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.

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

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