Pitchers Aren’t Just Bad Hitters

They are TERRIBLE hitters. They are not comparable to even the worst real hitters.

Max Scherzer said he enjoys hitting, but after getting hurt doing it, he thinks the DH might not be the worst idea.

The designated hitter is always a touchy subject, even though the National League is, if not the only league anywhere in the world, amateur or professional, that continues to employ it, then one of the few leagues to do so.

Yet I am not fully in one camp or the other. However, bringing the DH to the NL would not be a disaster of gargantuan proportions, as many a diehard NL fan might tell you. In fact, in an era of dying offenses, perhaps getting the worst hitters out of the batter’s box is an acceptable idea.

In 5519 PA in 2014, pitchers hit .122/.153/.153, for a minus-19 wRC+. The absolute worst hitter with at least 100 PA was JB Shuck, with a .145/.168/.209 line for a wRC+ of 2, or 21 points higher than the average pitcher. 21 points of wRC+ was also the 2014 gap between Nelson Cruz and Yan Gomes, or pick any of a number of great offensive seasons from merely good ones. Except here you are starting at terrible and ending up at abysmally awful. I would have created a “wRC+ X was Y times higher than wRC+ Z” construct instead, but it’s hard to do that when dealing with MINUS-19 and a positive number.

Meanwhile, the 30 worst hitters with 100+ PA last year, who combined for 5544 PA, comparable to the number of pitcher PA, posted a triple slash of .184/.247/.261. Their median wRC+ was 44; the mean, 38. (Note: Not -19.)

Bill Bergen, the poster boy for awful hitters, had a career wRC+ of 22 — 41 points higher than your typical 2014 pitcher.

Pitchers are terrible at hitting because it’s barely part of their job as it stands. And then they get hurt, like Chien-Ming Wang (running the bases) or Max Scherzer, doing this part of their job that is nearly irrelevant to the rest of it. It’s like asking the janitor to file a TPS report, and then he gets a really nasty paper cut and can’t go back to work for some time. (Terrible analogy, I know.)

I know the arguments in favor of the National League system as well, but won’t rehash them here, for fear of convincing myself to completely accept the DH, and thus further upsetting any number of fans. For example, did you know (and other people have basically written this already) the pitcher’s turn in the order is actually a helpful hint, not a complicating factor, in deciding when to remove a pitcher from a game? Not pinch-hitting means that you are allowing someone who can’t hit to hit, in exchange for the least effective parts of his real job, the mid- to late innings. The gap between a fresh reliever and a starter multiple times through the order on the mound *and* the gap between even a pinch-hitter and the pitcher at the plate are almost always both going to be in favor of removing the pitcher.

See, that’s what I meant. I’ll cut my losses and avoid trying to devise another lame analogy to conclude with.

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hscer (pronounced h-s-seer) is also the Curator of MLB quizzes at Sporcle.com. You can join Dan Szymborski in following hscer on Twitter.

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Oh, dam! Now you’ve gone and removed one of the NL advocates’ most pungent arguments for having pitchers hit; that the strategy of when to remove the starter is one of the huge strategies that soars way beyond anything the AL can come up with. Now all we have left in exchange for the agony of watching 2 men in uniforms pretend to hit, is to wait for a chance to wallow in beatific joy should a double switch take place!

Mr Punch
Mr Punch

The advent of the middle reliever who is actually a decent pitcher, which is a recent development, greatly reduces the strategic element in deciding to remove the starter.

“Pitchers are terrible at hitting because it’s barely part of their job as it stands.” Yes, and let’s be clear here: the point isn’t that pitchers don’t care about hitting, or don’t take BP; it’s because they’re highly selected for one thing, and position players are highly selected for something else that’s barely (if at all) related.