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The Designated Hitter DH: Making Life Tough for AL Pitchers

February 23rd 2006

The Designated Hitter DH: Making Life Tough for AL Pitchers

Edgar Martinez

In 1973 Major League Baseball instituted three rules designed to lessen the power of pitchers and create more offense. One theory at work was that the game needed to be energized and that more hitting would create additional runs and excitement.

Both the National and American Leagues lowered the pitcherís mound and made the strike zone smaller.  The American League, as is well known, also created a new offensive position - the designated hitter (DH). The DH specialized in one thing and one thing only - hitting.

Usually third in the batting order, the DH was more often than not a power hitter who also swatted the ball for average.  Sometimes he was an older, less mobile player trying to extend his career or he could be a younger guy ill-equipped to be a position player.

 

Purists have decried the DH; baseball equal rights activists have bemoaned the lack of parity between the leagues; and strategists have claimed that managing in the American League is simply a lot easier than in the National. Some even focus on how A.L. pitchers are at a disadvantage when playing in an N.L. venue, due to the fact that normally they donít hit and must when in Senior Circuit parks.

One area that has been discussed sparingly is the effect the DH has on American League pitchers.  Unlike their N.L. counterparts, hurlers in the American League face a tougher challenge due to the fact that the lineups they face include a professional, full-time hitter and not a sometime-hitter, also known as a pitcher.

Statistical evidence certainly reveals that N.L. pitchers have better ERAís and A.L. batters higher averages. At first glance the evidence seems negligible.  National League pitchers notched a 4.23 ERA, while A.L. mound dwellers were 0.13 higher with a 4.36 ERA.  American League pitchers gave up an average of 76 more runs per season per team last year. Those on N.L. mounds had a minimally higher average of strikeouts per game and held teams to 0.21 few hits per contest.

 

Do these stats in any way make the case for American League pitchers having a tougher time of it? Not taken as a whole, but when one looks at how individual A.L. and N.L. teams fallout in terms of batting average (BA) and ERA, the case becomes clearer.

There are thirty major league teams, with 14 in the A.L. and 16 in the N.L.  Of the top fifteen hitting teams, 10 are in the American League, while the bottom15 include 11 National League clubs, with the last nine out of 10 being from the Senior Circuit.  As far as pitching is concerned, the tables are reversed, with 11 of the top 15 teams in Kís and 10 of the top 15 in ERA coming from the National League.

Perhaps the most important stat to consider comes under the category of batting average.  Traditionally pitchers are ninth in the batting order.  A.L. clubs, in which pitchers do not hit, occupy 13 of the top 15 positions for BA by players hitting ninth. The rest of the batting order, even third place, which is usually the DH, is just about evenly split with neither league holding much of an advantage.

But do the DH and the lack of pitchers coming up to bat really put A.L. hurlers in a weaker position than their N.L. counterparts? Consider this situation - there are two out and the eighth batter comes up with the ninth hitter on deck. No one is on base. In the A.L., if that eighth batter gets on base you have to make a very tough out - the ninth batter.  That means you canít pitch around that number eight batter to get to the ninth. For an N.L. pitcher, itís not as dangerous to put that eighth man on base because the ninth batter - a pitcher - is usually not very dangerous at the plate.

In many situations in the National League, pitchers only face a seven-man line-up due to the fact that the last batter often neutralizes the eighth man up, along with himself.  Thereís no such relief in the American League for pitchers.

So, along with everything else the DH does, he also makes the ninth batter much more potent and dangerous and often forces A.L. pitchers to make quality pitches to those in the lower third of the order. This is something National Leaguers can work around.

The result is higher ERAís, more hits, and more runs scored per team in the A.L.  Strangely enough the DH unto himself is no more dangerous than the third batter in the N.L.; the true power of the DH comes from the fact that he has created more opportunity for those players who bat last.

 
 
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By Paul Mrocza
This article was written by Paul Mrocza sponsored by http://www.stubhub.com. If youíre looking for tickets for the next Baseball game, look no further than Stubhub.com where fans buy and sell the hottest sports tickets. Reproductions of this article are encouraged but must include a link back to http://www.stubhub.com.

 

 

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