A Quick Rant About The NL DH

My always interesting college Anna McDonald posed an interested thought earlier today about the NL and the use of a DH in the World Series. Implicitly, she posed the question of whether the DH was an advantage or disadvantage for NL teams.

En point, I rant accordingly, and conclude that it does.

The average NL team's starting line up consists of eight hitters and a pitcher who also bats. The "ninth" hitter for NL teams is a bench player. Given the fact that pitchers generally cannot hit and that bench players see limited and infrequent playing time, an NL team trying to optimize their starting lineup has little incentive to "pimp out" the bench. Rather, an NL team has an incentive to focus their resources on maximizing the talents of their other eight starting hitters. A team's batting resources, therefore, will be primarily focused on eight hitters, with the residual going to the bench -- which optimally is designed to be deep rather than feature a "stud."

On the other hand, the AL has seven starting hitters (thanks to the DH) and hence has an incentive to invest in that ninth hitter, who is essentially a "batting specialist." There is less of a focus on the "deep bench," instead finding an effective ninth hitter to slot into the daily line up.

Thus, comparing the AL to the NL, one notes a clear difference in strategy due to the league's traditional lineup composure: the NL has an incentive to maximize the primary eight hitters and diversify the remaining resources amongst the bench, while the AL has an incentive to spend on nine hitters (creating a polarity between the NL's 9th guy and the NL's 9th guy).

So what is the point?

Well, this explains, in part (the other part being sample size), why the average NL DH (as derived from interleague play) tends to function less effectively than their AL counterpart. In 2010, for example, the average major league DH hit for a .699 OPS, while the average AL DH hit for a .757 OPS.

in 2010. NL DH's hit for a .649 OPS. This makes sense because NL teams focus on bench depth, not having a best "#10 hitter", whereas the AL invest directly in their DH (he plays regularly). Meanwhile, the average NL DH only hit for a .649 OPS. This disparity is also observable in 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, and so on (2009 seems to be an exception...).

This of course, noting the above incentive structure, make sense. NL teams, who use pinch hitters more frequently than a "ninth hitter" have a greater incentive to diversify the bench than polarize said resources in a "reliable" ninth hitter. Meanwhile, AL teams have a pervasive need for a "reliable" ninth hitter. Furthermore, the AL has a hitting specialist whose sole value derives from his batting skills, whereas the NL's ninth, tenth and eleventh batters all derive value not just from batting, but also playing the field. This is because 1) there is no DH in the NL and because a fielding pinch hitters gives an NL manager greater lineup flexibility. Thus, it makes more sense that the AL's DH would be of higher quality than the average NL DH.

In terms of the World Series, therefore, it is the AL who inherently gains the advantage through the use of the DH. Whereas both teams may have equally poor hitting pitchers, the AL teams tend to have the clear upper hand in terms of ninth hitters. Of course, this assumes that the distribution of potential talent between teams is uniform, which is ridiculous to say the least, but it indicates that in a vacuum, between two teams with equal access to talent, the AL has an upper hand at the plate when they play at home.

Or maybe none of this makes a lick of sense. That is also entirely plausible.


Dose of Sanity said...


The 'Bright' One said...

the AL team has the advantage in both leagues. the only thing they may lack is strategy in an NL park, but a halfway decent manager should be able to manage a double switch