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

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

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