One (DH) rule to bind them all?

As a long-time baseball fan, though not as ardent of a fan as I used to be, I want to weigh in on this one. The designated hitter (DH) rule is probably one of the most controversial topics among baseball fans, next to the steroid scandal that rocked the sport almost a decade ago now (2007). One of the things that makes baseball at least semi-interesting is the fact one league allows the manager to designate another player to bat for the pitcher, and one does not.

But that might be about to change. Among other sources, this article on notes St. Louis Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak’s comments on the movement to apply the DH rule in the National League. (It has been applied in the American League since 1973.) John’s comments state in part (from quotes in the article):

I do feel like there were times I could look all of you in the face and say it’s a non-starter, it’s not being discussed at the owner level or GM… But over the past year it has. I’m not suggesting you’re going to see a change but I definitely think the momentum (has changed).

As a Houston Astros fan, I get a bit of a different look at this than fans of other teams around the league; the Astros switched leagues in 2013, joining the American League West after 51 years in the National League. I have never been a huge fan of the DH rule, even though I’ve never been alive to see an American League game without it. Every Astros game from the era when I was a hardcore baseball fan was without the DH rule. I’ve seen a couple of Astros pitchers hit home runs over the years–always a spectacular sight when it happens, as usually pitchers are considered the worst batting players on the team. Thus the argument for the DH rule, that pitchers will almost always be lousy hitters and the game is more interesting if we let someone else bat for the pitcher all the time.

I feel very strongly that we will have lost something if the DH becomes universal at the major league level. If anything, I would like to see the AL dump the DH rule. According to the Wikipedia article, the main criticism of the DH rule are that it introduces asymmetry in the game: the players in the batting order are not entirely the same players that take the field. Pitchers who bat are, in general, less likely to hit batters with a pitch, knowing there’s the possibility of retaliation when they step up to bat. The DH takes this out of the equation; it’s just not the same when someone who bats for the pitcher gets plunked or beaned. This by itself is enough reason to call the DH rule a bad idea.

I wish the Astros were still in the NL. Not only do I hate the DH rule, I miss the old rivalries (Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, and Reds–yes, there were six teams in the division), even though it’s obvious the Astros can hold their own in the AL West. (There was concern about this when the Astros had over 100 losses in each of their last two NL seasons.) Yes, there’s a chance AL pitchers injure themselves running the bases when forced to bat. However the solution to this is not to introduce an asymmetry to the game that simply doesn’t belong. The solution is to make sure pitchers get at least some time running the bases and a decent amount of batting cage time.

In summary, It’s time to dump the DH and dump it now. The experiment has run long enough, and it’s time to call it a failure and move on. The same nine players on the field should be the same nine players come to bat. As a corollary to this: too old to field (usually) means too old to play (it is exceedingly rare for a player to stay on the roster just to be a pinch-hitter in the NL, though once in a while it happens).

Welcome to the American League and “dynamic pricing”, Astros fans

As recently posted to the Houston Press Hair Balls blog, the Astros are naming their new ticket pricing a “dynamic pricing model.” From the Houston Chronicle as quoted in the post:

Astros president George Postolos said Thursday prices for the Astros-Rangers opener on March 31 are simply a reflection of demand and the club’s increased emphasis on dynamic pricing, which will be used more often in 2013 and in all areas of the stadium for the first time. The Astros’ 2013 home-opener and AL debut is also MLB’s season-opener. Thus, the March 31 high ticket costs are an anomaly.

The problem with this scheme and its labeling is that tickets have yet to go on sale, yet dugout seats are already going for over twice the price of last year for opening day. A true dynamic pricing scheme would raise prices after the demand, not before.

So it seems to me (and John Royal, writing for the Houston Press, seems to concur) that it’s just an excuse for the Astros to raise prices when they feel like it, for whatever reason. This is not the recipe for success for a team moving to the American League after a season with 107 losses out of 162 games, behind even the Chicago Cubs who only lost 101 games out of 162. Yes, the same Chicago Cubs whose attendance is more sensitive to beer prices than whether or not the team is winning.

Maybe the Cubs can get away with raising ticket prices as long as the beer is still relatively cheap. The Astros do not have that luxury; right now the public transit options to get to Minute Maid Park are limited (unless you like walking five blocks from the Main Street rail station or dealing with bus schedules that don’t change just because there’s a baseball game). There are plenty of great bars in Houston where one can go for cheap suds. As far as I have been able to tell, Houston fans are just as happy watching the game on TV if the Astros are in a “rebuilding” phase.

And make no mistake about it, it would be a big surprise to me if the Astros finished anywhere near .500 as an American League team, after the debacle that was the 2012 season, their last as a National League team. As the late Ray Combs (game show host) might have said, it’s a damn fine way to go out of the NL. But the AL is certainly no easier: against the Yankees, Red Sox, and White Sox I would be surprised if the Astros managed better than about a .250 winning percentage over those 17 games, or less than 13 losses. If they go .500 against everyone else (I’m being generous here), that’s another 72 losses, for a total of 85. Fifteen more than that and it’s another 100-loss season.

This will be a great season… for the bars, after Astros games. My advice to the Astros front office: make a dynamic team first, then try this “dynamic pricing” thing.