In one episode of The West Wing, some news is slowly spreading from one staffer to the next. The Congressional Budget Office is preparing to release new projections of the federal government’s budget surplus, lowering the estimated figure by $200 billion over the next eight years. Toby and Sam, in particular, are elated by the news. That might seem counterintuitive, since the gist of the change is that everyone has less money than previously thought, but they’re excited, because this news will give them leverage in the fight to preserve tax cuts for people in the lowest tax bracket, while abolishing the same for the highest earners—”because,” Sam says, “it turns out we might not be able to afford it.”
Why am I telling you this story? Here’s why.
(The number tracked on the vertical axis here is tOPS, or the percentage of the league-average OPS represented by the collective OPS of pitchers at the plate in the given season.)
We have positional splits as far back as 1960, as for every season since 1974. Over that span, pitchers have never been worse hitters than they were in 2014. It’s not even especially close.
You should know very well, by now, that strikeouts are up across baseball. It’s a seven- or eight-year trend at this point, and it’s been fairly gradual, although it’s now reaching a level that raises alarms despite that fact. For pitchers at bat, though, there has been nothing gradual about it.
In 2012, their strikeout rate simply shot up, from roughly 33 percent (a range in which it had hovered, creeping only very slightly upward, for over 10 years) to 37 percent. Pitchers at bat are overwhelmed, unable to keep up, completely helpless in the face of modern pitchers on the mound.
As uncomfortable as it has been watching so many hurlers become utterly useless as batters, I’m glad of it. The DH needs to come to the National League, and this is just the sort of jolt the argument needed in its favor. Pitchers are worse hitters than ever, and by a substantial margin, and it’s only going to get worse. If that’s not a compelling reason to abolish the silly distinction (without an honest difference) between National League and American League baseball, I don’t know what will be. I love a pitcher who can hit. Carlos Zambrano, Travis Wood and Yovani Gallardo not only added as much as a win of value at the plate in their best seasons, but were delightfully entertaining. (Heck, Wood still is.) The time has come, though—in fact, the time has been here for a while—to make that species of player a pleasing historical novelty, like the long reliever and the expert bunter.
The Baseball-Reference Play Index is a national treasure. The positional splits that made this article possible are searchable without a subscription there.
Follow Matt Trueblood on Twitter at @MATrueblood.Next post: The Odd Orioles Offseason
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