Maroon: Embracing inefficiency: when we like pitchers hitting

From Annie Maroon at The Hardball Times on February 25, 2019:

We are talking about the designated hitter again, because it’s the offseason—and because we’re never that far from talking about the DH anyway. This time, the impetus was a discussion between Major League Baseball and the players’ union, in which the players suggested MLB bring the DH to the National League at last. And while this isn’t happening in 2019, the shift is beginning to feel more and more imminent.

Pitchers hitting in 2019 makes sense only in a theoretical way and an emotional way—that is to say, in none of the modes of thinking that now dominate major league baseball. I am not here to argue against statistical analysis and fact-based evaluation; far from it. I believe deeply in seeking all the information available before making a decision, especially one as a result of which somebody will be paid millions of dollars. But I am—call it human error—attached to the sight, and the meaning of the sight, of Francisco Liriano at bat. In a major professional sport, one increasingly specialized and streamlined, there is still this sight of a strong, talented, world-class athlete attempting to do this thing he often doesn’t do much better than the average college baseball player might.

The improbability is what makes it great when a pitcher does succeed at bat, of course; I’ve derived more entertainment from the scattering of pitcher home runs and RBI doubles over the last decade than I have from any DH’s exploits. Everyone loves a good Bartolo Colon dinger, and if DH proponents had their way a decade ago, we would never have known the joys of the Santiago Casilla Instructional Hitting Video. But the failure itself also matters. The failure is a reminder of the limits of what we can know, of what we can optimize.

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Originally published: March 1, 2019. Last Updated: March 1, 2019.