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Monday, October 20, 2008

On the Designated Hitter

Personally, I hate the DH. I guess it's fine in the minor leagues so more players get more ABs and pitchers face a lower chance at injury. But, in the majors, there's no place for it. It was created over 3 decades ago as a marketing ploy to attract fans away from the NL and toward the AL. Because of that, we're stuck with uneven rules in the most important baseball series in Philadelphia for 15 years.

Alas, we must deal with the DH. Ryan Howard is probably the worst fielder on the team. However, he plays the least important position. Because of this, I feel that a defensive upgrade somewhere else on the field will prove more optimal than one at first base (If this sounds familiar, it's because the very first post in this blog's history analyzed the DH and came to the same conclusion). Howard may have more errors at first base than anyone else in the NL this year, but his fielding percentage is only slightly below average (avg .992; Howard .988). For those of you who prefer more advanced defensive metrics, Howard's zone rating actually ranked 4th out of 11 eligible NL first basemen. Yes, he can't throw a ball to second base, but at this point he knows simply not to throw it anymore. Plus, he is decent at scooping low throws from the infielders, something his potential replacement undoubtedly has less experience with this year. He is not so poor to warrant his glove useless.

In short, it is not good to DH Howard. Utley, Rollins, Feliz, Ruiz, Victorino, and Werth are all not options. That leaves the bench players and Burrell. Pat Burrell has a good arm. But, that's about it when evaluating his defensive positives. He's a slow, slow man with a range factor/9 innings well below average for left fielders (avg 1.90; Burrell 1.61). Eric Bruntlett, on the other hand, is not a slow man, and he can cover much more outfield ground than The Bat. Bruntlett also hits lefties much better than the average Phillies fan would expect: .361 OBP. Shane Victorino's OBP vs. lefties? .345, just for some perspective. Thus, when a left-handed pitcher is scheduled to start for Tampa Bay, Bruntlett should play left field while Pat Burrell hits designated-ly.

As for when a righty starts: again, do not DH Howard. Or Utley, Ruiz, Rollins, Victorino, or Werth. As we all know, Pedro Feliz owns a .279 OBP vs. righties and should never start when a righty is on the mound. Thus, Greg Dobbs must play third base. Yes, Feliz is the better defensive third baseman, but Dobbs is not a butcher. He owns an above average fielding percentage for third basemen (.971 to .956) and an above average range factor/9 innings (2.78 to 2.60). Dobbs' bat is so much better compared to Feliz' bat than Feliz' glove is compared to Dobbs' glove. Do not start Feliz vs. a righty in this series. Allowing Dobbs to play third keeps the DH option available for Burrell or a lefty off the bench. Matt Stairs, as we all know and as I stated the day the Phils got him, is a powerful left-handed bat who has a fantastic OBP vs. righties for a bench player. I would use Stairs and his .349 OBP vs. righties as the DH when a righty starts. ALSO: Matt Stairs homered once every 14.9 ABs vs. righties last year as a 39-year-old. That's absurd. Start this man.

Bottom line: When a lefty starts, Feliz starts at third, Bruntlett in left, Burrell at DH. When a righty starts, Dobbs at third, Burrell in left, Stairs at DH.

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