Time to Standardize the DH

Baseball has been around for a very long time. One of the great things about baseball, however, is that over time it has been receptive to change and evolution in the interest of making the game better. A good example of this change came in 1973, when the American League decided to adopt the Designated Hitter for the good of the game, something that the National League has refused to do to this day. The time has come to change that. There is a window of opportunity for that to happen, as Rob Manfred will be replacing Bud Selig as Commissioner in the offseason and can impose a new vision on the game. There needs to be one rule for both leagues, and it needs to include a DH.

Last night’s Red Sox-Pirates game in Pittsburgh clearly highlighted the need for a universal DH. Due to the host being a National League ballpark, and therefore playing without the DH, David Ortiz was left out of the starting lineup entirely. This led to Daniel Nava hitting third (Daniel Nava!!!!!!!) and the lineup predictably suffered, failing to score a run or put up really a credible threat or rally. In addition, starter Anthony Ranaudo was forced to go up and flail at three pitches every few innings as the price he had to pay to stay in the game. Unfortunately Red Sox fans should get used to such a phenomenon, because it will need to happen for the remainder of the current series in Pittsburgh.

But beyond just the Red Sox, the lack of a DH throughout baseball presents nothing but problems. With the move to balanced leagues holding fifteen teams each, almost every night some American League team will be at a disadvantage while playing in a National League ballpark. American League rosters are constructed with the thought that they can carry an extra bat that might be a defensive liability, or that they can rotate a bunch of players through the DH spot to keep them fresh for an entire season. Does it really make sense to create a disadvantage for an American League club playing in a National League park, when that same National League team gains an advantage while coming to an AL park?

In addition, there really is no value whatsoever to having pitchers “hit.” The National League team with the highest OPS from its pitchers (because sample sizes are too small for AL teams), is the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a .429 mark. That’s not their OBP, neither is it a typo; a .429 OPS. The triple-slash comes to .168/.214/.216. So that means that theoretically the team with the best-hitting pitchers in baseball still puts up a worse line than Will Middlebrooks (.520 OPS, .186/.253/.266). Conversely, the AL team (again for the sake of sample size) getting the least production out of its DH’s, the Seattle Mariners, has posted a .566 OPS (.189/.264/.302). The very worst of the DH’s in baseball are still significantly more effective than the very best hitting pitchers. This is an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

The bottom line is that there is no need to still have pitchers hit in the Major Leagues. It creates an unfair disadvantage for half of the league, and fans do not enjoy it. Fans want to see Victor Martinez face Felix Hernandez with the game on the line, not some backup utility infielder pinch-hit and get blown away by Clayton Kershaw. It creates problems for managers, who come to the point where they have to decide between killing a rally by letting their pitcher hit or pinch-hitting and losing their pitcher for the rest of the game. This is reflected in the numbers, as six out of the top ten teams in baseball in Complete Games reside in the American League. Major League Baseball says it wants to change the game to attract and keep younger fans. The first thing they can do is to end the nonsense, and take the bat out of pitchers’ hands.


Clay Buchholz Continues Disappointing Season For Boston Red Sox

Clay Buchholz got roughed up in losing his latest start for the Red Sox. Stop us if that sounds familiar. It has been the same old story for Buchholz in 2014; sub-par start after sub-par start with a trip to the Disabled List mixed in. Unsurprisingly, Buchholz got rocked again on Wednesday against the Angels at Fenway Park, giving up 6 runs, 7 hits and 2 walks in 6 innings of work. It’s not just about performance for Buchholz at this point (or lack thereof), but about how he gives up runs. Buchholz was actually cruising through the first four innings against LAA, until he promptly loaded the bases and walked in a run. We have all been saying the same thing for some time now, but with the focus for the Red Sox becoming evaluating 2015 pieces, Buchholz’s days as a starter for the Red Sox should be numbered.

Needless to say Buchholz has been awful in 2014. The ERA (5.94), the WHIP (1.55), BABIP (.337), and Average Against (.291) are stratospheric, leading to much of Buchholz’s misery on the mound. While the peripheral numbers still suggest that he has been the victim of unfortunate luck (the aforementioned BABIP, 62.9% strand rate) and could be pitching more effectively (4.36 FIP, 4.18 xFIP), it is becoming clear that Buchholz is pitching to his poor surface numbers. Watching a start makes most of Buchholz’s problems pretty apparent. Location has been a serious problem, particularly leaving pitches up in the strikezone. The following two graphs illustrate the vertical location of Buchholz’s “out pitch,” the changeup, in 2014 to illustrate his location issues.

Vertical location of Buchholz's changeup from 4/5/14 to 5/26/14

Vertical location of Buchholz's changeup from 6/25/14 to 8/3/14

Another issue Buchholz seems to have is with his own perception. Following his shellacking at the hands of the Angels, Buchholz apparently “felt good with just about every pitch.” This has actually been another recurring theme with Buchholz throughout the course of the year; no matter the outcome, he always seems to “feel good” during every start. The problem is that he has had very little to actually feel good about. These quotes reveal several potential issues with Buchholz. One is that he has no competitive drive, and that he accepts losing and underperforming as long as he “feels good” during his starts. Another is that the Red Sox believe that his ego is so fragile that he needs to be given a silver lining out of every single start, again regardless of outcome. Either scenario is unacceptable from a pitcher that is supposed to be at the top of a rotation. With every seeming denial of reality, Buchholz is looking less like the ace he could potentially be, and more like the back-end starter he currently is.

The Red Sox need to start being honest with their assessment of Buchholz. The team’s stated goal is to use the rest of 2014 to evaluate their pieces for 2015, and they should start sticking to their guns. At this point they have seen all of the numbers, all of the starts, and they now know what they have in Buchholz. There really is no point in having Buchholz continue to take starts away from younger pitchers like Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes who deserve a look in the big leagues. The Red Sox would be better served sending Buchholz to the bullpen, both to try and regain some of his previous form, as well as to open up a rotation spot for a younger pitcher that could help next season. At this point, the excuses are getting tired, and there is no reason to keep sending Buchholz out at the expense of the team’s development.