OLD BUSCH AND THE DESIGNATED PITCHER

“I think I like the Old Busch better” said actual, breathing people, when New Busch Stadium opened in 2006.

Of course, they didn’t mean what they said, they were understandably referencing memories they allowed an old building to contain. You’re welcome to say you prefer pitchers hitting for themselves to the Designated Hitter, but I’ll bet you, too, are holding on to yesteryear.

Pitchers used to work on hitting.  There was even once a day where pitchers didn’t put on a jacket over their jersey to, ahem, run the bases.

Today, if you are signing Clayton Kershaw’s checks, do you want him putting in long hours in the cage? How much of your asset goes unused per blister? Per oblique strain? Relative to the role of pitching in today’s professional game, Pitchers have become an investment far too valuable to risk.

Evolutionary processes have given us designated pitchers.

What you want is Bob Gibson to hit and pitch. What you’re getting is:

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And frankly, Bob Gibson “only” hit .206 for his career.  That’s the top end. Madison Bumgarner and his 8 dingers, you say?  He’s at .173 for his career.

It’s gotten too hard to hit to let the designated pitchers bat for themselves. Offense has steadily declined over the last 15 seasons by more than a run per game. Batting average has plummeted from .270 to .251 in that span.

And ERA has improved dramatically.

Last night, some guy named Mike Montgomery threw a one-hitter.  The night before, Cody Anderson took a perfect game into the 8th against a first place team.  It was his 2nd career game, ever, after posting a career 3.43 minor league ERA. “Who are these guys?”, says the Giants’ Chris Heston, who threw a no-hitter last month.

“There’s so much more strategy in the National League game.”

This is the loudest battle cry for the Anti-DH crusaders. But the strategy of intentionally walking the 8-hitter with 2-out and 1B open, to get to the pitcher who’s batting .083, is akin to the strategy of staying on 18 in Blackjack.

Last summer, the MLB average batting line for pitchers was .129/.156/.161, with a 36.8 percent strikeout rate.

It’s not bringing any more late-game situations than it’s taking from us in the first five innings.

And the late inning situations the NL game produces aren’t exactly participated in by pinch hitters with the commensurate skills to deal with the abundance of fireballers that reside in every MLB bullpen.

When you get to your seat at Busch and realize it’s Peralta’s day off, and Kozma is starting, do you rub your hands together and say “Yes! Here come’s more strategy!”?

What if you got to Busch and, in place of John Lackey and his .083 average, was Edgar Martinez? Is there no strategy in pitching to Edgar with a runner on, and Peralta on deck? The opposing pitcher, catcher, manager, and middle infielders would beg to differ.

The American League has strategy. We all remember Dave Roberts’ 9th inning stealing of 2nd base off Mariano Rivera. Roberts was a pinch runner for Kevin Millar. Mo was deft at holding the few runners he allowed.  What count should he run on? Should the batter take pitches on behalf of his runner? Should Mo shelve the famous cutter for fastballs on behalf of his catcher? Who’s covering 2nd, where do they shade the lefty Bill Mueller? Might Mueller bunt instead?

That same 2004 ALCS featured games 4 and 5 lasting a LaRussa-esque 10 hours. Ten. None of those hours featured Curt Schilling or El Duque pretending to bat.  Instead, it was Terry Francona intentionally walking Jorge Posada in the 13th inning to load the bases, while Tim Wakefield threw his wayward knucklers to *not* his personal catcher (Varitek instead of Mirabelli) with a margin for error of zero.  Wake had to strike out Ruben Sierra (7 for 21 in the series) to end the inning instead of, say, Paul Quantrill. And oh yeah, there had already been two passed balls in the inning.

But strategy.

Come on, where's this guy going?
Come on, where’s this guy going?

 

Letting today’s pitchers hit isn’t giving us more intricate baseball situations to consume and debate. It’s giving us a head start to the concession stand.  More strategic situations will be borne from more quality players participating in the game.

Like the stadiums it’s played in, the game has evolved.

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