Talking Heads


Baseball season is here, so from time to time, you’ll also find my musings on the game in this space. Frankly, I don’t think my wife or kids really want to hear it, but I have to share it with someone.  You don’t have to pretend you care; you don’t live here (unless you’re my wife reading this right now, in which case: Hi Honey!).

I love a lot of things about the MLB Network.  The “baseball men” they have rambling on in their studios aren’t really on that list.  I’m pretty consistently amazed how many things are said by baseball analysts (for that matter, analysts from every sport) which show such a total lack of analysis – you know, the thing that’s supposedly their job.

To wit: I really wanted to watch the “30 Teams in 30 Days” series on MLBN, but I couldn’t do it.  As soon as you tell me Mitch Williams is on the scene to give me insight into what’s happening in Rangers’ camp, I know that my time will be better served turning off the TV and having a conversation with my dog about Yu Darvish.

I did watch the episode on the Washington Nationals, both because I wanted to learn more about Bryce Harper and because I think Davey Johnson is pretty brilliant, and I wanted to hear what he would say when they interviewed him.  Which made it pretty funny when Larry Bowa wanted to question Davey Johnson on the wisdom of decisions like not over-pitching Stephen Strasburg.  See, Davey Johnson has a career winning percentage of .561 as a manager; that means his average team has finished with a record of 91-71.  Larry Bowa has a career winning percentage of .460 as a manager; that means his average team finished with a record of 75-87.  If you’re not a baseball fan: that’s not as good. 

Which brings me to the real point of this post.  Larry Bowa was talking about a relief pitcher the Nationals who they acquired, who pitched in the American League last year.  I don’t remember who it was, but Larry’s point was that this guy was likely to find it easier to pitch in the National League than the American League, because (paraphrasing) “in the National League, you get to face the pitcher every time through the order, while in the American League you have to face all those designated hitters, hitting 20 to 25 home runs a year.”

What’s wrong with that statement?  Well, for one thing, Larry seems to have missed that most teams haven’t had much success finding an everyday Designated Hitter.  In fact, among the 14 AL teams in 2011, there were only 8 players who managed to both play at least half of their games as a DH and get enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (502 plate appearances).  In other words, 6 of 14 teams didn’t really have a full-time DH; they filled the position with an assortment of players.  Of the 8 teams who had full-time DHs, only six of those players were above average for the league (measured by OPS).  And, only one DH hit over 20 home runs in 2011: David Ortiz.  Larry Bowa thinks that every team has a David Ortiz, but they don’t.

The other problem is that Larry was talking about how relief pitchers who come to the NL get to face pitchers instead of DHs.  Except most relief pitching happens in innings 6-9, and the average starting pitcher goes less than 7 innings (in fact, only 9 starting pitchers made at least 30 starts [and thus was a full-time starter] and averaged 7 innings a start [and two or three of those were rounded up to 7 innings a start]).  Which means relief pitchers aren’t facing other pitchers in the batting order – they are facing pinch hitters!  So, they aren’t really getting it easier – they’re facing the guys who would be Designated Hitters if the NL had the DH.

All of this is beside the fact that the NL and AL have a minimal difference between them offensively, at this point – roughly .25 runs per team per 9 innings.  All of which means…relief pitchers face no meaningful disadvantage pitching in either the American League or the National League.

Now, why can I figure all of that out in the time it takes Larry Bowa to say it (then check the stats to confirm), but Larry Bowa can’t figure it out when, you know…it’s his job?

 


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