Mains: The great pinch-hitting resurgence of 2019

From SABR member Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus on July 25, 2019:

Last week, I wrote about the travails of Mark Reynolds. The Rockies first baseman/pinch-hitter (he also pitched an inning!) batted .053/.217/.132 in 46 pinch-hitting appearances, a .349 OPS that is nearly as bad as Colorado pitchers’ .315 OPS through Monday’s games. And that .349 OPS looks likely to remain unchanged, as Reynolds was designated for assignment over the weekend.

It got me thinking: Are pinch-hitters worse than ever? My gut reaction was Yeah, I could see that. As I’ve written before, including in this year’s BP Annual, 12- and 13-man pitching staffs leave little room for bench players. Take Colorado. As I write this, they have 14 pitchers on their active roster. That means, other than their starting eight position players, they have just three bench players: Typically backup catcher Chris Iannetta, utility man Garrett Hampson, and spare outfielder Raimel Tapia.

Each of them is there for his glove as well as his bat. There isn’t room on the roster for a bat-only pinch-hitting specialist (especially one with a .349 OPS, apparently). If modern rosters require bench players to have a glove as well as a bat, that necessarily reduces their absolute skills as hitters, I figured.

And was I ever wrong.

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Originally published: July 25, 2019. Last Updated: July 25, 2019.