It seems like I too often put caveats ahead of quickly little posts like this one … but I’m going to again because I know that what follows is a VERY small sample size. It’s only 131 games total. But it’s still fun, and there’s a fascinating twist, one that I never could have seen coming. So I would say to enjoy this but not attach any meaning to it.
Since 1976, the designated hitter has played a role in the World Series. For a little while there — from 1976-84 — the World Series would used the DH every other year. That went as follows:
1976: Yes DH (NL Reds won)
1977: No DH (AL Yankees won)
1978: Yes DH (AL Yankees won)
1979: No DH (NL Pirates won)
1980: Yes DH (NL Phillies won)
1981: No DH (NL Dodgers won)
1982: Yes DH (NL Cardinals won)
1983: No DH (AL Orioles won)
1983: Yes DH (AL Tigers won)
1985: No DH (AL Royals won)
So over those 10 years, the American League went 2-3 when the DH was used. And the National League went 2-3 when the DH wasn’t used. I think that pretty plainly shows that, in the big picture at least, the DH was not a decisive advantage or disadvantage for either side. The DH DID play a role, no question, but it seems like, as often as not, it played a positive role for the cross-league team. St. Louis’ Dane Iorg was Whitey Herzog’s DH in 1982, and he got eight hits in the 1982 World Series. Mike Boddicker’s sacrifice fly gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead in the all-important Game 2 of the 1983 World Series.
Since 1986, the DH World Series rule has been tied to home park. When the game is in an American League park, they use the DH. When it is in a National League park, pitchers hit for themselves.
Brilliant Tweeter CashMoneyMark asked an interesting question: From what we can see in the limited number of games which league has had the advantage? Obviously, there’s already a homefield advantage … but CMM’s question was wondering which team was hurt more by playing against type.
There is no definitive answer to this, I think, because of the small sample size mentioned above. But it seems to me — and this is surprising to me — that it plays any role at all, it actually hurts the National League more to play WITH a DH, than it hurts that American League to play WITHOUT one.
First: Start with the World Series records since 1986:
American League home record: 44-21 (.677 winning percentage)
National League home record: 37-29 (.561 winning percentage)
Well, there’s at least a small difference there — the American League has been better at home. Obviously that difference doesn’t have to involve the DH at all. It could be a million other factors, and I suspect it probably IS a million other factors. Still, it is true that American League teams been really good at home in the World Series when using the DH. Twice, the Minnesota Twins won the World Series by sweeping four games at home.* Only six times since the DH rule have American League teams had a losing record at home in the World Series, and five of those teams lost the Series. The only AL team to win the World Series by winning three games in a National League park was the 1996 Yankees.
*The Arizona Diamondbacks pulled that trick off for the NL in 2001.
But here’s the interesting part, at least to me. American League teams have unquestionably been better offensively with the DH. On the road, with the pitcher hitting for himself, AL teams have averaged about 3.77 runs a game. With the DH, they average about a half run more per game. I think that fits in with what you would expect. Hey, you have Hideki Matsui hitting instead of Roger Clemens, you should score more runs. If anything I’d expect the run-differential to be a little higher — after all, even during the season, when the DH is in use every day, teams tend to score more at home than they do on the road.
The National League, though, offers the shocker. At home, with pitchers hitting, they average 4.15 runs per game, which is pretty close to what American League teams score at home. But on the road, using the DH, National League teams have scored only 3.4 runs per game, meaning they score seven-tenths of a run LESS per game with the DH than they do with pitcher’s hitting.
I’m trying to wrap my head around that one. Obviously, teams play better at home, so it doesn’t really surprise me that the National League teams would score more at home, DH or not. And National League teams don’t use the DH and so generally don’t have players on the bench who can step into the DH role and be great hitters.
But I’m still stunned that NL teams would score that many fewer runs replacing the pitcher with a hitter. Since 1986, with the DH, the National League has been held to two or fewer runs 26 times. Without the DH, they’ve scored two or less only 16 times.
And, conversely, NL teams have scored nine or more runs eight times at home with the pitcher hitting. On the road, with the DH, they’ve scored nine or more just four times.
What this probably says is that the DH is not that big a factor one way or another … certainly not as big a factor as home field advantage. But I would love it if Tony La Russa, citing this history of NL teams score more with the pitcher hitting, just had his pitcher hit in the American League park. He’s the only guy who would try something like that, and I have to say it could be his crowning tactical moment, beating hitting the pitcher eighth, beating the triple switch, beating everything. If he had his pitcher hit in Texas, and the Cardinals won the Series, Tony L would become even more of a folk hero than he already is.