A Visual Case for the DH

Watching pitchers hit is so boring.

It’s time to rule out the rule requiring pitchers to hit major league pitching, except as an exception for the exceptional hitters.

There is one undeniable fact in the DH-or-no-DH debate that everyone can agree on: Pitchers, for the most part, can’t hit major league pitching. I am of the opinion that not only are pitchers not capable of hitting major league pitching, they are also essentially a waste of an at-bat, so much so that a pitcher trying to hit doesn’t even look remotely like a major league at-bat, further, they also have a disproportional impact on the hitter that directly precedes them . Let’s use some Statcast data and take a look at the visual evidence, which will help to quantify this position.

Pitchers vs. Position Players Avg Launch Angle and Avg Exit Velocity

Here we have the classic outlier graph where we see pitchers, as a group, with orders of magnitude less exit velocity and launch angles. The exit velocity on its own isn’t all that extreme, as we’ll see in a bit. However, the ability to make solid contact, as measured by average launch angle, is atrocious. The above data exclude bunts; if we included them, the data would be even more extreme.

This chart exemplifies the core argument about instituting the DH in the National League: Pitchers, as a group, are orders of magnitude lesser hitters than any other position and do not even remotely resemble major league hitters.

I’m Lying to You with this Chart

Here we have a classic misleading chart, where I’ve intentionally chopped off the y-axis just below the average pitcher exit velocity to make the magnitude of the difference appear much larger than it really is. I feel really guilty about this, so here’s a bonus version of the same chart, this one portraying it as delta from the average exit velocity of all non-bunt batted balls.

+/- Launch Speed from MLB Average (Excluding Bunts)

This chart accurately reflects the big drop-off compared to the next closest position and should depict the difficulty pitchers have hitting the ball with authority as compared to other position players. Exit velocity, on it’s own, doesn’t tell much of a story, nor does it really tell the whole story here. The more salient data are launch angles, depicted in two charts again.

Average Launch Angle by Primary Position

There is no mendacious attempt with this chart as the default in Tableau is to start at zero, though one could argue where the y-axis should begin, since zero isn’t the lowest theoretical angle at which one could launch a baseball. To that end, let’s look at these data from the perspective of deviation from the mean.

+/- Average Launch Angle by Primary Position

Here we have the meat of the story: Pitchers essentially are hitting weak ground balls, which will rarely result in anything useful, especially considering most pitchers don’t run very hard.

Who Are the Exceptions?

Every rule has an exception, and in baseball, the exceptional rule. Let’s take a closer look at the above dynamics and split it out at the individual level to see if the thesis is muted or enhanced, as well as identify any outlier pitchers. We’ll take a look at three charts that use different batted-ball authority metrics, in my favorite chart form, scatter plots.

Small Sample Size Syndergaard (SSSS)

The data above are filtered to players with a minimum of 25 balls in play (excluding bunts), with exit velocity mapped to xwOBA as calculated by Statcast. If there is one take-away from this chart, it’s that Noah Syndergaard should stop pitching and immediately become a full-time hitter. The other, more pertinent, observation is the large cluster of pitchers and sub-replacement level hitters who neither hit the ball hard nor at a launch angle and exit velocity combination that would do any damage.

The other blue pitcher dots in the upper right quadrant are Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner and SSS Michael Lorenzen and Tyson Ross. These data suggest that the vast majority of pitchers will be about as entertaining to watch hit a baseball as Juan Graterol or Hanser Alberto. The above chart shows expected wOBA, which may or may not work well for pitchers, so let’s take a look at exit velocity + actual wOBA:

Pitcher vs. Hitter Exit Velocity and Avg wOBA

We see largely the same story as the xwOBA graph, with Arrieta, Bumgarner and Syndergaard being the exceptions to the rule and a whole bunch of pitchers who would be by far and away the worst hitters in the league.

Pitcher vs. Hitter Exit Velocity and Avg Launch Angle

We see a continuation of the above theme, where there are a host of pitchers who are not capable of averaging a launch angle above zero. These pitchers are joined by offensive luminaries including, but not limited to, Tomas Telis, Hernan Iribarren and Bryce Bentz. Exactly. Interestingly, in the StatCast era, Tim Hudson appears to have had quite the ability to hit the ball in the air, albeit with an extremely low exit velocity.

Pitchers and Useless Swings

There exists a trade-off in baseball between swinging hard and swinging for contact. Unfortunately, no such trade-off exists with pitchers, who swing and miss a whole bunch, but as exhibited above, don’t hit the ball very hard at all. Let’s depict this in a few of different ways, first, we’ll take a look at swing-and-miss by position, then we’ll map it to results.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Swinging Strike% by Position

Pitchers swing and miss 40 percent more than DHs and almost double what middle infielders do. No need to artificially change the y-axis to demonstrate the visual.

Whiff% by Position

SwStr% and avg Exit Velocity by Position

This visual definitively depicts the utter futility of most pitcher at-bats. When we look at position players, we see a clear correlation between SwStr% and average exit velocity, with the bigger, stronger players swinging harder and missing more, the smaller more defense-focused hitters swinging and missing less but hitting the ball with less authority. Pitchers are the clear outlier here, swinging and missing a whole bunch and barely doing anything with it when they make contact.

Predictable Bunts Are Boring

If you aren’t yet convinced that pitchers, as a whole, don’t even remotely resemble major league hitters, let’s take a look at the most boring, predictable play on the planet: the pitcher sacrifice bunt attempt. Unfortunately, I could not find any data to support my claim that the pitcher sacrifice bunt is inherently somnambulant. However, let’s accept that premise and take a look at just how often a pitcher at-bat results in a bunt attempt, specifically the percentage of balls in play as a result of a bunt.

Bunts as Percent of Balls in Play

Nearly 22 percent of all balls put in play by pitchers are bunts! These aren’t the Billy Hamilton bunt-for-a-base-hit variety, which are exciting to watch. These are basic, bunt-because-I-can’t-hit types of bunts for the dubious advantage of trading an out for a base, which makes sense if the batter is very likely to make an out (or potentially two) anyway.

The Effect on No. 8 Hitters

Guys who hit out of the No. 8 spot in the lineup aren’t usually mashers who command respect from pitchers and earn intentional walks. The most egregious aspect of allowing pitchers to hit isn’t that they can’t, it’s the effect they have on distorting the at-bats of the hitter who precedes them.

I don’t have perfect data on whether or not a pitcher has already been pulled, or if he’s hitting out of the No. 8 spot himself, so I filtered it to innings one through six in NL parks only and cut the data by the batter’s order in the lineup. Despite these limitations, the data speak for themselves.

Intentional Walks as a Percent of At-Bats by Batter Lineup Order

The best hitters on the team, traditionally in the No. 3/4 slots, get intentionally walked about 0.6 percent of the time. The weakest hitter, usually hitting out of the No. 8 spot, gets intentionally walked nearly four times as much. Pitchers have a disproportionate impact on any inning they participate in, to the effect that they make the No. 8 hitter into Barry Bonds. I suspect the No. 7 hitter in this chart is reflective of situations when the pitcher hits eighth, but I don’t have a clean way of testing that. Here’s the same view, filtered to when there are one or two batters on base.

Intentional Walks as a Percent of At-Bats by Batter Lineup Order (One or Two Runners on Base)

Nearly six percent of at-bats result in an intentional walk when the pitcher is on deck. Teams are more than four times as likely to intentionally walk the weakest hitter on the team when the pitcher is on deck as they are to walk the team’s most dangerous hitter.


It’s no secret that, as a group, pitchers are extremely poor hitters. What is perhaps less evident is just how little they resemble even replacement-level talent and the disproportionate impact they have on the batters who precede them. Baseball is about the best hitters in the world trying to hit the best pitchers in the world, not pitchers lobbing meatballs down the middle and hoping their counterpart doesn’t execute a sacrifice bunt. It’s time to bring on the inevitable and start using the DH in the National League. Or should we? Tomorrow, I’ll present the opposite argument.

Eli Ben-Porat is a Senior Manager of Reporting & Analytics for Rogers Communications. The views and opinions expressed herein are his own. He builds data visualizations in Tableau, and builds baseball data in Rust. Follow him on Twitter @EliBenPorat, however you may be subjected to (polite) Canadian politics.
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5 years ago

Nice presentation about the failure of pitchers trying to hit.

Your headline says it is a case for the DH, but I don’t see any argument for the DH (the article focuses only on pitchers).

If you don’t want pitchers to hit, why not have an eight man lineup?

Ben Markham
5 years ago
Reply to  Guest

An 8-man lineup is way more abhorrent to me, as it would ruin the symmetry of the game.

5 years ago
Reply to  Ben Markham

How does the DH not ruin the symmetry. In fact, now you have eight players who play both offense and defense… but two players only play one. That is not symmetry.

5 years ago


Excellent article, with great charts and humor too. Looking forward to part two.

5 years ago

Bartolo Colon makes it all worthwhile.

Mike J
5 years ago

I expect tomorrow’s article will say all the things I want to say about players who can only DH don’t deserve to be in the league anymore and the position keeps them around artificially.

If you’re such a old, fat, fragile liability that you can’t play the field in any meaningful way, your career should be over. If the DH was constantly rotated between position players getting a day off, I’d have much less of a problem with it (but I probably still wouldn’t like it; the few pitchers who are not-terrible with the bat get gigantic benefits from it, and I like that they are so rewarded for their athleticism).

As much as we dislike 13 man pitching staffs, we should be fighting the drive to specialization that helps create it, instead of indulging it by creating specialist position players. The pitcher’s lineup spot makes the entire roster matter. The Dodgers pretty much never, ever go a game without emptying their bench, and since they have excellent depth this is to their advantage.

There was a week back in April or May where the Red Sox used the same lineup 8 games in a row and their reserve players literally didn’t participate in a game for 10 calendar days or something like that.

Brian Cartwright
5 years ago

Pitchers might hit somewhat better if they were given a chance to practice it. Nine guys play the field, nine guys bat. That’s the essence of the game.

5 years ago

How on earth does “the NL should adopt the DH” logically follow from “pitchers are terrible hitters”? This article pounds the latter part into the ground, and no one’s ever really disputed it, but what on earth does that have to do with the former? Any argument that the former should happen must talk about many other things than “pitchers suck at hitting”, which is really a no brainer.

Ben Markham
5 years ago
Reply to  Dubslow

Most of us watch MLB to see the best in the world ply their craft. Watching pitchers hit is clearly not that.

Alice Cooper
5 years ago

Why not just DH for all bad hitters? and DF for all bad fielders?? And DR for all bad runners???


Deacon Drake
5 years ago
Reply to  Alice Cooper

Came to say this… make baseball more like football, with offensive and defensive specialists. And considering most moves are made around platoon advantages, allow those guys to remain available to continue to play, instead of just burning after one batter or at bat.

Ben Markham
5 years ago
Reply to  Alice Cooper

Did you even look at the article? As pretty much all of the graphics provided above indicate, no position has production at the plate even remotely resembling pitchers. Position players are in a completely different league (literally, most pitcher’s hitting skills wouldn’t allow them to reach the upper minors). DH’ing for any other position is a completely different conversation.

For the record though, I think DH’ing multiple positions would be cool. There’s probably a lot of defensively amazing shortstops and speed demon centerfielders out there that can’t hit anything. Would the game be more entertaining if those players played the field instead of the weakest first basemen and corner-outfielders? I definitely think so. It would bring a new roster-building element, especially if you kept rosters at 25 players.

5 years ago

With the prevalence of shifting a case could be made, and maybe should have been made in 1973, of having the DH play the field. He would be like the short-fielder in softball, moving around the field depending on the batter. What, you don’t like the idea? Then how can you like an “… old, fat, fragile liability that you can’t play the field in any meaningful way?”
Back in the day there were good hitting pitchers because they played Baseball when learning the game. They played in the field, and took their at bats, so learned how to hit. Today they specialize in only pitching…Since the minor leagues have the Dreaded Hitter rule, the minor league pitchers do not hit, and have not done so since becoming a pitcher.
Whereas a team back in the day had batters who could hit on the bench they have now been replaced by things called “Loogies.” The exchange of pinch-hitters for the bullpen arms has been detrimental for Baseball. It is time to put an end to the “experiment.” Go back to the rule book and play my nine versus your nine!

5 years ago

The only reason we’re even having this debate is because the Phillies owner hadn’t been reachable in 1980.

5 years ago

The numbers in the article are pretty interesting, and certainly make the case that pitchers are terrible hitters. But as some others have mentioned, I don’t think this necessarily is a convincing argument of why the DH should exist.

Yes, pitchers are terrible hitters. The most ardent no-DH supporter would agree to that. But imagine a spectrum with 9 defensive players and 9 offensive players on one end, and on the other everybody bats for themselves. I think it’s a matter of preference where you land on the spectrum. We could show data that demonstrates that first basemen are terrible fielders compared to every other position. That’s not an argument for having a designated fielder at first.

5 years ago

Cross Link for JUSTICE


If Designated Hitters aren’t any better than middle infielders anyway these days, the downgrade to a pitcher isn’t nearly as big as when they were David Ortiz.

Josh Utterback
5 years ago

One of the biggest reasons I support having pitchers bat is exactly because they are such bad hitters. The late game strategy when you have the pitcher’s spot coming up to bat is one of the more intriguing parts of baseball.

Do you keep your still effective starter when their spot comes up in the 6th or 7th inning of a close game or do you pitch hit for them? Who do you put in to pitch hit? Do you perform a double switch when pulling the pitcher? If so, what is the impact of changing that fielder two or three innings later? And on and on…

Growing up I was an AL fan and always felt that having the DH was better. But as I became a fan of the NL I’ve realized how foolish I was as a child, I just didn’t appreciate it at the time.

Having said that I do believe that it is inevitable that the DH will eventually be used in the NL. But that doesn’t mean baseball will be better because of it.

5 years ago

If this is true, then there are similar reasons why bad fielders should not be required to field, slow runners to run, etcetcetc. Mario Mendoza was able to contribute to major league teams despite being a nearly dreadful hitter. The presence of bad hitters in a lineup contributes positively to in-game strategies; it affects opposing pitchers; it would affect the thought processes in throwing at opposing position players.

Note also that the mere IDEA of a “major” sport having two leagues with different rules is absurd. Do you suppose that the NFC will go to having 5 downs required to move 14 yards? NBA west will change to 10’6″ baskets? Note also that as fewer and fewer pitchers go as many as 7 innings, the justification for the DH is likewise reduced.

Manny Mota would have loved to be Edgar Martinez.

Ralph C.
5 years ago

I’m all for the designated hitter and it’s time for the National League to adopt it. Pitchers can still hit– the best ones can DH if they are that good. Much of the strategy of pinch-hitting late in the game for a pitcher is rote. How many leagues still have the pitchers bat?

Time to realize that pure stubbornness and some sort of “tradition” keep the designated hitter out of the National League. Tradition left town on the trolley a long, long time ago. So did the daytime World Series games. So did the lack of Wild Card playoff spots. The essence of the game is different for each of us. Keeping each one’s essence will stagnate the game. I wish baseball was structured like it was from 1975 to 1989 but it changes as necessary, whether the necessity is to modernize it or to further capitalize on it.

Let it go, National League. All of your other ghosts have already been given up.

Thank you.

5 years ago
Reply to  Ralph C.

Please explain, “… I wish baseball was structured like it was from 1975 to 1989.”
There were two separate leagues, one real Baseball as it was played as designed; another with “New Rules.”
MLB can be broken down into Dirty Ball, when the game evolved to “Clean Ball,” which began in 1921; this lasted until the “War Years,” from 1942 until 1946. The came the “Everyone Plays” era from 1947 until 1960, when we have the Expansion Era, which lasted from 1961 until 1976. Then comes the Modern Era, the best, most consistent era in MLB, which lasted from 1977 until 1992. The there is the Second Expansion Era, better known as the Steroid Era, which lasted from 1993 until 2009. Then came a short period I think of as “Back to the future.” We are now in yet another era, which began in the latter half of 2015. Who knows what this one will be called? I am referring to the only league that matters, the NL. The AL was perverted in 1973, which is not an era but a totally different game of Baseball.

Ken Stegeman
5 years ago

Back in the day, MLB players were ATHLETES regardless of the position they played. That began way before they made it to the MLB level. If the DH rule reaches our youth (think Little League) do we just tell the kids that aren’t the best hitters to go have a seat? If that happens I will disassociate myself from the game that I have adored my entire life.

My echo and bunnymen
5 years ago
Reply to  Ken Stegeman

What’s the difference between that and kids with a pinch hitter spot? You’re telling them the same thing. So yes… you’re already doing that.

5 years ago

I think we miss the fact that having pitchers bat makes a big difference both to the strategy of a game and the strategy of how you build a team. Lets be honest, if your pitchers have to hit, you might decide to trade a little bit of ERA for another 20-30% on their batting average.

I would also argue that while it is the central drama, we don’t just watch baseball to see the pitcher face off against the batter. Otherwise, what need would there be for the rest of the team? We go to see the whole show.

My echo and bunnymen
5 years ago
Reply to  MarylandBill

Well, somewhat true but… it’s clear it isn’t that valuable to teams or even that much considered based on contracts handed out since, as noted in the other article, the pitchers can just go to the AL and no one cares. Hitting for pitchers isn’t considered for the CY awards (or at least is frequently ignored in Kershaw’s 2014 case prior, I believe) and although that isn’t the front offices we rarely see NL teams even consider that as highly valuable (especially since it’s such a small sample regardless).

William Loeffler
5 years ago

I don’t understand this fetish by DH supporters to try to force the NL to change its rules. I see lots of articles that predict the end of the DH because….well…because pitchers get hurt a lot. So, pitchers hitting is expensive, I guess the argument is.

One thing that i want to say is 1925, Walter Johnson on a team that came just shy of winning a second series in a row, hit 433 with an OPS+ of 163. There are many other examples. For those who like to make the argument about pitchers not hitting in the minors, then step back and look at high school and pony league and other levels below professional baseball and there are a huge number of pitchers who are the best hitters on their teams. A lot of the major league pitchers were the best hitters on their high school and college teams.

Some of this may come down to the question whether a fan prefers a 1-0 score over a 7-6 score. That’s just a preference. The most interesting thing about the NL not having the DL is that it is the final aspect of the Senior and Junior Circuits being largely separate. So in totality, the AL and the DL differ in play more than they ever did prior to 1973. There might have been a window to change the rule in the NL in 1980 when people weren’t paying attention in a pre-cable world. It isn’t going to happen now. When the NL adopts the DH, that’s the day that I turn to cricket or rounders. If you like the DH, watch the AL and leave the NL out of it.

5 years ago

Amen, brother. Right on, right on, RIGHT ON!

My echo and bunnymen
5 years ago

The fact that you have to go back to 1925 for a great example is quite damning.

Even just looking at the past one hundred years, there are very few examples near the top (Carlos Zambrano in 2008 is up there) even close to the implementation of the DH (1973 I believe?) so it’s likely competition has increased drastically since then. It’s not solely that it’s expensive in terms of pitchers getting injured, which they do btw, it’s that it’s expensive AND weaker. Those two combined, especially when a “cheaper” option exists (DH) that allows additional rest for hitters, is what the argument is. No matter which way you slice it, you have to make ridiculous arguments and cherry pick (like you did) to even defend pitcher’s hitting.

In my view, eliminate it. It’s clear that you are losing out on celebrity by not having the DH (see David Ortiz, Edgar Martinez, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, and the list keeps going) and MLB already has a problem advertising itself to younger viewers. The DH allows for more drama by only having the BEST hitters hit, again not that pitchers can’t hit but they simply aren’t the best at it. I love the Dodgers, pitchers hitting is my bathroom break because it’s definitely predictable what will happen too often.

Rich Moser
5 years ago

Anybody remember playing “work-ups?” Everybody had to play EVERY position, rotating. That would make baseball even more team-related than any other sport, although perhaps it already is. But failing that, I am pro-DH because quite simply pitchers are specialists. If they were actually taught how to hit then that would be different, they could hit, but they don’t have that expertise. We don’t want the SS to pitch and so we shouldn’t want the P to hit.