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The Designated Hitter

The Fastball

By: Ryan

One of the most polarizing arguments within the baseball world revolves around the designated hitter. Created in 1973, this position is the only distinguishable difference between the two different leagues, with the American League incorporating the position. While this discrepancy between the two leagues does not seem to have a large impact on the game, it gives the AL advantages over the NL in nearly every aspect of the game. With this inequality between the leagues, the Commissioner has two options to balance things out, remove the advantages or universally allow them. In other words, the Commissioner needs to decide whether or not to allow or abolish the designated hitter from the game. With respect to the traditional history of the game, it is in everyone’s best interest to fully integrate the designated hitter.

As may have been noticed in the recent off-seasons, most notably with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, AL general managers use the DH as a lucrative bargaining chip when attempting to sign high-value free agents. Under the current system, AL GM’s are able to offer longer term contracts to these players, knowing full well that there will be a sharp decline in player performance. However, general managers also know that they can stash aging hitters in the DH role when the time comes (a position that limits the appearance of deteriorating player abilities). That’s not to say that these long-term investments are/or aren’t wise, that’s the basis of another argument, but it does display the thinking of American League GM’s, which for the Angels, has lured two of the best hitters to Anaheim in the last two off-seasons. The incorporation of the designated hitter into the NL will remove the AL advantage of signing top-tier hitters, an adjustment that would most likely have left Pujols in St. Louis.

Managers also appreciate the DH because they are given greater flexibility in their lineups. In the AL, coaches are able to stash one more powerful bat or speedster on their bench, even if that bat comes with a defensive liability. They can also use it to keep their bench involved in a manner far more inclusive than the current NL pinch hitter. If a manger chooses to rotate through a couple bench DH’s, these players will continually see game time reps, reducing the amount of rust they develop on the pine. The DH also allows managers to give players more frequent rest by having players play one side of the ball, while still contributing to the game. This helps to maintain player health and allows injured players to have another stepping stone in rehab when they return from injury.

While some may argue that the expansion of the DH will kill the “small ball” style current used in the National League, consequently rendering the manager useless, the opposite appears to be true. If anything, the manager’s role is expanded with the addition of an additional hitter in the lineup. More emphasis is placed on lineup creation, as different DH’s can produce different results. High OBP/power guys can help create run production, while speedsters will be able to do the “small ball” moves typically done by an NL pitcher in the nine hole. However, when comparing the speedster to your standard pitcher, the speedster poses a stronger threat, with his ability to beat out throws in the field and on the base paths. Thus, the elimination of the “small ball” style of play is not in the hands of the commissioner and his handling of the DH, but rather rests with the mangers and their use of the DH position.

Players will appreciate the full incorporation of the DH because it offers job security with the longer contracts listed above, and more ability to rest and/or recuperate. That’s not to say all players will approve of the incorporation of the DH, as pitchers will see their stats rise. However, this can more appropriately be called a normalization. Under the current use of the DH, pitchers in the AL are forced to face one more bat in the lineup, and this additional hitter results in higher ERA’s, lower IP, and higher WHIP’s. These numbers do have some weight in contract negotiations, and when AL pitchers are compared to NL pitchers, it leads to questions regarding the quality of the pitcher. However, if the designated hitter were expanded to the NL, pitchers in both leagues could be evaluated on a more level playing field, as this discrepancy would be eliminated. Furthermore, pitchers would no longer have to worry about developing injuries in the batter’s box or on the base paths, resulting in improved long term health.

While pitchers might disapprove of the uptick in offensive production, fans would not be opposed to the greater possibility of home runs. This offensive uptick will not entirely remove pitcher duels, or pitching gems either. In fact, 7 of the last 10 perfect games occurred in the American League. Thus, while there is an increase in offense, which can result in a greater fan experience, it does not eliminate the possibility of great pitching matches.

While the designated hitter breaks off from the traditional understanding of baseball, it serves to improve the baseball experience for all parties involved in the game. If something were to improve the game of baseball in such a way, why shouldn’t it be incorporated?

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David Ortiz is an example of the type of player who has benefited from the DH rule.

The Changeup

By: Matt

Why shouldn’t the DH be incorporated? Because not only has it limited innovation and strategy, but it gave birth to the steroid era and glorified those that were ruining the integrity of the game. With the switch of the Houston Astros to the American League and the change in schedule so that Interleague play takes place throughout the course of the season, the next step is to institute a DH in both leagues. However, the DH represents everything the game of baseball should be moving away from, and should it be instituted in both leagues, will make managers and strategy a thing of the past.

The DH is bad for the game because the steroid era was bad for the game. Monetarily, the owners made a killing with the renewed interest from fans interested in the home run races, but when it came out that these former heroes were just cheaters, the game was forever tainted for many fans. While the DH was first instituted in 1973 and many of the steroid users were in the National League, the DH characterized a change in what baseball was about. It put power over drawing a walk or stealing a base. Individual glory over that of the team. The DH characterized all of these traits because it showed that you could make a living playing baseball as a power hitter and nothing else. You didn’t have to field, you didn’t need to know situational strategy. If you could hit home runs, teams could find a place for you in their order. And is it any coincidence at all that about 25-30 years later baseball endured its worst scandal in its history? Is it any wonder that these athletes acted selfishly and took PEDs to give themselves more power? Baseball players grow up idolizing the players that came before them. Kids watch the pros and want to be just like them. So when the switch over to the DH took place a whole generation of young players grew up under the “new” version of the game. The version that rewarded power over everything. The version that showed players making the big bucks for hitting homers. And when it came down to it, young players were willing to do whatever it took to up their numbers and their glory.

From an owner’s standpoint, the designated hitter makes sense. He doesn’t have to risk the health of his pitchers by making them run the bases and bat and ticket sales go up by advertising towering home runs and more scoring. But for the true fans and the students of the game, the DH is not much more than a cheat code. The DH allows a manager to just insert a hitter that cannot field into every lineup. It also means that late in the game, there is less intrigue or strategy, as it erases the need for double-switches or pinch runners. The players on a bench are changed from defensive specialists and runners to utility players that are there to give the normal starters a rest. In essence, a manager can draw up his lineup card, and then not make a single switch for the entire game.

Another argument for the DH is that it allows teams to give older players contracts with less risk, as they do not need to worry about defensive liabilities that often develop late in a career. The players’ union likes the DH because older power hitting type players like David Ortiz and Adam Dunn can still get big contracts and stick around for longer. This argument is valid, but there is a way to get around it…

My alternative: Raise the size of active roster from 25 to 26 players. Not only does this allow for managers to have one more guy to fit their style of managing, be it a speed specialist or an extra reliever, but it also makes the players’ union happy since they get to have more players in the majors making money. With an expanded roster, teams would still be able to have that extra power hitter if they chose, but he may be relegated to a late-inning pinch hitting role instead of getting 4 at bats a game. If anything, this will actually increase the possibility of late-inning heroics and fans will get their intrigue while TV stations get their ratings. Most happy with this change will be the managers, as most managers live for the matchups and substitutions that they can make late in a game to give their team the best possibility of winning.

The designated hitter should be done away with altogether and an increased importance placed on all aspects of the game. This is not football where there is an offense and a defense. Baseball players are athletes and must be able to play all parts of the game. That is why baseball is the hardest sport and why it is the best.

Buster Posey vs. Clayton Kershaw – An Extended DebateImage

The Fastball

By: Ryan

While Ned Colletti has had a fairly quiet offseason, signing only two players, his acquisition of Zach Greinke and South Korean Ryu Hyun-jin added over $180 million dollars to the books, raising the Dodgers projected payroll to $214 million. With a lot money being thrown around and a surplus of pitchers (the Dodgers currently have eight starters), the Dodgers find themselves in an interesting situation, as Clayton Kershaw will be due for a contract extension at the end of the season. Colletti has made a push to make the Dodgers contenders in 2013, but his work is far from over, as he still has one major job; Colletti needs to make the most important lockdown in the NL West by giving Clayton Kershaw a longterm contract extension.

Kershaw’s career with the Dodgers up to this point has led him to become one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues and the best left-hander in Dodger history since Sandy Koufax. After winning the Cy Young in 2011 with the pitching Triple Crown, Kershaw followed up his NL best performance with an equally dominant season. Kershaw’s 2012 season resume reads as follows: MLB leading ERA, NL leading WHIP, NL leading K, NL leading WAR, and the third best BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in the NL. Based on stats alone, it’s easy to see that Kershaw’s Cy Young runner-up performance was as equally dominant as R.A. Dickey’s season in 2012.

Kershaw’s control of the mound began in the two season prior to 2011 (his first two full seasons in the league). During these seasons, his ERA was under 3 and he averaged just under 200 K’s (198.5). He had a combined WAR of 9.9, all while pitching a combined 90 innings less than his most recent two season total. With four strong seasons completed, Kershaw has proven to be one of the most consistent pitchers in the game, making his longterm contract extension one of the safest bets in the Bigs.

Furthermore, Kershaw has proven his capabilities at the plate over the past two years with .225 (’11) and .207 (’12) batting averages. It’s not everyday that those numbers earn you praise at the plate, but those averages coupled with a two year total of 25 sacrifice bunts and a 20% strikeout per plate appearance ratio (nearly 15% less than that of Adam Dunn), show that Kershaw is no easy 9 spot. Good hitting pitchers are hard to come by and they have a significant impact on the game from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. Offensively, these pitches provide the runs they need to obtain/hold a lead in the game which consequently give the pitcher greater freedom on the mound. What’s not always apparent is the defensive impact that these pitchers have by forcing the opposing pitcher to work harder in order to get that normally easy out. This results in higher pitch counts and lower inning totals. Kershaw’s plate competancy combined with his pitching prowess make him one of the most valuable pitchers in the game two years running.

Posey, on the other hand, has had a very volatile first two complete seasons. Excluding the unfortunate incident in 2011, Posey’s first two full seasons, while impressive, still present some major question marks when considering him for a longterm extension.

His rookie campaign, in which he batted .305 and won the NL Rookie of the Year title, only had him playing in 108 games (mostly due to a May call up). The strongest offensive part of the season for Posey occurred in July and August, but were directly followed by his worse two offensive months, where he batted .233. This type of season naturally raises the question of longevity, especially with Posey being a catcher. Catchers are one of the most physical positions in the game, and as a result, many of them wind up facing major injuries in their careers. Between the three highest paid catchers in 2012, all of them have had seasons negatively impacted by injuries. Brian McCann batted a career low .230 in 2012 because he played through a shoulder injury that required offseason reconstruction. Joe Mauler played only 82 games in 2011 due to a difficult recovery from offseason knee surgery (among other health problems). Finally, Mike Napoli was forced to take a pay cut when the Red Sox discovered scarring on his hips during his post-contract signing physical. While the Giants have been attempting to protect the knees of their franchise catcher by having him play first base during the season, similar to Mauer, Posey remains predominantly a catcher, and as result, carries a larger injury risk compared to other players.

While pitchers can be just as risky, Kershaw has been fortunate to deal with only minor injuries not associated with his throwing elbow or shoulder. Kershaw battled with plantar fasciitis (inflammation in arch tendon of foot) and a hip strain, which put his health in question at the end of 2012. Yet, these injuries did not result in any major negative effects on his pitching mechanics, and both should be eliminated or manageable by 2013. Most importantly, Kerhsaw has lacked any sort of injury in his elbow or shoulder. This is in large part due to Kershaw’s plus form. ESPN posted an interesting article on pitching characteristics that cause extraneous strain on the shoulder and elbow, resulting in major injuries. Using many “good examples” from the article, Kershaw maintains an upright form, with a slight lean toward first base, and doesn’t let his elbow lag behind his rotation, thereby reducing the risk association with bad form.

The obvious rebuttal to Posey’s lackluster finish to his 2010 season is his most recent season, in which he finished .364 between September and October. There is no doubt that Posey’s second half was a necessity if the Giants were to pull ahead and into the playoffs, but it will be hard to match in the future by any player, let alone Posey himself. It must also be noted that Posey cooled off once the playoffs came around, batting a mere .200. Thus, while this regular season ending streak may serve as a testament to his longevity and potential, it comes after a yearlong break and raises the question as to whether this was an exceptional year or the norm.

There is no doubt that Posey is an integral part of the Giants lineup and one of the main factors that resulted in their two World Series Championships in three years. However, it is hard to determine what an average Buster Posey year looks like. Thus any contract made by Sabean will include a substantially larger amount of risk when compared to a similar contract given to Kershaw by Colletti.  Thus, Kershaw’s tenure has proven him to be the safer bet and similarly more deserving of the extension when compared to Buster Posey. The Dodger ace has consistency, solid form, and top of the rotation stuff which makes him the most worthy of a longterm contract (which I estimate at seven years/$185 million) all at the ripe young age of 25.

Other reads on this portion of the post can be found here, here, and here.

The Changeup

By: Matt

Buster Posey vs. Clayton Kershaw: a matchup that Giants and Dodger fans will see for many years to come. But for how many years is still up in the air. Both Kershaw and Posey are in their arbitration years, and both have been the subject of speculation for receiving a long-term contract extension. The two players represent the young stars of their franchise and the importance placed on developing young talent by the two teams in the last few years. While the Dodgers have recently been blessed with some very deep pockets due to a new television deal and new ownership not named McCourt, there has to be a ceiling somewhere. It is likely that both players will receive long term extensions in the next year, but it makes more sense and is more important that the Giants extend Posey than the Dodgers extend Kershaw.

No one has meant more to the Giants than Buster Posey. The first-round draft pick shot up the minors quickly and joined the big-league squad in late 2009. Posey hasn’t stopped hitting since being called up, batting .314 with a .883 OPS in his young career, highlighted by his MVP award in 2012. His defense and pitch calling has been solid as well and the only real question has been his durability and health. I don’t have to remind you of the violent collision at the plate in 2011 that derailed Posey’s season and the Giants with it. However, Buster did everything right in the offseason to get himself in shape for 2012, and Bochy worked some lineup magic to get him 610 plate appearances. Posey started 2012 slow, but got better as he got healthier and more comfortable. Despite two world series rings, an MVP and a Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey has has actually only played one full season. Chew on that for a second and it’s easy to think that the sky is the limit for this young man. Bochy was able to limit Posey’s innings behind the dish by giving him time at 1st and DH, a practice that will probably continue for the rest of his career and allow him to get playing time in almost every game while saving his knees. But this is not necessarily bad, as Hector Sanchez has a good bat at backup, and Brandon Belt has shown some versatility by getting some playing time in Left field.

Another thing that Posey had going for him in 2012 was the lineup around him. In 2010, the team was full of “castoffs and misfits,” and the only rock was Posey batting cleanup. In 2012, it was a different story, and the lineup got better as the year went on. With Pagan, Scutaro, and Melky/Pablo getting on base for him, and Pablo/Pence providing some protection, pitchers had to go after Posey and he was able to make them pay. The only player missing from last year’s top 5 will be Melky, but the Giants actually got better after he left, posting a 26-12 in the regular season after he was suspended. They also clearly were able to get it done without him in the postseason, posting an 11-5 record on their way to the title.

Going into the 2013 season, the Giants will have two players making more than $20 million in the last year of their contracts: Barry Zito and Big Time Timmy Jim Lincecum. Both players, though important to the Giants in winning the World Series two out of the last three years (it’s still awesome just to write that) will probably be looking for new teams come the end of the season. Zito, though he has had his redeeming moments recently, is still probably the worst contract signed by Sabean, and Lincecum, barring a complete turnaround is probably due for a huge contract reduction and likely a new team. While some players will likely receive raises from arbitration and the team will have a decision to make on Hunter Pence, the Giants will be going into the 2013 offseason with a lot of wiggle room in their budget, and with Posey set to receive another raise due to arbitration, it would behoove Sabean to lock Posey up long-term.

So how do you evaluate what kind of contract to give Posey? Well, the Joe Mauer contract would be the obvious place to start. Mauer received his extension coming off an MVP season of his own and received $23 million per year for 7 years on top of his previous contract. Since the deal, Mauer has faced troubles and hasn’t lived up to expectations, and the Twins have suffered with him. The main difference is that Mauer received his contract after 5 full seasons with WARs of 2.5, 5.6, 3.6, 5.3, and 7.6, while Posey has only had one full season, posting WARs of 3.7, 1.3, and 7.2. While the MVP, 7 WAR seasons at the end of those lists look similar, Mauer had been more consistently good, while Posey has not. Though it seems counter-intuitive, this is the reason the Giants should act now. Mauer and his agents had every right to ask for the huge contract in 2010 and were able to get it, while Posey, though he has had one fantastic season, will not be able to ask for as much. It is likely that if the Giants act before Posey puts up another monster season (which he will), the Giants will be able to get Posey locked up during his prime years for under $20 million a year.

The problem with giving Kershaw a long term extension is that by every right, he should get the biggest contract of all time. CC Sabathia will make $23 million in 2013 and Johan Santana will make $24 mil. These seem like decent starting points, but Kershaw has had a better start to his career than either of them. My colleague has just pointed out all of the things Kershaw has going for him, so I will cede to the previous post to show just how good he actually is. So, what kind of contract must the Dodgers offer him? $25 mil would be a starting point, but even that might seem too little considering that they just gave Zach Greinke about $23.5 million a year. Greinke is good, but he is not nearly as talented or reliable as Kershaw, who is and will be a perennial Cy Young candidate. So, where do you draw the line? $28 a year? $30? Considering the money that the Dodgers have been throwing around, Kershaw has every right to ask for it and look elsewhere if they won’t give it to him. The new money from the Dodgers owners has to have a limit, and their offseason moves might actually hinder them from resigning their most important player. The Red Sox contract dump that the Dodgers ignored will certainly help them next season, but in the long run, it may be looked at as one of the worst moves by a general manager in baseball history. Not only are most of the players they took on past their prime, but their contracts will more than double the Dodgers payroll from what it was in 2012. There has to be some limit to what ownership will provide, but the question will be whether they will be able to squeeze another $30 million a year out of Magic Johnson’s ego.

So, who do you think should receive the long term extension? Kershaw or Posey?

Leave your comments below.

Hello sports fans!

Welcome to Fastball-Changeup. This blog is the brainchild of two friends, Golden Bears, and rivals. We hail from the Bay Area and L.A. and owe allegiances to different teams but share a respect for the game of baseball. With this blog we want to bring two different and usually opposing perspectives to the issues of the baseball world as they happen to provide both sides of the issue. The fastball portion of the article will generally be the normal or accepted argument while the changeup will follow with a different take. Both perspectives will be offered and we’ll leave it to you, the readers, to decide which is right.

Hopefully we won’t get as heated as a Giants-Dodgers rivalry, but you never know what is going to happen once you step on the field.

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Play ball!