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.

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Can The RedSox Fix Allen Craig?

At the time of the deadline deal with St. Louis involving John Lackey, Allen Craig was a complete mystery. After posting a weighted runs created of at least 134 in each of the previous two seasons, Craig was slumping badly in 2014 to the point where the Cardinals deemed him expendable. The Red Sox had interest in him as a buy-low candidate that could potentially add some thump to the lineup. The only problem so far is that Craig has been much worse in Boston than he was in St. Louis. Much (.100/.250/.200), much (36.7 K%, .148 BABIP) worse (.278 wOBA, 74 wRC+). So what exactly is going on with Allen Craig, and can the Red Sox ever expect him to get back to being the middle of the lineup force he was with the Cardinals?

One of the anomalies of Craig’s struggles is that his batted-ball profile has very little year over year variation. Craig’s linedrive (21.4%), groundball (46.4%), and flyball rates (32.1%) with the Red Sox are almost identical to his career rates (22.8%, 46.6 %, and 30.6% career, respectively), so there is really nothing there to be concerned with. As mentioned above, his BABIP and strikeout rate with the Red Sox are abysmal, and this could be playing a role in the off year. During his productive years with the Cardinals, Craig posted unusually high BABIPs (.334, .368), so some regression should have been expected. However, there has to be something else at play here than just a ridiculously low batting average on balls in play.

Could there be something in the way pitchers are attacking Craig in the American League? When compared with his career marks to date, it seems that pitchers in the AL have a different gameplan against Craig than those in the Senior Circuit. With the Red Sox Craig is seeing fewer fastballs (47.9% with Red Sox, 55.3% career), roughly the same amount of sliders (17.1%, 17.5%) and changeups (9.2%, 9.5%), and many more splitters (5.1%, 1.6%). The splitter has been a serious problem for Craig this season, as he is currently half a run below the average hitter (-0.5 wSF) against the splitter on the year. Craig has also been below average against the slider (-2.2 wSL) and changeup (-0.6) in Boston, giving him little advantage in the box. This breakdown makes it pretty clear why Craig has been seeing fewer fastballs in Boston.

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and it is no different here. While it is much easier said than done, Allen Craig needs to adjust to the different way he is being pitched with the Red Sox. Craig is seeing fewer fastballs because he has been bad against offspeed stuff in 2014. Pitchers notice this trend and feature splitters and changeups and breaking stuff; Craig needs to adapt. Pitchers have adjusted to him, now he needs to adjust to how he is being pitched. Along with that, the strikeouts need to come down as well, but that can be addressed if Craig gains a better understanding of how he is being pitched. With a few tweaks to his approach, there is reason to believe Craig can be at least a productive hitter for the Red Sox at some point in the future.

The Baseball Season’s Nearly Over…Do We Know Who The NL MVP Is Yet?

With just a handful of games left in the regular season, not only are we getting a clearer idea on which teams will be heading for the playoffs, we are also figuring out who will win the numerous individual postseason awards. However, one race still has no clear-cut favorite, and that is the National League MVP. I am going to breakdown some of the better candidates and see which one I think will get his name called in November.

First, let’s mention some of the players that will get some votes, but aren’t going to be in the top 4 or 5. Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez, both of the Los Angeles Dodgers, posted up MVP-like numbers, but not for a full season. Ramirez was hampered by injuries and has only played in 83 games this year. Meanwhile, Puig wasn’t called up to the majors until early-June, and therefore has only played in 99 games. If either had been able to play a full schedule they’d be near the top of the list. Other players, such as the Reds’ Joey Votto, the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer and the Nationals’ Jayson Werth had very good years, but aren’t going to be near the top of the vote.

In my opinion, there are four real candidates now, and all of them have a very good shot at winning the award. I will list them in reverse order:

4. Paul Goldschmidt 1B Arizona Diamondbacks – Goldschmidt is the National League leader in both HRS (36) and RBI (124), two traditional stats that voters love to see in MVP candidates. On top of that, he leads the league in slugging (.559) and OPS (.964) while currently 3rd in on-base percentage (.405.) He also sports a .304 batting average and 15 stolen bases, so he’s shown he’s not just a one-dimensional slugger. However, the reason he won’t win is because Arizona dropped out of contention a while ago and will finish with a record around .500. When there are a number of qualified candidates, voters will never give the award to the one on an average team.

3. Yadier Molina C St. Louis Cardinals – At one point, it looked like Yadi had this award all wrapped up. At the end of July, he was leading the league in batting average, along with playing his typically excellent defense behind the plate. However, an injury forced him to the DL for a couple of weeks. While he initially kept his average high upon returning, he found himself slumping in September, hitting only .247 through today’s game. While he still has a very impressive .315/.355/.472 batting line, to go with 12 HRs and 73 RBI, the lost momentum due to the DL trip, and the lack of a batting title, probably mean that Molina will not take home the MVP. However, it is almost certain that he’ll win yet another Gold Glove this year.

2. Matt Carpenter 2B St. Louis Cardinals – Carpenter has been a wonderful story all year. Taking up second base this year despite never really playing the position before, he ended up playing the position well. Not only that, he became the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter and made the All-Star team. However, it wasn’t until the 2nd half of the season when he emerged as a possible MVP-candidate. Teammates Molina and Allen Craig were originally looked at as the team’s main candidates, but Craig went down with an injury at the beginning of September, and Carpenter just kept raking. Right now, Carpenter leads the NL in doubles (55), runs scored (125) and hits (198.) He’s third in batting average (.324), 5th in on-base percentage (.396) and 10th in OPS (.886.) However, the one thing that is probably preventing Carpenter from being the MVP isn’t the player above him, but his own teammate. It seems likely that voters will split votes between Carpenter and Molina, as it really is hard trying to even determine who the most valuable player on the Cardinals is. If it’s hard to determine that, think about trying to figure out which one you’d pick for the league’s MVP. Which leads us to…

1. Andrew McCutchen OF Pittsburgh Pirates – McCutchen will, in all likelihood, win a very close MVP race. His numbers are very good, as he’s 4th in batting (.320), 4th in on-base percentage (.405), 7th in slugging (.509), 6th in OPS (.913), 2nd in hits (183) and 6th in stolen bases (27.) He also has the highest offensive WAR in the NL. He’s also considered a very good defensive centerfielder and is the true leader of the Pirates. While his numbers are very good, the reason he’ll win the award is because of the feel-good story of the Pirates as a whole. Pittsburgh went through 20 straight losing seasons, and last tasted the postseason in 1992. Now, they’ve clinched at least a Wild Card spot, and have energized the city. For that reason, voters will cast a ballot for McCutchen.