MLB: how about a "Ghost Pinch Hitter" instead of a full time DH?

I dislike the DH rule, because I dislike the idea that an important offensive player can be a key player - even contend for the AL MVP - while rarely or never taking the field. Throwing the ball, catching the ball, hitting the ball with a bat and running around the bases are things every baseball player should be prepared - nay, eager to do. Not all equally well, but it’s part of the fundamental job description. Excusing a pitcher from ever having to hit or run, or having a player only bat and run, is to make them half a baseball player.

On the other hand, I recognize the inherent weakness in the game setup when a manager can intentionally pitch around batters to get to the pitcher’s spot in the lineup (e.g., 2 outs and 2 men on base), forcing the other manager to let a weak batter take a key at-bat or to remove a still-effective pitcher from the game. Purity of the game aside, when one hitter in the lineup is consistently in there solely for defense 99% of the time (the pitcher) and is several standard deviations below the rest of the positions in offensive production, that’s not exactly “pure” either.

That said, I still dislike how the rule is specifically aimed at the pitcher, such that allowing the pitcher to bat for himself loses the DH. Sure, MOST of the time, pitchers can’t hit. But what if your pitcher du jour is actually a decent hitter, like Carlos Zambrano, and your lightweight bat defensive guy is like 1997 Rey Ordonez at shortstop? And then there’s the strategic element to managing bats off the bench which isn’t there if you can just throw a guy in there as the DH every game.

Finally I think it’s objectively stupid to have the DH in half the major league teams but not the other half. Especially now that Interleague play is not only here to stay, but will be a constant throughout the schedule. Either it’s a part of baseball now, or it’s not. The problem is, I dislike it but recognize and to some extent agree as to why there’s a perceived need for it.

Taking all that into account, I submit the following change to Major League Baseball, to be implemented for the 2013 season after 30 years of having a Designated Hitter rule in the American League alone: All teams in both leagues will once again play by the same rules. However, there will no longer be a Designated Hitter. Instead, we will allow a Ghost Pinch Hitter once per 9 innings.

This role is just like a regular pinch hitter - he goes up to bat for another player, most likely the pitcher but it could be anybody - but after he’s done hitting and running the bases, he goes back to the bench and the original player remains in the lineup. The Ghost can still be used as a normal pinch hitter or runner later in the game as well. For lineup purposes it’s as if the original player had batted, except that the Ghost batted for him (but the offensive stats count for the Ghost, of course). The exception would be if you sent in a pinch-runner for the Ghost, in which case he’s removed from the game, but the pinch runner wouldn’t be: the “Ghost” nature would get transferred to the pinch-runner, so to speak. This is to balance the use of power-hitting pure pinch hitters like Matt Stairs more than once - you can do it, but now he has to run at least once if he gets on base. (It would also be called, of course, “giving up the Ghost”.)

So if a pitcher’s spot is coming up with the bases empty, fine, let him bat as God intended him to do. But if his spot is coming up and there’s a man on 3rd base and 2 out in the 4th inning and the idea in the other dugout is to intentially walk the #8 hitter to pitch to the pitcher, well, now you can send in your best bat off the bench and still keep that bat on the bench and your pitcher in the game. But not every single time the pitcher comes up - only once per 9 innings, so pick your spot wisely.

You get to use another Ghost in extra innings (unlike “the” DH it wouldn’t have to be the same player you used as a Ghost in the regular innings); and Heaven help you, a third Ghost if you reach the 19th inning - you can use that backup catcher off the bench without fear of being without a catcher.

Whaddya think? Shall we bombard Bud Selig with this idea? Or is this actually something that’s been proposed before in some variant, and been shot down?

Oh, and the Ghost can only do the ghost thing once per 9 innings - meaning, if the player’s spot comes up in the same half inning (the team bats around), the “real” player has to bat, or get pinch-hit for in the normal way.

I would much prefer doing away with the DH altogether, having pitchers take batting practice so they can hit at least as well as your average T-baller, and making room on the rosters of AL teams for players who can hit *and *field…but since that’s not likely to happen…

Your proposal is certainly worth discussion, but I’d make a couple changes.

Once the “Ghost Pinch Hitter” finishes his at-bat, he’s done. He can’t come back later as a ‘regular’ PH later on. Otherwise we compromise another long-standing rule of baseball, which is that once you leave the game you can’t return.

And I’d ditch the extra-innings rule, You get one GPH per game, period. If it’s a tight contest going into the late innings, you need to make a choice. Today, the choice is “pull the pitcher for a PH, or let him stay in to bat?” Now, it would be “use the GPH now, or save him for extra innings?” But if you get a ‘reset’ in the 10th, that takes away the need for a strategic decision in the 8th or 9th.

Well I wouldn’t want it to just be a one-and-done option to bat for a pitcher while keeping the pitcher; to me, there should be a balance in keeping the batter as well, but in a controlled fashion (no pinch-running for him).

The “per 9 innings” thing is less of a nod to the DH and more a nod to the fact that running out of bench players sucks. I also had visions of playing Pac-Man and getting a free man every 10,000 points :slight_smile: But then again, that forces the strategic element of bench management in a game without a clock, as you point out re: using a Ghost more aggressively in the 8th or 9th inning to force extra innings if you would get another Ghost. Maybe the rule of “once per 9 innings” would mean that if you used the Ghost in the 8th inning, you wouldn’t be able to Ghost again until the 17th inning?

Seems to me that there’s something of a contradiction in your logic here.

On the one hand, there is an “inherent weakness” in the game caused by the presence of the pitcher in the lineup, because most pitchers can’t hit. On the other hand, some pitchers can hit. There is really no more inherent logic in substituting a professional hitter for the pitcher than there is in simply allowing the chips to fall where they may, with some pitchers being really awful at the plate, and some being OK.

The sport of cricket faces a somewhat similar dilemma, although in some ways it’s even more pronounced. There are essentially no substitutions allowed in cricket (very limited exceptions, and subs aren’t allowed to bat or bowl, only field), so the 11 guys you send out onto the field have to comprise your best combination of hitting and bowling, as well as fielding skill, for that particular game. Because you need at least four bowlers in your lineup, at least four out of the eleven positions are generally occupied by players who are not experts at batting and who are, in some cases, fucking woeful at it.

Some bowlers work on their batting assiduously in an effort to improve, and a select few can actually both bat and bowl to a high standard. Such players are known in cricket as “all-rounders,” and some of the game’s greatest ever players (Ian Botham, Garfield Sobers, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev) have fallen into this category. There are also batters who, while not considered complete all-rounders, are proficient enough that they can be called upon to bowl if the occasion requires.

Anyway, i’m not suggesting that baseball should look to cricket for strategy. There are enough difference between the games—both in rules, and in the mechanics of hitting and pitching or bowling—that direct comparisons are rather meaningless. I guess i’m just calling into question your argument that the strategic issues related to pitchers in the batting lineup constitute an “inherent weakness” in the game.

I’ve heard some baseball fans argue that the point of the game is to have the best people doing what they do best, and that having pitchers hit is a pointless exercise that simply makes the game less excellent than it should be. I understand why they make that argument, but i don’t really agree with it. For me, as both a cricket and a baseball fan, part of the excitement and appeal of the sport is precisely this sort of balancing act, whereby sometimes players are called on to do things that they aren’t so good at. When they succeed, it’s fun and interesting.

I admit that this is, at least in part, a cultural thing. American sports in general, especially baseball and football, are far more specialized than their overseas equivalents like rugby and soccer and cricket, and as someone who grew up following the latter sports, but who is now a big baseball and football fan, i still enjoy occasions where the American tendency to specialization takes a back seat. That’s why, despite the fact that my own baseball team plays in the American League, i often prefer to watch National League games.

If specialization is as great as some fans suggest, why not go the whole hog? Why not have 9 specialist hitters in the batting lineup, and nine completely different guys in the field? Imagine if you could send Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel or John McDonald out into the field, and then send Josh Hamilton or Jose Bautista or Matt Kemp out to bat at their place in the lineup? Of course, some players are awesome at hitting and defense, but not all are. Why not specialize everything?

One more possible solution, if you don’t like the DH but want to eliminate the “inherent weakness” of the pitcher who can’t hit: why not simply bat 8 men? That way, the pitcher doesn’t hit, but neither does a DH. This would, of course, eliminate the age-old nine-man batting lineup that is a centerpiece of the game, but it doesn’t seem that much more radical than introducing a designated hitter.

[Warning: Anti-DH rant]

I agree. Either do like football and have a separate offense and defense, or do like (real) baseball, and have 9 guys who play both sides until they get replaced. What if you have a pitcher who can hit but a catcher who can’t? Can your DH hit for the catcher instead of the pitcher? Why the pitcher? Just because they *usually *can’t hit as well as a fielder? Punters aren’t normally the best tacklers, but we don’t have them swap out with a linebacker right after they punt.

[/off topic rant]

While I think that they should just get rid of the DH (or, at least, as I alluded to above, allow the team to pick which person on the team the DH hits for), I think your proposal is a good compromise, but it is too complicated to work. (I’m not suggesting that there is a simpler compromise.)

Disagree. The best thing (actually, the only good thing) about an 18-inning game is watching a pitcher play right field, a shortstop catch and a first baseman pitching to a 39-year old reliever who hasn’t held a bat since Little League.

The Ghost Pinch Hitter has the same problem as the DH – it’s a freebie, a mulligan, a gimme. Professional sports shouldn’t have gimmes.

This is a strength, not a weakness.

Forcing this choice upon the offensive manager (the choice made is dependent on many factors of the game state and the players available) is a key defensive tactic. The availability of the tactic in turn drives important strategic choices about a team’s pitching staff and bench players. So the presence of the pitcher in the order generates “wrinkles” both within individual games and at the scale of whole seasons; it would be a less interesting game if these wrinkles were ironed out.

It’s not objectively one thing or another.

Subjectively, though I obviously think the game is more fun without the DH, I can accept the presence of it in one league only, for the express purpose of keeping the leagues distinct. Interleague play makes distinctions between leagues (outside the schedule) more important, not less.

Nah, I like the DH. I think the AL does it perfectly. No reason to go overboard with an all offense and an all defense team.

Well, to answer this question directly, because that would be really stupid. It just wouldn’t work, and it solves very few problems, since there really are very few good hitters who are completely inept as fielders, and for the most part the DH rule solves that issue. However, it introduces many problems, not the least of which is now you need way bigger rosters.

We don’t have completely different offensive and defensive teams for the same reason the bases aren’t 55 feet apart and we don’t make guys use their bare hands to field; because there isn’t any reason at all to do so. There was, in using the DH, at least the argument that 99% of all pitchers are ridiculously inept hitters.

One obvious problem is that it would threaten a lot of season records, since every position player in an 8-man lineup gets 11% more at bats now, and people would whine about that, too.

I would prefer the abolition of the DH for all usual reasons: I like the strategy component of “pull the pitcher for a PH, or leave him in to bat in a key spot?”, and the scenarios of “ha ha, lookit the pitcher in left field” or “lookit the backup shortstop taking the mound because they’re out of pitchers in extra innings”, and I dislike the idea of “special teams” and separate offensive/defensive squads of players… I completely agree with all of that.

BUT, as a practical matter I concede that there are too many fans of the DH, and/or too many fans raised on it, for the abolition to actually happen. The DH rule is instituted in all minor leagues, even for the affiliates of NL teams, as well as college baseball, and I believe even in Little League and most if not all HS leagues. Effectively, the National League of MLB is playing by archaic and relict rules (and according to Wikipedia, the Central League in Japan as well). To me this means the reality is that, without some kind of alternative, the most likely outcome is that sooner or later, the DH rule will be completely standard. And I don’t really want that.

On the other hand, as far as I know, the history of the DH is that it was first implemented in the American League in 1973 and propagated out from there. So we can use the idea of the reunification of the conditions of play between the AL and the NL (which makes ever more sense how that we will have interleague games every day, and players move between leagues all the time) to rewrite the implementation of the goals of the DH rule, as why it was implemented at all in the first place: “we don’t want to see a so-called wasted at-bat, or to lose an effective pitcher to improve the at-bat”. And if it gets ensconced in the major leagues, it has a very good chance to similarly propagate out to replace the DH rules at all other levels of baseball where we see the DH rule today.

So, I tried to come up with a way to get in “improved” at bats in the lineup in a way that would accomodate those concerns, while removing my main philosophical objections to the DH:

(1) that it’s a permanent role in the lineup, so that we can have players routinely getting 400+ ABs a season at DH for years on end.
(2) that it’s a pitcher specific replacement, instead of a role used at the manager’s discretion (allowing for greater strategic use).

What I proposed is not quite a mulligan or gimme because the batter is still batting. It is not a free base. It is not even saying the pitcher gets to walk on 3 balls or only makes an out on 4 strikes where everybody else gets 4 and 3, or saying the pitcher can bunt foul on strike three and keep batting, or some other role specific nonsense, which to me is a large part of disliking the rule.

I can agree on getting rid of the “every 9 innings” part, but I figured subsequent generations raised on video games (beginning with my own) find it natural to expect a regeneration type of effect for a free man when the game recycles levels, so to speak. :slight_smile: Most of the time the DH rule is lost in game play in the AL, it’s due to needing the player at DH to fill a defensive role in extra innings anyway.

The idea of not losing the batter off the bench (as well as not losing the pitcher on the mound) in a “ghost” at-bat is another nod to the DH fans, and possibly the player’s union. It means someone who’s frequently used in PH role would get up to twice the number of possible uses, more approximating what the DH is today while making it more of a strategic and less of an everyday role.

I suppose another very simple way to achieve most of my goals (except for the pitcher specific nature of the DH rule) would be simply to add a rule that no player may have more than, say, 250 plate apperances as a designated hitter (about a third of a full season if one played most of every game). This would all but guarantee that no player could be a full or majority time DH.

Alternatively, or in addition to that rule, that only the starting pitcher may be DH’ed for. Go to the 'pen, you lose the DH. The return of the double switch!

That’s easy to solve, just play 8 inning games. That, or change it from 3 outs to 2 2/3 outs per half inning. Notice, these are all ridiculous ideas.

Sure; i was clearly being hyperbolic.

The question for me, though, is how much of a problem the DH solves, and whether, in solving that problem, it detracts from the game in any way.

How much does pitchers’ hitting ability (or lack of it) actually affect the game? I’m not going to go back and calculate pitcher contributions for a whole bunch of seasons, but one person went to the trouble to compile the NL figures for 2008. Link

Firstly, even without the DH, it’s not like the pitchers on NL teams get a full season of plate appearances anyway. They get about half of that. The strategy of removing the pitcher and working around the position with substitutes means that, on average, the pitchers on an NL team combine for only about 300 plate appearances per year. That’s fewer than two per game, on average.

Secondly, the average of all NL pitchers in 2008 was .139, compared with a league average of .260. That means that, over the course of those 300 pitcher plate appearances, the presence of pitchers in the lineup deprived the fans of about 36 hits per team, or about one hit every four and a half games, over the course of the whole season. Maybe a bit more, if you assume that DH’s are better-than-average hitters.

I realize that this is an issue that people are pretty firm about, one way or the other, and i’m not expecting to change anyone’s mind here, but for me the slightly reduced hitting in the NL is more than made for by the attraction of having the pitchers hit, and the strategy involved in working around the pitchers in the lineup. I find it just as interesting as watching a David Ortiz type of DH, who can hit just fine, but would be about as good as my mother if you asked him to do any fielding.

Sure, although the jump from 154 to 162 games in the early '60s provided a similar (although smaller) jump in plate appearances, and the appearance of the DH also had the potential to screw with stats by asking AL pitchers to face 9 good batters instead of 8 every time through the order.

For me, the main argument against an 8-man lineup is that it screws with the nice symmetry of the numbers. Nine innings, nine hitters, three outs per inning. Not only does it look good, but it means that, in a perfect world (or a perfect game) every hitter gets exactly three chances at bat. Those are the little things i find appealing about the game, and that shouldn’t be messed with. For me, the presence of the DH fixes a non-problem.

This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.

Think about that for a while.

It’s nowhere near as deep and interesting as you seem to think. It also doesn’t really advance the discussion in this thread.

I agree, so you’re preaching to the choir in terms of my OP. But this thread wasn’t supposed to be about whether or not having ways to avoid having the pitcher bat is a good thing, but that GIVEN that that is something that is here to stay, can it be done in a “better” way than presently implemented? One that has a chance of catching on?

Do you admit that this is, at this point, largely a lost battle? Do you really think the DH will ever be abolished? If not… Then do you not also think that sooner or later, be it in less than 5 years or less than 50, that the DH rule will be standardized?

If you realize that as a likely or inevitable outcome if the DH rule is not removed, and that the perceived need for the DH rule (whether you agree with it or not) is essentially incontrovertible to the majority of league owners, players and fans, then the only way to avoid that outcome is to propose an alternative that palliates those concerns (without ignoring them) and yet addresses the bulk of what is distasteful about the DH.

I am more hoping to hear from fans or supporters of the DH rule in this thread, to see if they would find this a reasonable alternative in terms of what they “get” from the DH rule. From my side, as someone who dislikes imbalanced specialization in baseball, this gets me most of the way to what I would like to get as a fan.

As a fan of the DH, I think it is perfectly implemented in the AL right now. However, gun to my head, must choose one of your alternatives, I’d go with the limited plate appearances at DH per player. At least in that case I still don’t have to see pitchers try to hit.

I doubt it.

The DH is easy to understand, easy to implement, gives a certain class of well-paid veteran players a way to extend their careers (thus beloved by the union), and has now been around long enough that both the DH itself and the particular difference between the leagues it produces have acquired some traditionality. Any argument to change it in any way has a high bar to get over.

This particular proposal takes away some of the positive aspects of both forms of the game in service of a rules unification between leagues which is itself not clearly desirable.