The Designated Hitter: A Statistical Analysis


Law & Batting Order

The Designated Hitter: A Statistical Analysis

by Adam Van Grack // @WhitewaterAtty


The MLB Rules already include the ability of either league (American or National) to institute the Designated Hitter in place of the pitcher for batting. MLB’s Official Baseball Rule 5.11 states: “Any League may elect to use Rule 5.11(a), which shall be called the Designated Hitter Rule.” The American League adopted the Designated Hitter Rule in 1973, the National League has not as of the date of this article. Nonetheless, there are some people – including recent suggestions by the Commissioner's Office and the Players' Union – suggesting that the National League should join the American League and adopt Rule 5.11, the Designated Hitter Rule.


Personal View

Personally, I prefer to have the pitcher bat in baseball games (i.e., not to adopt the Designated Hitter Rule). First, I like the fact that all 9 players are required to field and bat. Having all players bat creates a more complete game. Second, I prefer the careful strategic decisions which accompany having the pitcher (usually a less-skilled batter) be included in the batting order. Managers in the National League had significantly more strategy decisions to make with the pitcher batting, and their use of pinch hitters during the game. I prefer this “chess game” on the field.


Statistical Analysis

However, regardless of my personal preference I also believe that it is currently a statistical disadvantage for the National League to not take advantage of the DH Rule. Preferences aside, I believe the National League should adopt whichever rules is it permitted to do which provides an advantage for its teams against the American League in head-to-head play. After all, the National League should want to win the World Series every year. People argue back and forth as to whether adopting the Designated Hitter Rule or having pitchers bat gives a head-to-head advantage to either league. Fortunately, we have statistics to help us evaluate.

Since the American League adopted the Designated Hitter Rule, there have been 45 World Series played. During the time, the American League has won 25 World Series while the National League has only won 20. Thus, in head-to-head World Series, the American League – with their DH Rule – has had a 56% advantage.


Since the American League adopted the Designated Hitter Rule, there have been 3,980 Interleague Games during the regular season. During the time, the American League has won 2,097 of those games while the National League has only won 1,883. Thus, in head-to-head Interleague play, the American League – with their DH Rule – has had a 53% advantage.


It is hard to ignore these statistics. Even though half of these more-than-4,000 games have been played in National League stadiums with the pitcher batting (so seemingly American League pitchers are batting in half of these games when those players do not regularly bat), the American League still has a significant advantage. The only differentiation between the leagues is the Designated Hitter Rule, so the Designated Hitter Rule almost certainly is giving American League teams a head-to-head advantage.


The reasons for this advantage are likely a combination of a number of factors. As the American League Teams have an added roster spot for a regular hitter, American League Teams (1) will spend more money to have a better hitter in that spot as opposed to National League Teams (for only a bench role), (2) American League pitchers have less risk of injury, thus, stay healthier throughout the season (they are not regularly batting in addition to pitching, and (3) great hitters who are not strong fielders will gravitate to play for American League Teams.


These statistics can not likely be explained by simply saying that American League Teams are better. We’re talking about over 4,000 games between the best and the worst teams of both leagues (including last year’s Orioles Team which could not win 60 games overall). Thus, the difference is likely solely attributed to the only rule difference between the leagues: the Designated Hitter Rule.


Conclusion

I love the National League for its over-40-year insistence that pitchers bat along with all the other 8 position players. Requiring the pitcher to bat creates a better and more-pure game, in my opinion.


However, I also believe that the National League should take advantage of every edge it can against the American League. And as it appears that its adoption of the Designated Hitter Rule has given the American League a distinct advantage, the National League should follow… and adopt the Designated Hitter Rule.


Adam Van Grack is an attorney at the law firm of Longman & Van Grack, LLC practicing litigation, business law, and sports law. Adam is a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals having attended Washington University in St. Louis for college and law school. Adam has been previously appointed as the Chair of a U.S. Olympic National Governing Body.