How to fix the MLB: Put the designated hitter in the National League, kill the win

emersonOver the last month, I have written columns on how I would improve the NFL, fix the NHL and better the NBA.

I like football, I like hockey and I dislike basketball. So writing about how to fix baseball was one I saved for last.

I love baseball more than just about anything. I think it is the greatest game ever invented.

 
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That being said, it is not immune to improvement.

To start, there is no reason whatsoever that the two leagues play under different rules. The National League sends to bat the nine players that take the field, including the pitcher. In the American League, the pitcher does not hit. Instead he is substituted in the batting order by a designated hitter.

The designated hitter is stupid. The main argument for it is that no one wants to see the pitcher bat and that pitchers run the risk of injury if they step up to the plate.

“The DH rule teaches us that men who can play just 50 percent of baseball are real baseball players deserving of not only roster spots, but everyday play and without penalty,” Amazin’ Avenue’s Pack Bringley, said.

He’s absolutely right. The designated hitter takes away some of the best strategy to baseball games — deciding when to lift your pitcher for a pinch hitter. Do you want the extra inning or two from your pitcher, or do you go on the offensive?

But I’m not politicking to get rid of the designated hitter. It’s a lost cause and one not worth fighting. Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz had long and successful careers playing only half the game, and Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome were able to extend their careers in a similar way.

The MLB Players Association is just too powerful and wouldn’t allow the extermination of a position that has granted its members more career years and more dollars.

I’m politicking for standardization. If MLB’s decision makers have decided that the designated hitter is best for the game, fine. They’re wrong, but fine. Just put it in both leagues.

National League teams are automatically at a disadvantage in interleague games played under American League rules. AL teams go into the season with room in the budget for a designated. NL teams go into American League parks using the best player off their bench.

I would love to see the designated hitter gone. But it’s here to stay, so make it make sense: Put it in the National League.

My next course of action would be to get rid of a pitcher’s win-loss record.

A win is a stat given to the starting pitcher if he completes five innings and leaves the game with a lead that his team does not relinquish. It can also be given to a relief pitcher who comes into the game after the fifth inning. A loss is given to the pitcher who surrendered the run to give the other team the lead that it did not surrender.

It’s also the worst stat in all of baseball.

Look at Chris Sale. The Chicago White Sox left-hander finished fifth in the American League Cy Young voting. He also had an 11-14 record.

Well, he’s not good, he lost more than he won, right? Win-loss record would indicate that to be the truth.

April 18 — Seven innings pitched, two runs. Loss.

May 6 — Seven and one-third innings pitched, one run. No decision.

June 14 — Eight innings, two unearned runs. Loss.

June 25 — Eight innings, three runs. No decision.

And the worst of all — July 27 — Nine innings, one run. Loss.

It’s his team’s fault, not his. With stat lines like those, a pitcher should be winning. And it is by no means his fault if his team supplies him with one run. The White Sox sucked last year, and his record fell because of it.

Yes, it’s a team sport and the pitcher single-handedly has a more direct result on the outcome of the game than any other player. But there are eight other guys behind him that have an outcome as well, and win-loss record completely ignores what his teammates did.

A pitcher’s win-loss record is also the only stat in which it is possible to act as if a game never existed. Let’s look at that June 25 start in which he did not factor into the decision.

Sale struck out 13 batters in that game. His final stat line for the season is 11-14 and 226 strikeouts. According to win-loss record, Sale did not get a decision and that game didn’t happen. Yet his 13 strikeouts count toward his total at the end of the season.

Wins and losses are a way to take a quick look at how a pitcher did. 15-6? Probably had a good year. 7-18? Not so much. But in reality, they tell you absolutely nothing until you look at his other stats. Relying on wins and losses is lazy.

Masahiro Tanaka came to the U.S. with a 24-0 record in Japan last year. Did he have a good year? Probably, but 24-0 is not enough information. What if he gave up five runs per game and he played on the best offensive team in the league? The bottom line is, looking at wins and losses, we can guess, but we just don’t know.

Wins are an archaic and ignorant way to gauge a pitcher’s effectiveness, and it needs to end. I won’t even start asking people people to start accepting stats like fielding-independent pitching (FIP) and wins above replacement (WAR), I just want people to stop acting like a winning pitching record means anything at all.

When it affects the game is when it gets dangerous. On May 22, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers pitched 4 1-3 innings and allowed five runs. The Tigers were leading 9-5 when the game went into a rain delay. The delay lasted 62 minutes and when it was over, Verlander inexplicably, idiotically came out to finish the fifth inning so he could qualify for a win.

From the ESPN.com game story:

“Tigers manager Jim Leyland said his general rule is not let a pitcher return after sitting more than an hour. However, he made an exception because it was so close, and because Verlander is Verlander.

“‘Since I’ve been here, he’s been our horse,’ Leyland said. ‘He has earned that right. I thought he deserved it.’”

The reason Leyland had that rule in the first place was to protect a pitcher from having to cool his arm down while he waits for the rain to stop then come out to pitch again. To send Verlander out because “he has earned that right” is unforgivably near-sighted, considering the Tigers had guaranteed Verlander $180 million earlier that year.

The Tigers had that game in hand. Verlander could have gotten hurt and Leyland would have looked like a fool. And if he did, gee, I hope that win would have been worth it.

Reach the columnist at justin.emerson@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @J15Emerson