Defining an Ace III: Who will rise above the Ace Line in 2016?

If you missed Parts 1 & 2 in this series, here they are: Defining an Ace and Introducing Ace Line Calendar.

As we gear up for the 2016 season, there are some “ace” questions on my mind. Specifically three…

  1. Which starting pitchers can we confidently call an “ace” entering the season?
  2. Which starters below the “ace line” are most likely to break into ace status this season?
  3. Are there any starters who are likely to backslide and lose their ace status in 2016?

If you haven’t used the Ace Line Calendar yet, here’s a refresher on how it works. Find today’s date on the calendar. Click over to Bill James Online’s Starting Pitcher Rankings and compare the values listed there to the ones on the calendar. If the value is higher than the “Obvious Yes” value, then he is obviously an ace. If it’s lower than the “Definite No” value, then he’s definitely not an ace. If it’s in between, then it’s open to some debate.

To further understand it, let’s look at our first question.

Who are the aces entering the 2016 MLB season?

Today is March 30, and the values for that date on the calendar are 486.4 and 474.6. When we embed those values into the current BJO SP Rankings, the rankings look like this…

  1. Clayton Kershaw – 596.4
  2. Zack Greinke – 554.6
  3. Max Scherzer – 540.5
  4. Jake Arrieta – 539.4
  5. David Price – 533.0
  6. Madison Bumgarner – 533.0
  7. Chris Sale – 512.1
  8. Corey Kluber – 504.0
  9. Dallas Keuchel – 502.5
  10. Jon Lester – 500.9
  11. Cole Hamels – 499.2
  12. Felix Hernandez – 488.6
    —— Obvious Yes Line – 486.4 ——
  13. Johnny Cueto – 481.6
  14. Jacob deGrom – 476.0
  15. Stephen Strasburg – 475.3
    —— Definite No Line – 474.6 ——
  16. John Lackey – 471.6
  17. Jordan Zimmerman – 465.1
  18. R.A. Dickey – 464.3
  19. Tyson Ross – 463.4
  20. Sonny Gray – 463.0
  21. James Shields – 462.5
  22. Chris Archer – 461.7
  23. Jose Quintana – 461.6
  24. Francisco Liriano – 459.1
  25. Gerrit Cole – 456.1
  26. Lance Lynn – 447.3
  27. Edinson Volquez – 445.0
  28. Julio Teheran – 444.5
  29. Carlos Carrasco – 442.1
  30. Wei-Yin Chen – 442.0

Based on the Ace Lines, your obvious aces entering the 2016 season are Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, David Price, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez. There is some hesitation in calling Johnny Cueto, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg aces, so they’re on the bubble right now, and everyone ranked lower than that is currently on the outside looking in.

Which brings us two question two…

Which current non-aces will reach ace status in 2016?

The obvious answers are Johnny Cueto, Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg. All it takes is one good start and they’re back in the club. Who is deeper on the list that we need to be watching for?

The first two names that come to mind are Matt Harvey (437.2) and Adam Wainwright (319.5) . Harvey could be in the mix as early as May or June he already had time to climb the ladder in 2015. Wainwright would have to pitch like Jake Arrieta did last season to come anywhere close to making it, but his name will be on the rise for sure.

Lots of folks are expecting Chris Archer (461.7) to break out in 2016 for the Rays, and I’m no different. I expect him to compete for AL Cy Young. His name will almost certainly be among the other aces by the end of the year. Carlos Carrasco (442.1) is currently behind Corey Kluber in the Indians rotation, but after back to back strong campaigns in 2014 and 2015, he is poised to make it there as well. It’s possible that Justin Verlander (433.0) might get his swagger back after fading significantly in 2014 and most of 2015, and Shelby Miller – the unluckiest pitcher in baseball in 2015 – could turn a corner now with the Diamondbacks, a team that plays solid defense and provides a lot of run support.

Finally, Gerrit Cole (456.1) is entering 2016 with a chip on his shoulder. He thinks he deserves a raise and an extension, and he’s probably right, but the Pirates aren’t budging and they certainly don’t have to. He’s set to make $541,000 in 2016 after going 19-6 with a 2.60 ERA in 2015, and he’s even more motivated this season. His name will almost certainly climb the rankings.

Of course, the names right around the line could rise or fade slightly, but those are the names I’ll be watching closely.

Any other names you’d expect to become obvious aces in 2016?

Which current aces will fall below the Ace Line in 2016?

Barring a season-altering injury, great pitchers don’t generally implode and turn terrible overnight, so predicting names to drop below the ace line in 2016 is tougher to pick, but there are a few names that could dip in 2016.

Madison Bumgarner has had a terrible spring. Granted, there is absolutely no correlation between Spring Training and regular season stats. Sometimes guys are trying out new pitches, or working on pitching inside or outside, locating pitches. Who knows? Winning isn’t important. It’s the practice that matters. But when the phrase “wasn’t very good” comes straight from the horses mouth, well…you have to wonder. He has lingering foot and ribcage injuries that he claims haven’t been nagging him, but you never know. When there’s smoke…

While we’re talking about the Giants, I’ll throw Johnny Cueto into the mix as well. We saw Cueto struggle with a new team, catcher and ballpark when he joined the Royals in the second half of last season. Developing rapport in Spring Training can only help, but I do wonder which Johnny Beisbol the Giants will see out the gate.

The only other name that gives me any pause is Corey Kluber, but I don’t think that’s founded on anything. His 2015 season was just bad luck. His 9-16 record looks awful, but his 2.97 FIP looks really nice. His 1.054 WHIP was down from 2014 and his K/BB rate was just as strong as well. I expect him to stay among the aces.

But really, everyone listed there belongs, and it’s hard to envision anyone who doesn’t belong among that group. Barring injury, I’d be surprised if any of them dropped below the line.

I’ll be monitoring this list throughout the season.

Is it April 3 yet?!

-apc.

Image cred: Getty Images, accessed via The Sporting News.

Defining an Ace

What’s an ace?

It is, perhaps, the most subjective baseball term thrown around these days. “He’s the ace of their staff.” Or, “That guy is a true ace.” There are a lot of ways to define it, and none of them actually bring much clarity because it can’t really be done objectively. 

So the goal here might be impossible: to objectively define what makes a pitcher an ace.

The easiest (and laziest) way to define it would to be to say, “There are 30 of them – the best starter on each team.” That’s obviously bogus, and for a lot of reasons.

For some teams, there’s an obvious ace: Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez, for example. For a few teams, there could be multiple ace-calibur guys: the 2015 Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke) or Cubs (Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester). For many teams, there’s no clear ace at all: the Royals, for example, have a group of good starters but none of them are truly dominant. As much as we might call him “Ace,” Yordano Ventura is no where close to being an ace…yet.

However, every team does declare a #1 starter, and if they don’t say so explicitly, we can assume their best starter is the guy who throws on Opening Day. This yields names like Phil Hughes, Kyle Kendrick and Kyle Lohse, all Opening Day starters in 2015. We should all be able to agree these are not aces. There’s a distinct difference between an “ace” and a “number one.”

So where do we begin to create a definition amid this curious landscape?

First, we need a ranking system, which Bill James has so kindly constructed for us. Using his World’s #1 Starting Pitcher Rankings, we can see a list of all the MLB starters ranked from Clayton Kershaw to Matt Boyd.

If you want to know how the rankings work in detail, you can read more about it here. The short version is that every pitcher begins with a value of 300.0 then depending on their Game Score (which is calculated after every start they make) their overall number either goes up or down. So with each good start, a pitcher climbs the rankings as his overall score increases. If he has a poor start, or misses significant playing time, his score will decrease. The rankings are fluid. Think of them like golf or tennis rankings.

As of this post, Clayton Kershaw is currently ranked #1 with a score of 609.9. This is the third consecutive season he has begun the year as the #1 ranked starter in baseball. Prior to him it was Justin Verlander. Prior to him, Roy Halladay. Prior to him, Felix Hernandez, Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Halladay, CC Sabathia, Lincecum, Sabathia, Lincecum, etc., etc. etc. Players rise and fall. You get it.

I created a table of the Top 30 names going into each MLB season over the past 5 years as well as 2016. (If you’re on your phone, I recommend turning it sideways.) Here are the rankings…

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

Kershaw Kershaw Kershaw Verlander Halladay Halladay
Greinke Bumgarner Scherzer Kershaw Verlander Hernandez
Scherzer Hernandez Verlander Lee Lee Lee
Arrieta Scherzer Lee Price Kershaw Lincecum
Price Price Darvish Sabathia Hamels Sabathia
Bumgarner Sale Greinke Hamels Weaver Wainwright
Sale Lester Hamels Weaver Sabathia Hamels
Kluber Hamels Shields Cain Lincecum Oswalt
Keuchel Cueto Lester Shields Cain Verlander
Lester Greinke Sanchez Scherzer Hernandez Jimenez
Hamels Wainwright Wainwright Kuroda Lester Lester
Hernandez Zimmerman Price Dickey Carpenter Weaver
Cueto Kluber Hernandez Hernandez Haren Cain
deGrom Strasburg Bumgarner Gonzalez Romero Haren
Strasburg Darvish Sale Gallardo Kennedy Lilly
Lackey Weaver Weaver Greinke Shields Johnson
Zimmerman Dickey Dickey Latos Gallardo Kershaw
Dickey Shields Latos Fister Beckett J. Santana
Ross Samardzija Gonzalez Cueto Garza Greinke
Gray Fister Cain Halladay Price Rodriguez
Shields Lynn Kuroda Kennedy Wilson Arroyo
Archer Kuroda Bailey Sanchez Vazquez Sanchez
Quintana Gonzalez Lohse Lester Lilly Danks
Liriano Verlander Fister Lohse Greinke Price
Cole Tillman Wilson Bumgarner Rodriguez Carpenter
Lynn Sanchez E. Santana Harrison Santana Garza
Volquez Hughes Jimenez Arroyo Jimenez Billingsly
Teheren Quintana Strasburg Dempster Hudson Pettite
Carrasco Cobb Iwakuma Beckett Gonzalez Lackey
Chen Liriano Zimmerman Wilson Kuroda Guthrie

Two immediate thoughts. First: How did the 2011 Phillies fail? Second: What up, Jeremy Guthrie?

As I scanned the 2016 column, I began checking off the names I considered an ace entering that season. Kershaw? Yes. Greinke? Yes. Arrieta? Yes. But at a certain point, it gets hazy. For me, that certain point was Jacob deGrom. He’s the first person on the list who caused me to hesitate. My hesitation continues with Stephen Strasburg, but John Lackey is an definite “no.”

Moving over to 2015, I tried the same experiment. Adam Wainwright? Yes. Jordan Zimmerman? Yes. Corey Kluber? Won the Cy Young, yes. Stephen Strasburg? Yes. Yu Darvish? ….hesitation. I continue to hesitate on Jered Weaver, R.A. Dickey and James Shields, until I get to Jeff Samardzija and can easily say “no.”

Basically, just by using the eye test and our memories, each year can be split into three groupings: The Obvious Aces. Hesitations. Definite Nos.

As we think back to Opening Day 2014 and beyond, it gets harder to remember how we viewed each guy on the list at the time. However, I think our overall perception is better a few years later than it was in the moment. There’s no recency bias. I’m not compelled to call a guy an ace because I’ve seen his most recent body of work.

Here’s a good case: Chris Archer vs Doug Fister. There’s a chance Archer could take another step forward and be a legitimate ace in 2016. Or he could backslide. Okay, now look at Doug Fister: on the bubble from 2013 to 2015, and there was a chance for a few years he could’ve taken that last step, but he didn’t. This past season’s regression showed us he probably peaked in those years and isn’t an ace. Going into 2015, I might have been compelled to consider Fister an ace. Today, it feels silly to have ever considered it. I’m compelled to give Chris Archer the benefit of the doubt today, but a year or two from now, we’ll know the full story and will be able to look back with confidence.

As we go from column to column, here are my last “yes” all hesitations and first “no” for each year:

2016: Cueto (Yes), deGrom, Strasburg, Lackey (No)

2015
: Strasburg (Yes), Darvish, Weaver, Dickey, Shields, Samardzija (No)

2014
: Sale (Yes), Weaver, Dickey, Latos (No)

2013
: Hernandez (Yes), Gonzalez, Gallardo, Greinke, Latos (No)

2012
: Shields (Yes), Gallardo, Beckett, Garza, Price, Wilson (No)

2011
: Lilly (Yes) Johnson, Kershaw, J. Santana, Greinke, W. Rodriguez (No)

Maybe you disagree with me somewhat on where you stopped saying “yes” and started saying “no”, and that’s understandable. Each of us views these things somewhat differently – I love Zack Greinke, for example so I continued to hesitate on him in 2013 and 2011 when you may have been quick to say no. That’s fair. But generally, this is the area of the chart where, for me, I begin to question the label.

I went back to the rankings and looked at the scores, hoping to find some sort of correlation between the numbers. A trend developed. Again, these are their scores during the offseason between each season. The year above is the upcoming season.***

*** – By the way, I used the date of this research, February 5, as the date for each of these lists, only changing the year. I realize it’s an arbitrary offseason date, and I should probably choose Opening Day each year which varies up to a week each year. But for the sake of simplicity, I’ve used 2/5. Another note: these are offseason numbers, which decline steadily between the final day of the regular season and Opening Day.

2016
Cueto (495.1)
deGrom (489.5)
Strasburg (488.8)
Lackey (485.1)

2015
Strasburg (498.5)
Darvish (492.9)
Weaver (490.6)
Dickey (489.4)
Shields (488.5)
Samarzija (486.5)

2014
Sale (494.0)
Weaver (493.7)
Dickey (492.0)
Latos (488.9)

2013
Hernandez (504.3)
Gonzalez (500.0)
Gallardo (493.7)
Greinke (493.2)
Latos (489.3)

2012
Shields (500.7)
Gallardo (493.6)
Beckett (492.6)
Garza (491.0)
Price (490.4)
Wilson (488.1)

2011
Lilly (500.3)
J. Johnson (499.6)
Kershaw (498.6)
J. Santana (493.3)
Greinke (491.8)
W. Rodriguez (487.2)

Do you see the trend? Even in just glancing through the names, I somehow stumbled on a consistent set of scores. I’m actually shocked there’s some level of consistency here, but somewhere between 485 and 500 is the offseason barrier between ace and non-ace.

Now, this still isn’t totally objective because each of us varies in how strict we want to view the term, but it seems to me that somewhere in this range of scores is the answer to our question.

I have a few remaining questions though, that I’m not sure I’ve figured out still.

  1. Scores decline slowly but consistently during the offseason. Then as the season progresses, the top numbers rise through the season. The gap between the Opening Day low and Game 162 (and postseason, for those eligible) high is around 40-50 points. Is there some sliding scale we can create so that the 485-500 range that works today will be consistent in May, July, and September? Probably easy to do, but that’s for another post.
  2. What do we do with injuries? Are Matt Harvey and Adam Wainwright aces? Do they get grandfathered in somehow due to their past dominance, or do we require them to prove they still deserve the label and work back up the rankings?
  3. What do we do about a guy who has a meteoric rise one year, but hasn’t sustained it over time? Can we really call Jake Arrieta an ace, or does it take some time to establish himself?
  4. What do we do we call a guy with a 500+ score who isn’t the #1 starter on his team? He’s technically not a staff ace, but he still has all the other qualifications. Is there a name for that? Deuce? King? Off-Ace? Grasping.

Still working on the details, but it seems there is an objective way to say whether a starter is or is not an ace based on Bill James’s ranking system. I’ll have to do more research to determine what those barriers are over the course of the season. It’s just an algebra problem that needs plotting. Let me get my TI-83+ and follow up later.

Although, it’d be a lot easier if we just asked, “Is he better than Mat Latos?” and called it a day.

-apc.

 Image Cred: LA Times accessed here.

The DH

And here we go again.

Last week, Bartolo Colon got his first RBI hit since 2005. We all laughed and had a jolly time with it, celebrating how fun it can be when a blind squirrel finds a nut. For a moment, it seemed like there were worse things in the world than pitchers swinging a bat.

This week, Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals staff ace, was batting and hit a weak infield pop up. He stumbled out of the batters box limping. The moment I saw it, I knew it was an achilles injury. Wainwright, typically a decent hitter, is going to miss the rest of the season. Which is absolutely devastating for the Cardinals, their fans, and baseball itself.

Also over the weekend, Max Scherzer injured his thumb during an at bat. The former Tiger and now Washington staff ace is expected to miss a start or two. And with those two injuries, lines are being drawn in the dirt again.

First of all, both of these injuries were flukey to say the least. Waino took a swing and on his first step out of the box, his back ankle just gave out on him. He could’ve done the same thing jumping off the mound to field a grounder or covering first base on a ball to first, or walking out of the dugout for crying out loud. And I’m sorry, but Scherzer’s is pitiful. Dude can’t swing a bat without straining his thumb? That’s weak.

It was Scherzer who really ignited the DH argument though, having this to say:

“If you look at it from the macro side, who’d people rather see hit — Big Papi or me? Who would people rather see, a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper? Both leagues need to be on the same set of rules.”

Apparently Scherzer wasn’t aware that by taking more money from the Nationals he would have to pretend to bat a couple times each start. Nevertheless, he has ignited again the argument all baseball fans have had a million times at this point: DH or no DH? 

And where do you lie? Power-thirsty AL fans want the DH to be universal because everyone wants to see more home runs and higher scoring games, right? Strategy-loving NL traditionalists want pitchers to keep hitting .089 and balk at the fact that a player would get paid to only play half the game because everyone wants to see a pitchers dual, right?

You probably already know where I stand, but if you don’t, I’ll remind you: I align myself with the NL fans, and for a few different reasons.

Yes, I’m a Royals fan, and I enjoy trips to #DongTown just as much as the next guy, but I grew up a Cardinals fan and was taught that baseball is primarily a mental game. It’s strategy and fundamentals over the course of a marathon season. Call me a traditionalist if you want, I don’t care, but baseball is a game of 9 players, and the beauty of it is that all 9 players play both sides. At its core, the DH goes against the game.

Interestingly, since the DH was introduced, pitchers have slowly hit worse and worse. Over the past 40 years, pitcher batting average has dropped consistently – from .150 in 1975 to .089 so far in 2015.

This shouldn’t be shocking. Sports are different now. When pitchers know they won’t have to hit, they can specialize in in pitching and ignore the other part of the game. Everybody has to specialize these days.

In middle school and high school, the pitcher is typically one of the most athletic guys on the field. They play both sides and they play both well. But these days, when players graduate high school and get drafted into professional baseball, they quit practicing half of their game and focus on improving their pitching.

Well, no wonder their production at the plate has plummeted over the years – they quit swinging the bat the day they get signed! Today, young pitchers can bank even more on the fact they might not have to bat ever! The less they care to work on their swing, the worse they’ll look at the plate.

However, some pitchers, Madison Bumgarner for example, take great pride in their hitting and work hard at it. Bumgarner has two career grand slams and I still can’t stand the guy for what he did in October, so forget what he thinks anyway.

Still, is there anything more rewarding as a pitcher than “helping your own cause,” as they say? When you can put up runs and produce on the mound, that’s a special night. Like many of us, I think of Zack Greinke when I think about pitchers hitting. I bet he would’ve loved to take some hacks during those 2007-09 seasons with Kansas City. If a pitcher can hit better than the opposing pitcher, it’s a huge advantage for a team.

It also holds pitchers like Jeff Samardzija accountable because they themselves might get plunked. Think twice next time, says Kelvin Herrera.

That said, I agree – pitchers are generally terrible hitters. In the pros, they have never been and will never be great. They were better before, no doubt, but still mostly bad. And now they are worse than ever. Yet it only happens two or three times each game, and if they’re strategic with it, pitchers can make productive outs to advance the baserunner by bunting or just putting the ball in play. So don’t hear me wrong -I’m not trying to argue that pitchers are good hitters here (though they were better, once upon a time). 

Okay but enough about pitchers. Let’s go at it from another angle. Specifically, the DH angle.

You want to talk about the embarrassment that is pitchers hitting? Fine. Then let’s also talk about the embarrassment of designated-hitters fielding and throwing. Just like I wrote in my bit on Billy Butler last week, designated hitters are, at maximum, two-dimensional. They can hit for power and average. They’re professional hitters. They are not ballplayers.

I think much more highly of an all around ballplayer than a two-dimensional slugger. They’re more fun to watch and make the game beautiful.

I also think the DH does an injustice to these fundamentally sound defensively versatile guys like Josh Harrison or Daniel Descalso or Don Kelly or Ben Zobrist – guys who can go out and play multiple positions, and field them all well hit for decent average too. These guys don’t have the WAR value that pure DHs do, but how would they? Designated hitters are only expected to do the one thing they’re good at! They aren’t demerited for their lack of defensive ability or arm. Today’s culture values offense and devalues defense, and it’s an injustice to guys who can provide flexibility to a lineup.

They also don’t get paid for their skills the way DHs do, which is a shame.

Granted, these are just four random players who can play multiple positions, but they all have different stories based on their abilities and league. Descalso and Kelly both come off the bench in opposite leagues (well, until Kelly went to Miami this offseason). Descalso ends up playing nearly every day in the NL – 1380 plate appearances worth 1.1 WAR in 5 years with the Cardinals (with Colorado now). He’s very comparable to Don Kelly, but Kelly has only seen 1157 in his 6 years with the Tigers, worth slightly less: 0.8 WAR.

Harrison and Zobrist are both starters in the NL and AL, respectively, who play multiple positions. Zobrist has been in the league much longer, and Harrison is just entering the prime of his career, but both provide so much flexibility for their teams. Zobrist, with the Rays/Athletics, has played every position but pitcher and catcher. Harrison, with the Pirates, has played every position but catcher, centerfield and first base – he even pitched 1/3 of an inning in 2013.

All that to say, both of these guys provide serious flexibility for their teams, and are extremely valuable especially in a National League lineup. When Zobrist was a free agent this offseason, I heard fans of every team across baseball wish they would add a Ben Zobrist – his versatility would make any team immediately better. Meanwhile, Billy Butler had about 4 teams who needed a guy of his…caliber. 

And the luxury for Clint Hurdle, the Pirates manager, to be able to pinch hit for any position player is so helpful because it allows Harrison to shift over. I mean, the primary reason Harrison has never played centerfield is obvious: you never hit for Andrew McCutchen.

But in the American League, there’s no need for flexibility. You just go out there and play the game in the same spot in the lineup in the same position every inning. It lacks creativity and limits ballplayers’ versatility. And to me, that’s way less fun.

The DH is the definition of inflexibility.

I’ve been playing a lot of Strat-o-matic with the 2014 Tampa Bay Rays lately, and Zobrist is such a weapon. His defensive versatility allows for so many options. He can play 2B, SS, LF, RF and CF, and he plays them all well. You can bring in stronger hitters off the bench at any position and Zobrist can easily shift fill in admirably wherever needed. That added value doesn’t show up in his own WAR, but is consistently putting his team in a better position. How much team WAR has been added over the years by Zobrist’s ability to move around, I wonder? Of course, Zobrist is an AL player who has been used by Billy Beane in creative ways, but my point is that flexibility is an underrated value in baseball these days.

Which is what I think is so great about baseball: it’s a team sport and each ballplayer may bring various strengths and weaknesses to a club, but ultimately each of them plays both ways.

So that’s a lot about the flexibility – or lack thereof – that the DH provides.

Finally and ultimately, I dislike the DH because it eliminates a lot of strategy in the game. I love the double switch when the pitcher gets pinch-hit for in the 7th. I love watching pitchers lay down a sacrifice bunt. I love how pitchers batting allows more bench players to see game time and play a role.

A few years ago, I was at an extra-inning Cardinals game where they pinch-ran with Joe Kelly, the fastest player still on their bench. Reminder: Joe Kelly is a pitcher. He scored from second on a Rafael Furcal single and the Cardinals walked off because of his speed.

You don’t see that in DHville. Instead, you’ll see a position player come in to pinch run for the bumblingly slow DH after his last at bat because his only contribution is over with. AL managers rarely get creative because the lineup never has to change and the manager never needs to adjust.

In the NL, the manager actually makes in-game decisions. In the AL, he just sets the lineup and makes the occasional pitching change.

I understand it’s not “fun” to watch pitchers hit, but again, it only happens two or three times per game and even those plate appearances can be productive at bats. The ability for pitchers to utilize a bat has plummeted over the past 30 years since the addition of the DH. But home runs aren’t the only thing fun about baseball.

Utilizing the bullpen becomes more challenging too to avoid the pitcher spot in the lineup. If you know your pitcher is leading off the next inning, you might think twice about taking out the current pitcher so you can pinch hit for him. This may even lead to poorer matchups in the short term simply in an attempt to conserve arms. Is it possible* that the NL sees a slight spike in HRs against the bullpen because the offense is getting better matchups? Hmm.

* – Somebody find me those stats. I’m too lazy to look it up right now. 

It is fun, at least for some of us, to watch teams make decisions with their bench and bullpen. Suddenly, having an intelligent manager makes all the difference. Baseball is a game os strategy, and the DH has eliminated so much of that portion of the game I love.

Anyway. The long and short of this discussion, I think, is that being able to have the argument between DH and P hitting is about the only thing that separates the AL and NL anymore. It used to be that you never saw anything of the other league except the All Star Game and the World Series. And then you’d root for your League because it wasn’t just about your team, but your League having the upper hand over the other one.

But everything has changed now. The AL/NL competition doesn’t exist anymore. The All-Star game means nothing (or should mean nothing, but does, in fact, determine home field advantage in the WS). Interleague play has the Royals traveling to Wrigley Field next month, and to St. Louis every year. There’s no mystery between the leagues and there’s certainly no more loyalty.

At this point, the designated hitter is the only point of contention. So my last reason for supporting no-DH in the National League is purely that – to maintain something different between the two so we have something that sets them apart. The AL will never get rid of the DH – there are too many multi-million dollar contracts being paid to guys who would suddenly be out of a job – and despite what people are saying, I don’t think the NL will adopt the DH anytime soon either.

They haven’t voted on it again since 1980, and those voting bodies don’t even exist anymore. It’s not going to change, and I’m very happy about that.

In the end, it’s a difference of opinion based on what baseball fans enjoy watching. Which is why I hope the status quo remains – fun for all.

Now that I’ve said my piece, all you power-thirsty AL fans can fire away. You won’t offend me if you think my perspective is archaic or under-evolved. I think the DH has caused the game to devolve in the wrong direction, personally. The game adjusts and changes for the better every season on its own. Look at defensive shifts just in the last few years – makes the game better. No need to make a drastic sweeping change to the fundamental structure of the game in order to continue to make baseball better. It was already a great game.

But, whatever. Go ahead and throw your stones.

-apc.

Photo cred: Getty Images, accessed here.