Friday, June 8, 2007

It's Not Fair!

Terry Francona thinks that it's not fair that he can't use his DH when he plays a National League team in a National League ballpark.

This is certainly hilarious, if one thinks that Terry is actually advocating for his team to get an extra hitter in the lineup. I don't think he's doing that. Rather, he probably wants the DH used all the time, for both teams, when interleague play is ongoing.

Of course, that wouldn't fair to the National League team. Yes, an AL team is constructed with the DH as an integral part, but in exactly the same way, an NL team is constructed without the DH in mind. It's not as if both teams are losing an equal player. All of the players that Boston will consider sitting (Ortiz, Youkilis, Lowell) are far better than the options that an NL team will consider for DH. If the DH were uniformly in effect, NL teams would complain that the AL teams have the advantage of an extra quality hitter.

I suspect most of you understand this, and that isn't even what really interests me about this story. What does interest me is that Francona is whining because he might be forced to sit David Ortiz.

Folks, this is why a DH must be an absolutely transcendent hitter to be the MVP. David Ortiz is so bad defensively that he cannot play first base. He's so bad, that the Red Sox are considering sitting him down because they no longer have the luxury of the DH. He's so bad that the Sox would rather play Manny Ramirez in left field than play David Ortiz at first base. A DH like Ortiz greatly hurts his teams flexibility. A player like Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau or Albert Pujols does not present his team with these problems. They are good enough defensively that they provide their team with the luxury of using a crappier defensive player elsewhere. They are picking up the slack that allows the David Ortizes and Jason Giambis of the world to play baseball.

This flexibility absolutely must be factored in to any discussion of player value (and therefore the MVP award). You won't see the Yankees and most other MLB teams going through the same "woe is poor me" routine when they have to play interleague games because their best hitters play defense too.

**EDIT** Fixed some poor apostrophe usage.


die Amerikanerin said...

Hey, John. I know this is a random post that has a good chance of getting lost in your archive, but I have a question (that I may answer myself, we'll see.)

I always thought that AL and NL teams just played the way they were constructed when they played each other. NL teams didn't use a DH, AL teams did. So reading this was the first time I realized I was wrong, but I'd like to know, why don't they do it this way? My guess (you'll have to tell me if I'm right) is that this would give the AL an unfair advantage. Do NL teams have to suddenly find a DH when they play AL, or do they just play with their pitcher anyway? Or maybe they just take an extra one of their own players... Please pardon my ignorance. ^_^

John Lynch said...

Hey, look: an actual baseball discussion in my comments section!

The first rule of offense in baseball is that pitchers can't hit well. So back in the 1970's the American League decided that they'd had enough of the automatic outs from the pitchers' spot in the lineup and decided to allow teams to designate another player to hit for the pitcher. The National League decided not to do this, because they felt that it was untraditional.

This used to only be an issue in the World Series, because the AL and NL didn't play during the regular season. During the series, teams played by the home team's rules: both teams used a DH in AL parks, both teams had the pitcher hit in NL parks. This has carried over to regular season interleague play.

If you think about it, you can't let the AL have a DH all the time and force the NL to use a pitcher all the time. If both teams were equal everywhere else, the team that doesn't have the pitcher hit would score a bazillion more runs and probably give up fewer than they otherwise would too, because their pitcher would last longer in the game from not having to hit, getting to face an automatic out every nine batters, and not ever being removed for a pinch hitter.

As for how the NL teams gets a DH when it plays an AL team, they usual use their best non-starter. This is better than the pitcher, but still probably worse than the AL's DH. When you play 90% of your games without a DH, you don't expend resources to get one. They never go find a new player and they certainly don't hit the pitcher anyway. Sometimes, they'll shuffle the positions around, making different guys the DH on different days in order to give guys a break from playing the field or to get better defense. The DH is a great way to hide a player who can't field a lick.

Conversely, AL often teams have to sit one of their better hitters when they play an NL team. As in the above post, this can be very painful because you play 90%of your games counting on offense from a DH spot. In the case of the Sox, their DH is their best hitter, so they have to find a place for him to play or lose him for a few games.

Always doing it one way or the other would give an unfair advantage to whichever team always did it that way, as they have constructed their team precisely to take advantage of the presence or lack of a DH. To rectify this, MLB split it up by just playing by the home team's rules. It's a fair compromise.

die Amerikanerin said...

Very awesome. So it works pretty much the way I thought it would after I had thought about it for a bit, but the added history was very helpful. Danke!