Spreads in Pitcher Hitting and DH Hitting

In 1973, the owners of the American League adopted Major League Baseball rule 6.10, which allows any league the option to use the Designated Hitter rule. Ever since, fans of each league have argued the superiority of said league’s rules. National League fans prefer the more strategic, small ball style that stems from the pitcher batting, and AL fans prefer the offense that results from batting nine major league caliber hitters instead of eight.

One question that arises with this difference in rules is how much spread in batting production we see between the two leagues. The natural assumption is that pitcher hitting is relatively even between teams, as most pitchers are generally equally poor at hitting. With DHs, we would assume that we can see the wide variation that we see with all other positions.

Is this true, though? Let’s look at some data. PBWRAA is “pitcher batting weighted runs above average,” given that the average pitcher wOBA in 2009 was .164.

nlpwraa

First, with NL pitchers, we see a roughly 20 run difference between the Pirates and the Cubs. This is a significant difference on a team level. Having Carlos Zambrano (.305 wOBA) and Sean Marshall (.242 wOBA) over players like Charlie Morton (.115 wOBA) and Ross Ohlendorf (.071 wOBA) can be a two win swing just with the bat. This is what makes Zambrano so much more valuable in the NL – his 3.95 career FIP isn’t ace quality, but with a .305 in 65 PAs as a pitcher, he contributed eight runs with the bat, nearly a win worth of production.

Similarly, Milwaukee Brewers fans likely will not soon forget how terrible Ben Sheets handled the bat during his tenure with the club. With his .096 wOBA, over that same 65 PA sample with Zambrano, he would have accrued four runs below average, for a difference of nearly 1.2 wins. That essentially offsets the roughly 10 run difference between 180 innings of Sheets (3.56 FIP) and Zambrano (3.95).

Now, let’s take a look at the spread in DH hitting.

aldhwraa

Here we see a spread of 45 runs. However, the spread in wOBA is only 80 points vs. 63 points for the pitchers. This is because the DHs see nearly twice as many plate appearances as the pitchers over the course of the season. Taking this into account, the spread between leagues is much lower. We shouldn’t expect the inclusion or exclusion of the DH to result in any more or less parity. In other words, the difference between Hideki Matsui and Jose Guillen is similar to the difference between Cubs pitchers and Pirates pitchers at the plate. It’s also worth noting that only one team this year was below average in their league-specific category and made the playoffs – the Red Sox at -2.23 DHwRAA.

Draw your own conclusions from this data. This is not meant to endorse either rule system as better than the other, but instead to provide a comparison of the two rule systems.

We hoped you liked reading Spreads in Pitcher Hitting and DH Hitting by Jack Moore!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

newest oldest most voted
Lyons
Guest

What you didn’t point out was the difference between a typical AL DH at home against an NL opponent that has to start an otherwise bench hitter at DH. This is the key injustice in the rules disparity – at the expense of NL teams – and happens every world series and every interleague game at an AL Park.

I could be wrong, but I greatly doubt that it’s made up for by the disparity in quality hitting from the batting experience of NL pitchers over AL pitchers.

Why not just have a universal 8 man lineup?

Sky Kalkman
Member

AL teams tie up resources in developing/signing their DHs. Where do NL teams put those resources they don’t have to put towards a DH? Shouldn’t they be contributing in games without a DH to give them a leg up on DH teams (and in DH games to lessen the disadvantage of not having a true DH a bit)?

Lyons
Guest

There are 30 bidders on elite pitchers and elite batters who can also field. There are only 14 bidders on elite hitters who cannot field. The demand will necessarily be lower for DHs when we play under two sets of rules.

So, where the NL teams can put resources they need not put toward a DH, they must still bid against AL teams. AL teams do not have the same problem when bidding for DHs, since they literally have that market cornered.

You’re saying that a cornered market for the AL is a fair makeup for the NL needing one fewer regular starter. The odds that they’re equal is overwhelmingly unlikely. Isn’t the fairest resolution just a common set of rules both leagues share?

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast

They may still have to bid against AL teams with those resources but the AL teams are at a theoretical disadvantage since they already had to spend money on something the NL does not.

Personally I think the data in this article suggests the advantage/disadvantage of DH vs pitcher batting in a series played in both ballparks would be a lot less than you seem to think, which gels with what I would guess (obviously not scientific).

I think where you lose me is that you seem to think that when a AL team has to take one of its better hitters out of the lineup it is not a disadvantage.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Member

Good point about that.

However, that brings up the question of how even the revenues for AL teams is relative to NL teams. If the AL team is generating more revenues per team (and I would drop NYY from calculations), that could explain the difference in resources you note (not saying they will, just noting that another layer of analysis needs to be done to test your point properly).

All I know is that comparing an average AL DH hitter with the average replacement level hitter most NL teams have on their bench, that helps to explain some of the disparity between the AL and the NL in the past.

And the AL teams do benefit from the NL teams forced to release or give up (for less value) on players who might be good hitters but not good fielders, they might end not paying very much for their DH.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Member

I believe that there is a much greater advantage for AL teams relative to NL teams in terms of their DH compared with the NL team’s best hitter off the bench against their pitcher against the NL pitcher. I would bet that the spread is much greater between the DH and bench player, than the NL pitcher over the AL pitcher.

Nats Fan
Guest
Nats Fan

Lyons… there are more than 14 teams that bid for great hiotters that field poorly. Adam Dunn is the worst fielder than anyoin in the game and he is playiong in the NL. He fields worse than Kubel, Ortiz, Cust or any DH in the AL. Look it up it is true.

Xeifrank
Guest

Isn’t the advantage an NL team has hosting an AL team greater than the advantage an AL team has hosting an NL team? The AL team either loses one of their best hitters (DH) in an NL park or has to trot out a poor fielder while possibly sitting a secondary level fielder in his place. Of course, this varies on a team by team basis.
vr, Xei

Lyons
Guest

@ Walkoffblast: You’re right, I don’t believe there is a long-term disadvantage to the AL team in an NL park, short of standard home field advantage.

@obsessivegiantscompulsive: I would go a step further. I would hypothesize that the existence of the DH in part creates greater disparity in the AL. The standard deviation in winning percentages in the AL has been, on the whole, larger than the stdev in winning percentages in the NL since the creation of the DH. I admit I haven’t done a significance test here, and it is just a hypothesis, but intuitively it makes sense…

@Xeifrank: You forget that in an AL park, the NL team is giving a lineup spot to what was previously a bench hitter. Sometimes it doesn’t matter (2008: Chris Coste/Greg Dobbs v. Willy Aybar/Cliff Floyd). Often times it does (2007: Ryan Spilborghs v. David Ortiz).

I’d reiterate the same point to each of the three of you: yes, maybe what imbalances that exist are equal, but common rules are the surest way to truly equalize imbalances.

The NBA COULD, if in their infinite wisdom they chose to, stipulate that 3 pointers only count in games hosted by Western Conference teams. Maybe that the West then has to divert resources to 3 point shooters while the East spends more money on interior defense balances itself out. Why try it though? Just keep the rules the same.

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast

I think you have a few contradictory opinions. Yes, Ortiz is better than spilborgs but he is also paid a lot more and in a NL park the red sox must bench a 3.8 WAR guy in Youk to downgrade Ortiz’s value by playing him in the field. That seems pretty unlikely to be irrelevant over time to me.

Lyons
Guest

Walkoffblast: Yes, they must bench Ortiz or Youk, you’re right. And when they do, they have 8 hitters: just like the NL team. The Red Sox lineup in an NL park is worse compared to prior Red Sox lineups, not compared to NL lineups.

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast

Who said all lineups are supposed to be equal? The fact that the red sox lineup is worse compared to what it usually would be seems to be an obvious disadvantage to me. In an NL park that team has full use of its resources as intended that they paid for while the AL team is at a disadvantage. Their DH is relegated to that first bat off the bench (a role the NL fills much cheaper) then you go to an AL park and you swap the disadvantage of the two positions.

Matt Zakrowski
Member

“Why not just have a universal 8 man lineup?”

Because I watch pro sports to see greatness. If I want to see non professional hitters flail awkwardly at a ball, I’ll go to the local batting cages.