The Implications Of The New Schedule For The NL DH

With the move of the Houston Astros to the American League, and the unfortunate fact that both leagues will have an uneven number of teams, interleague play is destined to change this year. As cross-platform play goes from something that happens in the middle of June, once a year, like some sort of strange exhibition mini-season, to something that happens every week, the National League will have to re-evaluate their past strategies for American League parks.

The National League has a distinct disadvantage when it comes to fielding a DH. Mostly because they haven’t had to dedicate a slot on their 25-man roster to this sort of player, they’ve been ceding offense in American league parks. The National League’s designated hitters hit .234/.299/.389 last year, the American League’s official DHes hit .256/.328/.430.

The strategies of the past seem clear. Look at the list of National League DHes below this piece, and a few patterns emerge.

1) Roster an actual DH for half the season, then let him go or hide him somehow.

The Colorado Rockies rostered Jason Giambi all season last year, sort of. He appeared in the starting lineup eleven times before interleague play started in late June. Then he was the starting DH for every game the Rockies played in an American League park. Then he didn’t start another game for the Rockies. Then, three weeks after interleague play concluded, he went on the disabled list for the rest of the season with an unspecified illness. Want a more cut-and-dried version? The Phillies had Jim Thome for some reason. Well, they needed some help at first base with Ryan Howard out, but there were better options for the field, and Thome only started four games before interleague play. Then he DHed every game in an AL park for the Phillies. A little over a week later, he was a Baltimore Oriole and an official DH again.

2) Find a guy on the team to take a few swings and sit down.

Obviously, a little too much of this is going on if the National League can’t find a guy to slug .400 in their DH slot. This probably describes your Eric Hinske / Bobby Abreu type player — a backup corner outfielder who can still discern balls and strikes but can’t give you much value with the glove and is ill-suited for everyday play. Sometimes you’ll find a lefty-righty combo here, like Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz. Being a left-hander probably got Willie Harris a start at DH, but that last name should set off the alarm bells.

3) Move an aging (or bad glove) star to the position for a series.

National League teams will end up DHing a guy like Jordany Valdespin or Jerry Hairston, Jr. That’s probably a bad idea, especially given the fact that Hairston, specifically, can play passable D at multiple positions. There must be someone on the field who can hit better and field poorer than him. But from an offensive standpoint, moving a guy like Chipper Jones to DH is almost the same as just starting Matt Diaz. Either way, Matt Diaz gets plate appearances he wouldn’t in a fully National League season. Some teams have the depth to survive moving someone like Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday to the DH for a game. Some teams try to create that depth every year and still have Ivan De Jesus, Jr in the starting lineup at DH.

4) Call a guy up for the middle of June.

If you’ve moved your pinch hitter into the starting lineup, in effect, you’re missing a pinch hitter. Peruse the National League callups in early June, and you’ll see some names you don’t recognize. Rather than disturb the development of their top prospects in the middle of the season, teams will call up old first basemen to sit on the bench for two weeks and maybe get a start or two at DH. Like 29-year-old first baseman Mike Costanzo of the Reds, who got his first 21 plate appearances this season, mostly in May and June. Or 27 year-old first baseman Matt Hague of the Pirates, who did most of his debuting in June before being sent back down after interleague play ended. The Mets sort of did an amalgam: Vinny Rottino, a 30-year-old bat without a real position, was with the team until the end of June, when he was put on waivers. And Lucas Duda, a future DH with the glove, started losing regular playing time shortly after interleague play and was demoted in July.

So now that interleague play is more disperse, are any of these strategies less likely? Surely the first will disappear until the DH is installed in the senior circuit. If you have interleague games at different times all year, and yet you still only play six to nine of them in sum, you’re not going to devote an entire roster spot to an aging, no-glove, expensive pinch-hitter.

That pushes National League teams to the other three strategies. The common theme through those approaches is depth.

Roster depth allows you to move an iffy-gloved veteran to the DH for a couple of games a year without losing too much in the field. Theoretically, you put your Hairston in the field and your Andre Ethier at the plate, and you get value from one’s glove and one’s bat without devoting too many resources specifically to those few games in American League parks every year.

Organizational depth allows you to find a hitter in your minor leagues that can step in and pinch-hit from time to time when your best pinch-hitter is starting. A player like Darin Ruf might have his flaws, but on a good National League team, his skills — combined with remaining option years — mean that the Phillies, as a worst case scenario, can use him as their “26th man.” If that is the kind of role Zach Lutz ends up with on the Mets, he’ll log a ton of miles flying from Las Vegas to wherever the Mets are playing. But in general, the new interleague schedule could mean more movement between Triple-A and the bigs, as teams scramble to fill a position for the weekend.

Perhaps there are really are two choices now with the new schedule, and neither is especially new. You can choose to fill your bench with capable defenders that can offer value with the glove when they step onto the field behind the veteran sliding over to DH, or you can focus on having a more capable bat-swinging quad-A player that can step onto your bench when your best pinch-hitter gets to start for a series. The teams best prepared for those games might actually do both.

Team DH # Gs
Arizona Jason Kubel 6
Chris Young 2
Cody Ransom 1
Atlanta Eric Hinske 4
Brian McCann 3
Matt Diaz 1
Chipper Jones 1
Chicago Alfonso Soriano 6
Cincinatti Ryan Ludwick 2
Willie Harris 1
Miguel Cairo 1
Mike Costanzo 1
Todd Frazier 1
Colorado Jason Giambi 6
Houston J.D. Martinez 5
Carlos Lee 1
Los Angeles Bobby Abreu 4
Andre Ethier 2
Jerry Hairston, Jr 1
Ivan De Jesus, Jr 1
Juan Rivera 1
Miami Logan Morrison 3
Hanley Ramirez 2
Austin Kearns 1
Greg Dobbs 1
Giancarlo Stanton 1
Milwaukee Aramis Ramirez 3
Rickie Weeks 2
Ryan Braun 2
Taylor Green 1
George Kottaras 1
New York Lucas Duda 4
Jordany Valdespin 2
Vinny Rottino 1
Andres Torres 1
Mike Baxter 1
Philadelphia Jim Thome 9
Pittsburgh Garrett Jones 4
Matt Hague 2
Josh Harrison 1
Pedro Alvarez 1
Neil Walker 1
San Diego Carlos Quentin 5
Jesus Guzman 1
San Francisco Buster Posey 3
Pablo Sandoval 2
Hector Sanchez 2
Gregor Blanco 1
Justin Christian 1
Angel Pagan 1
St. Louis Carlos Beltran 3
Matt Holliday 2
Allen Craig 1
Washington Michael Morse 9



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

54 Responses to “The Implications Of The New Schedule For The NL DH”

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  1. Jim says:

    Any stats on how AL pitchers fare in NL parks vs. NL pitchers?

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    • Mark says:

      For what it’s worth BP has a quality of opponents stat that tracks the average hitter faced by a pitcher. Generally speaking there isn’t much of a difference in competition faced.

      As a fun example, Ricky Romero and R.A. Dickey both faced hitters with an average OPS of 750 last season.

      More often than not there isn’t a huge difference in the quality of opponents faced.

      Last season the average AL team hit 255/320/411 while the average NL team hit 254/318/400. So the OBP and BB% are essentially the same while you’re looking at a difference of .011 ISO. So I wouldn’t imagine there’s a huge difference. Going to NL parks and facing NL lineups.

      And I hate to complain about the website but it’s really really annoying to read the articles with the new layout.

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      • Blez007 says:

        I also don’t like to be negative, but I too dislike the new font/text size of the main body of articles.

        I’m not sure if things are loading correctly in my browser, but the site looks like something from 1993 at the moment…

        Still, I’m not complaining… just a bit of feedback!

        +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Ace says:

        Agreed; I’d really love to see the type size dropped back down a point or two. But in all honestly, Fangraphs, every article could be posted in 36 pt. white Comic Sans on a bright yellow background, and I’d still be here every day.

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    • Yinka Double Dare says:

      They’re pitchers. We’re just talking degrees of horrendous suckitude. NL pitchers are mostly terrible at hitting too, and the AL has some exceptions like Sabathia around. Maybe NL pitchers are slightly better at bunting since they get more practice?

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  2. TKDC says:

    American League teams will also be somewhat disadvantages in that generally they only have their pitchers take BP right before interleague, so now they will have to do that several times a year instead of once.

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    • Eric R says:

      The advantage in having a proper DH vs a makeshift one is quite a bit larger, IMO, than having a more experienced hitting pitcher vs a less experienced one [the latter also comes with the DH being available as a PHer]

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      • George says:

        Does it matter that al teams might be given an advantage? Nl teams are competing against other nl teams for playoff spots and every nl team has to face this “disadvantage”

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      • Eric R says:

        I don’t recall suggesting anything of the sort. The indented nature of my post implies that it was a response to a previous post…

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      • B N says:

        I don’t quite get the “NL is disadvantaged” argument. Assume an NL team and an AL team, who both spend $100m on payroll. The AL team throws $8m into a DH, giving them an advantage when they’re at home during interleague. However, when they’re in an NL park, they’ve paid $8m for a nice bench-warmer: money that could have been spent on better pitching or a serious upgrade at any of the positions. So sure, the NL team may be disadvantaged on the road… but the AL team should also be disadvantaged on the road, provided the NL team spent that extra salary wisely.

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      • warpigs says:

        It’s not about that the NL is disadvantaged. It’s about how a NL team can respond to the new situation with interleague play. If a particular team has a deeper roster and/or has a 4A guy stashed in AAA, they will likely have responded more successfully than their competition IN THE NL.

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  3. stan says:

    I think people often forget that NL teams have to carry more relief pitchers due to the pitcher’s spot coming up in the line-up late in games. The reason I mention this is that NL teams could also just carry one fewer reliever and one more hitter in DH games. To be fair, they should be allowed to “taxi” a reliever or hitter on and off the roster for DH games without worrying about regular optioning rules to AAA.

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    • Spike says:

      don’t know if the rules permit this but they should considering the schedule they’re going to .

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    • Yinka Double Dare says:

      I think the 12 man pitching staff is pretty standard in both leagues at this point. The “pitcher spot comes up” removal of a pitcher in the NL is counterbalanced by the need for a field player to hit in that spot/use in the double switch.

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  4. Eminor3rd says:

    Just add the DH to the NL

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    • Spike says:

      god forbid.

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      • RC says:

        Yeah, because watching pitchers strike out is awesome.

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      • KCExile says:

        But watching a team/manager actually manage is much more interesting, in my opinion.

        +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Timothy says:

        Double switches and pitcher bunts are pretty much automatic and are not interesting to watch, no matter how interesting the “strategy” gets.

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      • Giants and Cubs fans says:

        Dusty Baker disagrees.

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      • Synovia says:

        “But watching a team/manager actually manage is much more interesting, in my opinion.”

        There’s nothing that needs managing that goes on in your average NL game. If the SP has more than 80 pitches, and hes going to bat, he gets pulled. After that, the reliever always gets pulled when he comes to bat. That’s it. Nothing complicated, nothing interesting.

        Frankly, I think the management of pitchers in the AL is much more complicated. An AL manager doesn’t get told “Oh, pitcher is up now, pull him out”

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      • KDL says:

        But the AL manager also doesn’t have to contemplate, can my starter go one more inning so we can get to his spot. The AL manager doesn’t have to worry about anything other than getting the matchups he wants…which is hard work in both leagues…it’s just that in the AL there is little else that a manager needs to factor into that decision.

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      I just think the rules need to be consistent. If the leagues were separate, fine, but they really aren’t at all anymore. It’s not fair for some teams to have disadvantages based on rules.

      If you want to remove the DH, that’s fine too, but the player’s association will never let it happen — they’d rather extend careers of aging guys than give their pitcher more injury risk.

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    • Ben says:

      Just take the DH away from the AL.

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    • hk says:

      I think both leagues should compromise and adopt a hybrid DH, or a Designated PH (DPH). The SP would bat for as long as the manager leaves him in the game, but whenever the manager pinch-hits for the P in the 9th spot in the order, he would be allowed to use the same hitter every time. I have not analyzed the #’s, but I would assume that SP’s get ~2 PA’s per game and DPH’s would also get ~2 PA’s per game.

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  5. jskrynecki says:

    Both Lucas Duda and Jordany Valdespin are left handed hitters.

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  6. Greg says:

    You left Arizona off of the chart at the end of the piece.

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  7. Mr Punch says:

    It is I believe an established fact that some hitters thrive in the DH/PH role while others hit less well when they aren’t in the field. NL teams will have to take this into account. Because the minors have the DH, bringing up a player to DH might I suppose be a more attractive option than might otherwise be the case.

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  8. @notrizzo says:

    I see a scenario where the increased interleague play could actualy kill the DH, not make it standard in both leagues. AL teams are going to be less and less willing to invest significant salary into DH only players like David Ortiz, who pays $13m to have a guy PH 30+ games a year?

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    • Synovia says:

      Eh, I doubt it.

      David Ortiz put up .318/.415/.611 line last year. If he was playing a terrible first base, (he actually plays a slightly below average one), he’d be making $20M+ a year. Guys like him will always have a job.

      Eventually teams will realize that DHs actually hit worse than 1B, and that DH shouldn’t have such a terrible position adjustment, and realize that a guy who puts up a 1.000 OPS for $13M is a bargain.

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    • hk says:

      The AL teams only play 10 games in NL parks.

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  9. AC of DC says:

    Clearly the solution is neither the introduction of the DH to the NL, nor the abolition of the DH in the AL, but rather the implementation of hybrid rules that borrow from a nobler tradition than both: beer-league softball — specifically, four Outfielders. You put ten guys on defense (including the Pitcher), but only nine of them bat. This way, the Pitcher doesn’t have to limply strikeout every few innings, and we don’t harp on the DH for only playing half the game, but by drastically decreasing the range demands of fielders we still give aging fat guys a place to play.

    You’re welcome.

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    • Doug Lampert says:

      Adding an outfielder is too radical.

      Just go to an eight man rotation, you get to leave one player out of the rotation. You could even do this as an “interleague games only” rule.

      AL pitchers don’t need to pretend to know how to swing a bat.
      NL teams don’t need to pretend to have a DH.

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  10. Tim says:

    Since there are so few games, and now they’re generally not bunched together, I’d be simply using them to give half an off-day to a starter who I would normally give a regular off-day to. It’s not all about who’s OPS is higher, guys need breaks from time to time, and it’s a convenient and cheap place to do that. And there’s an advantage over any NL team that uses a AAAA DH and plays all of their starters but then gives them off-days in NL games.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Moving the starter to DH still opens up a spot on the field. I’m guessing you like the ‘good-fielding backups’ approach then.

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      • Tim says:

        Backups, good fielding or not, are going to start a certain number of games anyway. It’s better to play them in AL parks where the good player they’re replacing can still hit, right?

        It’s not about improving the team’s fielding for that specific game, which is the way you seem to be portraying it in the article. It’s about very few players being able to play 162 games in the field.

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      • KJOK says:

        I think the important point is that NL teams are likely to simply give some of their poorer fielding stars a ‘rest’ by moving them to DH for a few games, and having the games more ‘spread out’ actually enhances the utility of this strategy.

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  11. Jon says:

    “the unfortunate fact that both leagues will have an uneven number of teams”
    What’s so unfortunate about that? It’s about 15 years too late.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      It creates the need for always-on interleague play at least. And it’s weird.

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      • Tom B says:

        The leagues have an even number of teams, it’s simply an odd number in each. :)

        Selig’s inability to see past the rim of his glasses get’s us nothing but half-assed solutions… like last years playoffs with no off days, and this…

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      • Tom B says:

        And when I say even, I mean they each have the same amount. Having one league with more teams than the other in the first place was a bone-headed decision.

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      • LHomonacionale says:

        At least it balances the NL Central/AL West. It was obviously unfair that NL Central teams had to compete with five other teams for one playoffs spot while AL West teams only had to compete with three.

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      • Jon says:

        I really don’t mind having an interleague series always happening. My enjoyment of Cubs-White Sox isn’t aided by the fact that I know Pirates-Royals is also happening at the same time.

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    • hk says:

      I actually like the new system better although I would have preferred that they reduce the number of inter-league games to 14 or 16 instead of increasing them to 20. I like burying the inter-league series into the regular schedule rather than making them a spectacle 6 times a year.

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  12. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Get rid of the DH totally. I hate the DH.

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    • Tom B says:

      Do you hate it more than people hate watching pitchers bat? I doubt it.

      There are realistically like… 3 or 4 “professional DH’s” in the league… a few pretenders (more specifically teams with no interest in competing) and the rest of the teams employ a hybrid system giving their regulars half-off-days.

      The hybrid role will become much more prevalent for all teams if interleague play goes on as they have planned for 2013. The “all stick no glove” guys will go the way of the dinosaur… along with the drugs they rode in on.

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      • LHomonacionale says:

        Really not buying this. So long as AL teams have to compete with AL teams for the AL Pennant, contenders will have a Professional DH because that’s the most efficient way to score runs. Sure they won’t be very useful in interleague, but it’s a problem every AL team will deal with and that the best will solve.

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      • Tom B says:

        The Rangers were one of the first contenders of recent time to not actually use a permanent DH solution. The Yankees have also not really employed a full time DH in the absence of Posada/Matsui.

        Detroit (vmart/del young), Boston (ortiz), KC (Butler), CHW (Dunn) and most probably someone on the 2013 Angels… What other teams have the all stick DH on their roster right now? A guy that is going to play 90+ games at the DH position?

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      • Tom B says:

        I left Morales from last year off that list for some reason.

        This is what I was looking at… http://preview.tinyurl.com/bxo7fh9

        Link is to baseball reference “as DH” splits for 2012.

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      This is baseball, all players are eligible to hit, field, run including the pitchers. Just because the pitchers can’t hit doesn’t make it bad, it emphasizes more strategy, more ways to score runs. Some pitchers are better bunters than most of the other players on the team. I just like that kind of baseball. (of course I am a big Giants fan)

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  13. Baxter and Valdespin are both LHH.

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