Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

(R) I'm one of those old sticks in the mud who reject the formulation that more offense supposedly equals more exciting and entertaining baseball.
(MB) This is an argument that likely has no definitive answer. Are low-scoring games or high-scoring games more exciting and entertaining? I believe that there is a third and better possibility and that is that close and competitive games are the most exciting ones. Whether those games are 1-0 pitchers' duels or 12-11 slugfests, they are still tense contests which are decided by one run. Since both pitching and hitting are integral parts of baseball, I can't see why either should be denigrated when it is performed at a high level of proficiency.

(R) So the idea of stacking lineups with an extra certified batsman who plays no position in the field is not intrinsically appealing to me (I'd even term it unappealing).
(MB) Why? As I said before, I like both pitching and hitting when each is performed well. The DH rule substitutes a proficient hitter and genuine offensive threat for the laughable spectacle of a pitcher at the plate. That is the heart of the rule. The fact that it helps produce additional offense is secondary. The DH rule certainly can't be held accountable for the tremendous increase in homers and general scoring in recent years. Let's remember that, as of this writing, this season's wildest offensive game was played in the National League *without* the DH rule (Cincinnati 24, Colorado 12).

(R) At heart, though, what irks me about the DH is not how it dilutes strategy but how it offends logic. If, indeed, "nobody would argue that a baseball team consists of 9 men," then when the ninth man's at-bat comes up, either that player should bat or a pinch-hitter/position change is in order. In fact, an American League baseball lineup consists of ten, not nine, players.
(MB) That's no more true than saying that a football team lineup consists of more than 11 players because of the free substitution and specialization in that sport. In football, 11 players are on the field on offense or defense at one time. In baseball, it's still 9 players at a time whether or not a DH substitutes for the pitcher on offense.
    Let's also not forget that the DH is not a mandatory rule. American League teams (and National League teams in interleague play) are free not to use the DH if they so desire. We often hear NL managers complain about the rule and how the game is better without it, but none have ever eschewed its use when they have had the chance to use it. If they really preferred the "strategic element" of not using the DH, they wouldn't use it.

(R) Marginal differences in pitchers' hitting ability, as you state, become factors affecting managers' lineup and rotation decisions primarily in regard to less talented moundsmen.
(MB) Since when? When was the last time any manager chose one starter over another due to their relative hitting proficiencies? Managers choose 4th and 5th starters based solely on who is more likely to give them some decent innings on the mound and get the game to where the bullpen can take over. A good case in point is Darren Dreifort of the Dodgers. Dreifort was a very good hitter in his college baseball days, but he gets his spot in the Dodgers' rotation because of his 97 mph fastball. His hitting abilities get no consideration when Davey Johnson makes out his lineup. Dreifort still hits in the 9th spot, still lays down sacrifice bunts, and still gets yanked for a pinch-hitter in the same way as any other NL starter.

(R) On the other hand, excising all development of hitting (including but not limited to bunting) skills completely from the tutelage of a player if he happens to be a pitcher strikes me as grotesque.
(MB) I'm not so sure if I'd go so far as to call it "grotesque". Pitching is such an important skill that it's hard to argue in favor of any other skill being seriously emphasized for a pitcher. Pitching is a much different animal from any other skill or position in baseball. Jose Canseco is not blasted for being an "incomplete player" because of his pathetic attempt at pitching some years ago. Why should any pitcher be considered an "incomplete player" if he can't or doesn't hit?

(R) Surely a good pitcher who also handles the bat adeptly has the potential to add a couple of additional wins compared to a good pitcher who can't hit for poop.
(MB) That gives "potential" too much credit. The average pitcher has a *far* greater influence on winning or losing by his performance on the mound than by anything he might do at the plate. Finally, there are no pitchers whose offensive abilities would contribute more to his team's chances of winning than would the average DH. This is another reason why NL managers all use the DH when they have the ability to do so.

(R) In general, I'm a skeptic on the proclaimed virtues of specialization. As pitching has become more "specialized" (with 5-man rotations, setup men and closers), its overall effectiveness by almost any measure has degraded rather than improved.
(MB) I think that has more to do with the expansion to 30 teams than anything else. There weren't enough quality pitchers to go around when there was only 16 teams in baseball. Doubling the number of teams does not increase the number of quality pitchers available, but it *does* increase the number of starts which must be given to weaker pitchers. This is the biggest reason why overall pitching stats are much poorer now than in the past and why, by extension, offensive performances are on the rise.

(R) It is terrible when anyone gets hurt, but I believe pitchers have a right to the inside part of the plate. Mound-charging prima donna batters so quick to resent this are another feature of latter-day baseball detracting from my enjoyment of the game.
(MB) I agree. Pitching inside to the point of knockdowns, brushbacks, and "purpose" pitches used to be the norm in baseball. It was an unwritten rule that the batter who came to the plate immediately following a teammate's home run was going to be the recipient of some chin music. It was expected, it was usually delivered, and the game went on without further ado. Notorious headhunters like Early Wynn, Don Drysdale, and Stan Williams made careers out of this. I'm not sure when charging the mound became the norm, but I'll bet it correllates with the rise of free agency and the emphasis on individual stats over team performance.
    Maybe teams will begin to provide karate training for their pitchers so they can better defend themselves when some twit charges the mound. It would be great to see a pitcher level a charging batter with a round kick. In fact, one of the great scenes I've ever witnessed in a baseball fight was when Robin Ventura decided to charge Nolan Ryan. Ryan grabbed Ventura in a headlock and pounded several quality fists into Ventura's cranium before the rest of the troops arrived.

(R) I can't document, but do suspect, that National League pitchers -- who theoretically must face the consequences of their own brushback releases when they take their stance at the plate -- may have a better vantage point for mastering this dicey aspect of the sport.
(MB) I don't know that there's any appreciable difference between the number of mound-charging incidents in either league. The "golden age" of brushback pitches took place prior to the inception of the DH rule. Despite the fact that those pitchers always took their turn at the plate, that didn't stop them from throwing brushbacks.

(R) Arguably, a rash of throwing at star position players as proxies for a possibly over-aggressive opposing hurler is another deleterious byproduct of the DH.
(MB) The guy who gets thrown at is normally the next available hitter. I remember a game the Braves played some years ago when a beanball war was in progress. Tom Glavine found himself in the position of having to retaliate against the leadoff hitter -- who happened to be Dale Murphy. Now, it was practically impossible even to invent a bad word to use against a man like Murphy. Why throw at him? But, he was in that position and everybody knew it. Glavine didn't hit him, but he threw four straight pitches further and further inside and had Murphy bailing out even before the ball got to the plate. Murphy got a walk, Glavine got tossed, everybody did what needed to be done and that was the end of the war for that night. This was all a part of baseball and had nothing whatsoever to do with the presence or absence of the DH rule.

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