of this decision when it plays with the designated hitter. As designated hitters are freed from any burden to play defense, they can be fat, old, injured, gimpy, out of shape and bring nothing to the table for us to consider besides offense; a burden not even unique to them, as it’s shared with the team’s other hitters. A large slice of athletic integrity is taken from the equation here.

Further, the existence of the DH in professional baseball further retards the progress towards a league with more heightened parity. The DH rule requires that every American League team have nine starting hitters, and presumably adjust their payrolls accordingly. Now, for Boston and New York and other large market teams, this is no big deal. For a small market team, we’ve just added one more kink in the armor of salary and payroll maintenance; that is, it’s a bit more difficult for the smaller market team to keep up. In one of my economics courses in college – I can’t recall which one – the professor detailed how the Miller Brewing Company was the largest lobbyist to the Wisconsin State Assembly for Brewery hygiene standards. Why would the state’s largest brewery want more hygiene regulations? Because Miller knew that for the hundreds of locally owned micro-breweries throughout the state, the new regulations would be far tougher for them to comply than for Miller. How can large market baseball teams get an ingrained edge over small market teams? Force small market teams to take on an additional financial burden, or rather, reap the reward when the league forces it.

In the last twenty years, the American League has averaged 50 more points of standard deviation in gross annual winning percentage than the National League. I don’t mean to suggest causation between the DH and greater winning percentage deviation, but couldn’t part of that gap be minimally explained by there being a league-wide financial burden in the AL that the NL doesn’t have? And if so, oughtn’t it be corrected?

The DH was a knee-jerk reaction by owners seeking to inject more offense into the game. Perhaps their intention was a good one, but creating a one-sided position was not the way to fix it. I doubt they intended to strip athletic integrity from the game, I doubt they foresaw the possibility for widening the gap between rich and poor.

In any event, the best option wasn’t implemented. The 8 Man Lineup….

Published in: on August 7, 2008 at 11:52 am  Leave a Comment  

8-Man Lineup: The Pitch

How We Got Here

Baseball’s lineup rules, it seems, have three serious problems:

a.)  One of the options on the table compromises athletic integrity;

b.)  The other option on the table compromises athletic integrity;

c.)  That baseball uses both options over two leagues creates an unfair hurdle for the National League.

The use of the DH was a knee-jerk reaction to solve a problem of perceived lack of offense from the 1960s.  But, it was built upon an assumption that was never challenged: the assumption that baseball lineups must have nine players.

If one thinks about it, the only real reason to have a nine-player offense is because a team has a nine-player defense.  As we’ve seen, though, one of those fielders — the pitcher — really is a special case offensively; the very acknowledgement of that got us to the DH in the first place.

The Solution

I propose that a simpler, fairer, and more honest solution to the designated hitter debate is to have each team be permitted eight and only eight hitters in their hitting linenup at any one time.  Any one of their nine fielders — though it would most probably always be the pitcher — would be earmarked as not in the hitting lineup.  The other eight fielders would bat.

With that:

a.)  The crime of watching players who literally often haven’t hit since high school pretending to be able to hit Major League pitching consistently is finished;

b.)  The crime of giving a starting job to a one-trick pony has-been is finished;

c.)  The damage to parity in the game, both within the American League and between the National and American Leagues, is finished.

Implementation

The roster effect on National League teams if this rule were implemented is negligible.  They would merely proceed to bench their pitchers, more or less, from hitting.  The roster effect on some (though clearly not all) American League teams would be a bit more substantial.  Some players have been given long-term contracts on the expectation that they would never once play a lick of defense.

While that situation is problematic for the game in the short-term, I would suggest that the situation deserves the outsiders’ respect.  I propose a long-term deadline imposed for the implementation of this rule; providing these AL teams ample time to reshape their scouting and farm rosters, current DHs ample time to learn to play a defensive position or make retirement plans, and time for contracts given to DHs to expire.

Objections

I anticipate two objections to the 8-man lineup.  The first is that historical records will be altered, as top of the lineup hitters will undoubtedly get more at-bats over the course of a season.  If one takes even a cursory look at the history of the game and the circumstances that have affected the balance between offense and pitching, it becomes obvious that we cannot make an apples-to-apples statistical comparison over time.  Honus Wagner scored 100 runs in 1908, one of only two National League hitters to do so; in 2007, 15 NL hitters did it.  We only can compare the numbers after taking into account the differing contexts that both played in.

The fact is, the context under which baseball is played has changed with or without substantial rule changes.  Arguing that the 8-man lineup would compromise historical records misses the point that records already are, at face value, compromised.

The second main argument that the 8-man lineup supporter is bound to face will be employee-based.  Fourteen starting jobs, one per AL team, will be eliminated; how on Earth will the player’s association ever sign off on this?

First and foremost, I’m not sure this argument gives the MLBPA enough credit.  They signed off on drug testing, more drug testing, and a luxury tax; ten years ago, those considerations were laughable.  Beyond giving the union their appropriate due, though, to think about the best interest of the game, there are additional reasons that make the loss of 14 starting jobs not so bad for the union.

To be clear, the 8-man lineup doesn’t cost the MLBPA 14 jobs.  Each team will still be required to field a 25-man in-game roster.  The 8-man lineup takes 14 of those jobs and converts them into, effectively, bench roles.  The gross loss of pay to MLBPA members is 14 starting salaries less 14 better-than-typical-bench-player salaries.  Sometimes, yes, this involves David Ortiz and his $13 million annual pay.  Most of the time, though, it will be closer to Billy Butler and his $400 Thousand salary.

Next, it’s not obvious that the DHs of the present are necessarily the unemployed of the future.  With a lengthy implementation period, I would argue that current DHs who will be able to play in the 8-man lineup era won’t necessarily be without a defensive position.  That is, it might not be today’s DHs who have their salaries replaced, but the current 8th best fielder who can hit better only than a pitcher.  Don’t think David Ortiz and Jim Thome, think Cesar Izturis and Brian Anderson (of 2008).

Finally, in any market, goods and services are priced according to their scarcity.  The commodity of the hitter is, under my proposal, getting more scarce.  Over time, it’s entirely probable that the per-player salary of the hitters who survive would trickle upward faster than without this proposal.  Further, present-day DHs could be bid on by all 30 Major League teams, not just 14 AL teams.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading my site!  I can be emailed at 8manlineup@gmail.com if you have any questions.  Otherwise, please send this link to some baseball fan friends.  Word of mouth will start some real dialogue on this topic.

-Tom

Published in: on August 7, 2008 at 11:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Introduction

Thank you for visiting 8manlineup.com!

This site serves to aide the designated hitter debate in Major League Baseball by presenting an option that until now has been left off the table: decreasing hitting lineups from 9 players to 8.

The use of the DH is not without controversy.  So too is allowing pitchers to hit in the National League.  Both, though, operate under the assumption that baseball must have nine hitters.  This site questions that assumption.

My case is laid out in four essays.  First, I explain why pitchers hitting is an unworthy option.  I then do the same for the DH.  Next, I argue that the leagues playing under different sets of rules is necessarily bad.  Finally, I present a plan of implementation for the solution to all three problems that the DH debate gives us: the solution of the 8 man lineup.

Genius

Genius

By the way, I’m Tom Lyons.  I live near Madison, WI with my wife and children.  I work in banking by day, and I’m a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox.  I can be reached at 8manlineup@gmail.com

Published in: on August 2, 2008 at 4:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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