NL DH

Fans Do Not Want a National League DH

At the end of the day, baseball is an entertainment product. If it does not deliver what its fans want, they risk losing them. 

Much like presidential election time, there doesn’t seem to be just one poll that provides a definitive answer. So instead, we’re going to look at a number of polls to try to find some sort of consensus. Admittedly, each and every single one of these polls has some issues. These issues stem from sample sizes, inability to control people from voting multiple times (on their phone, tablet, or computer), and lastly, we don’t know how the polling question was necessarily presented. 

With that said, looking at a number of polls can be informative. Here’s a look at some polls taken on the issue:

  • Public Policy Polling found that 55% of people want to see pitcher’s hit
  • NJ.com reported 59.41% of people do not want the DH in the National League
  • CBS Boston poll results were 52.14% wanted no DH, 30.35% thought both leagues should have the same rules, and 17.51% wanted to leave the current rules in place
  • ESPN Radio Cincinnati poll indicates 57% of people do not want the DH in the National League
  • Reddit poll essentially determine AL fans love the DH and NL fans hate it. 

I’m sure there are polls that I missed that may prove fans feel differently. I also don’t think that five different polls is definitive. However, it is informative. As the last Reddit poll shows, people seem to like their brand of baseball. 

Depending on whether you buy the Abner Doubleday story or not, the game of baseball has been played since 1839. In those 176 years of baseball, somewhere there was a pitcher hitting for himself. It’s apparent not just from these limited poll results, but also from the strong opinions everywhere on the topic, people like the idea of the National League having the pitcher hit. 

For those fans who don’t like it, who will not watch a game without a DH, there is the American League. As we see, people seem to care less about the DH, and more about seeing good baseball. If you put two, good, talented, and interesting teams on the field people will watch regardless of whether or not the pitcher is batting for himself. 

This is a big game that lasted a lot of years. It lasted through scandals like the Black Sox and steroids in the 90’s. It survived with pitchers hitting. Generally speaking, people like baseball. Many of those people like it with the pitcher hitting. There’s no need to add the DH to the National League. 

The fans just don’t want it. 

Pitchers Are Rarely Injured While Batting or Running

One of the reasons offered for the institution of the DH is to protect pitchers. Pitchers are expensive, and you don’t want them getting injured at the plate or on the basepaths. The theory is the DH would prevent these pitcher injuries. 

On the surface, it seems like a reasonable argument. Last year, pitchers made 243 trips to the DL. That’s 213 times more than any other position. Of those 243 trips to the DL, guess how many of them were batter or basepath injuries?  There was only one pitcher. Adam Wainwright suffered a torn Achillies tendon while swinging the bat. It’s true that Wainwright was injured while batting, but was he injured because he was batting?

Achillies tendon injuries are due to overuse or tightness in the muscles and tendons. Achillies tendon injuries are common in people who play sports, including baseball players. People who are in their thirties or forties, like Wainwright, are more susceptible to an Achillies injury. Overall, unless you’re involved in a serious accident, an Achillies tendon tear is not caused by any one event. 

Yes, Wainwright injured himself while batting, but that was not the cause of his injury. Unfortunately, as is the nature of Achillies tendon injuries, it’s not one event, it’s a multitude of events. The specific act of batting for Wainwright is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t the reason he tore his Achillies tendon. It doesn’t work that way. 

Yes, there are pitchers who are legitimately injured at the plate or on the basepaths. There are examples, which include getting hit by a pitch, swinging a bat, or running the bases. However, these injuries are few and far between. 

Let’s look at it from another perspective. Next to pitchers, left fielders went to the DL more than any other position last year with 30 trips to the DL last year. Let’s assume for a minute each and every single one of the DL trips by left fielders were sustained as a result of batting or baserunning activities. Let’s further assume that regardless of position, any position on the field will have 30 trips to the DL as a result of batting or baserunning activities. Finally, let’s assume these 30 DL trips were already a part of the DL trips made by pitchers last year (this way the denominator of total DL trips isn’t increased). 

With all these assumptions, batting and baserunning injuries would only comprise 12.3% of all pitcher injuries.  That tells us that the real issue with pitchers is that they get injured with pitching. They rarely get injured batting or running the bases.  In fact, the real percentage of pitchers getting injured at the plate or on the basepaths 0% – 0.004% of the time depending on what you believe the cause of Adam Wainwright’s injury was. 

If you want to solve the problems with pitchers getting injured, find a way to protect their arms. Keeping them off the basepaths isn’t going to keep them healthy.  This is not the reason to add a DH to the National League. 

DH Impact on Offense is Minimal

In 1973, the American League instituted the DH in order to increase scoring and attendance. It’s now 2016, and there is a call for the National League to adopt the DH for various reasons, including increasing offense. While we can admit a DH is a better hitter than a pitcher, what impact does a DH have upon offense. 

To look at offenses, let’s look at baserunners. The best gauge for baserunners is OBP. Here’s the OBP average per team in the AL and NL the past 10 years:

  • 2015: AL .318/NL .316
  • 2014: AL .316/NL .312
  • 2013: AL .320/NL .315
  • 2012: AL .320/NL .318
  • 2011: AL .322/NL .319
  • 2010: AL .327/NL .324
  • 2009: AL .335/NL .330
  • 2008: AL .335/NL .331
  • 2007: AL .338/NL .334
  • 2006: AL .339/NL .334

Even with the automatic pitcher outs, there isn’t a great disparity in the OBP between the league’s. However, there are more baserunners in the AL. As a result, it is reasonable to expect that there will be the average AL team will score more runs over the same timeframe:

  • 2015: AL 710/NL 666
  • 2014: AL 677/NL 640
  • 2013: AL 702/NL 649
  • 2012: AL 721/NL 683
  • 2011: AL 723/NL 668
  • 2010: AL 721/NL 701
  • 2009: AL 781/NL 718
  • 2008: AL 775/NL 734
  • 2007: AL 794/NL 763
  • 2006: AL 804/NL 771

Again, it is undoubtedly true the average AL team scores more runs over the course of a season, especially in 2009. However, to determine what impact these additional runs have on a game, we need to look at what the average runs an average team scores per game

  • 2015: AL 4.38/NL 4.11 Difference 0.27
  • 2014: AL 4.18/NL 3.95 Difference 0.21
  • 2013: AL 4.33/NL 4.01 Difference 0.32
  • 2012: AL 4.45/NL 4.22 Difference 0.23
  • 2011: AL 4.46/NL 4.12 Difference 0.34
  • 2010: AL 4.45/NL 4.33 Difference 0.12
  • 2009: AL 4.83/NL 4.43 Difference 0.40
  • 2008: AL 4.78/NL 4.53 Difference 0.25
  • 2007: AL 4.90/NL 4.71 Difference 0.19
  • 2006: AL 4.96/NL 4.76 Difference 0.20

So overall, even with the DH, the average AL team does not even score a run more per game than the average NL team. the highest differential over the last ten years was in 2009 when it was 0.40 runs per game. There may be different reasons to explain why these numbers are so close. However, these are numbers are close each and every year over the course of a decade. 

So while many will say the DH increase offense, they would be right. However, they are wrong on the extent of the impact. The impact is essentially negligible. 

The DH Doesn’t Drive Ratings

Even though Commissioner Rob Manfred said the NL will not have the DH anytime soon, he has opened up Pandora’s box with his previous comments that the NL could see the DH in 2017. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring at the end of the year, the issue is still on that table. Accordingly, I believe it’s an issue that still needs to be addressed. 

Now one of the key arguments anyone has in requesting the DH be implemented in the National League is because the move would increase offense. That is undoubtedly true. The corollary to this argument is that more offense will create higher ratings. It’s an axiom that is heard time and again, but is it true?

Before delving more in depth, there needs to be a clear understanding of baseball’s current business model. Baseball has become a regional sport. Part of this can be attributed to the rise of regional sports networks like SNY and YES. More likely, this is the result of every team having all 162 games televised. Given the choice, a vast majority of sports fans will choose to watch their team play than watch the National Game of the Week. For example, when ESPN has Wednesday Night Baseball, I’m watching the Mets. 

The only real issue of what drives ratings is when the postseason begins. At that time, a fan has no other baseball viewing option. Whether you’re a die hard fan or a casual fan, you’re choices are limited.

For my determination of whether or not the DH helps with ratings, I selected the ALCS and the NLCS. With there being four division series shown at different times of the day, the issue of availability becomes murky. However, typically, MLB attempts to schedule the ALCS and the NLCS so there’s as little conflict as possible. 

Last year, the NLCS between the Mets and Cubs was the most watched NLCS since 2010. The series averaged almost eight million viewers per game in what was a four game sweep. On the flip side, the ALCS was drawing record low numbers. There was a disparity of about three to seven million per game who watched each series. In 2014, the script was much different. 

The 2014 NLCS featured the Giants and the Cardinals, two fairly historic and important National League teams. The Giants last won a World Series in 2012, and the Cardinals were in the World Series the previous year. This NLCS had terrible ratings. The Giants-Cardinals series drew about 4.5 million viewers per game. That was down two million from these teams NLCS two years earlier. 

The 2014 ALCS between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals drew terrific ratings. The series averaged 5.1 million viewers. It consistently outdrew the NLCS. It outdrew the NLCS despite having smaller media markets and less historic franchises. Was the difference the DH and the increased scoring that goes with it?  No. 

As we have seen, baseball will tend to attract more fans with better and more compelling series. It should be of no surprise that Mets-Cubs drew terrific ratings. These were two young teams with some terrific pitching going head-to-head. It also didn’t hurt these franchises had a history. It also doesn’t hurt that the Cubs haven’t won in forever. 

So no, the DH and increased offense isn’t what is driving ratings. It’s the matchups. Plain and simple. If someone says the DH will hp increase offense and create better ratings, they are creating a narrative that simply does not exist. Sure, someone can argue that they don’t want to see a pitcher hit, but we also know it won’t stop them from watching a compelling game or series. 

Overall, ratings is not a reason to bring the DH into the National League.

NL DH Doesn’t Jive With Pace of Play Initiative

If you’ve worked anywhere, and a new boss comes in, you know they want to immediately set new things in place. They want to leave their mark. It doesn’t matter if the changes are needed or wanted. When Commissioner Rob Manfred took the helm, he set forth to improve the pace of play and average game times

We can discuss whether the changes and/or enforcing of rules already in place was a good thing. We can debate if the changes had a noticeable impact. We can even argue if this was even necessary. That is all besides the point. What is clear, however, is that is something that the Commissioner wanted to improve. 

To me, this is why the “momentum” towards adding the DH in the NL doesn’t make sense. Let’s start with the subjective. At a minimum, for innings 1-5, a National League pitcher will normally get at least two at bats. When a pitcher comes up to bat, you normally see an out. This out may be the result of the pitcher being a poor hitter. The out may be as a result of the pitcher going up there to sacrifice bunt. Regardless, the pitcher is typically a quick out. When there are quick outs, you move the game along more quickly. 

Now, this quick out that helps move the game along and arguably helps improve the pace of play is replaced with a DH. As structured a DH is not an easy out. They’re typical a better hitter than the pitcher who wins the Silver Slugger. This year it was Madison Bumgarner, who hit .247/.275/.468 with five homers and 9 RBI. That’s an outlier, where you are blown over by that pitcher’s hitting stats. If you got that from a position player or a DH, you’d be screaming for them to be benched, like Evan Gattis, who hit .246/.285/.463. Side note, what was A.J. Hinch thinking last year making Gattis the DH for 136 regular season games and all six postseason games?

While it’s noteworthy that the worst DH was a better hitter than the best hitting pitcher, it’s not a complete analysis. Given that I live in the New York market, I predominantly see the Mets and Yankees play. As you may guess, I watch a lot more Mets games. In any event, in New York, the best hitting pitcher is Jacob de Grom, who hit .186/.226/.203. The Yankees normal DH was a guy you might have heard of who goes by the name Alex Rodriguez. Last year, A-Rod hit .250/.356/.486. That’s a massive difference. With A-Rod getting on base much more frequently over the position he’s replacing, the game should be longer. 

However, is that necessarily true?  We can think it makes the games longer, but that does not make it necessarily true.  Well, it turns out AL games are typically longer than NL games. In 2014, AL games were about four minutes longer than NL games. Admittedly, four minutes may not seem like much time. However, MLB put measures in place to reduce game times, and the net result was six less minutes per game. Say what you want with respect to this, but it’s a start. 

In all fairness, it does appear that the pace of play initiative had a more profound impact on the AL.  The split between the NL and AL is now approximately one minute. With that said, NL games are still shorter. I’m still interested to see if: (1) MLB will continue this initiative; and (2) what the further impact this initiative has on both leagues. 

However, the main point is MLB wants to shorten games. If the DH is introduced into the NL, game times will lengthen. These two concepts do not jive. As such, if MLB wants to reduce game times, it should keep the DH out of the National League. 

Editor’s Note: this is the first in a series on the possibility of the NL adding the DH.