Posted by Andy on October 27, 2007
Kingturtle posted a suggestion about quantifying whether players truly hit better when playing the field instead of DHing. See his comment here.
I looked into this a little. Click through for the details.
I started by identifying players who played at least 200 games at 1B and 200 games at DH in their career. I did that by using the PI Batting Season Finder, clicking the bubble to sum over career, then specifying at least 200 games at the "position" of DH and the position of 1B. I also limited the search to 1973 and after to avoid getting players who only played DH toward the tail end of their careers.
The full list of 33 such players is here.
Right away, there are several problems/limitations with my analysis:
- I picked 1B only because I had to limit it somehow initially. Sean could write a script to compare every single player's performance at DH vs a true defense position, but I am just using the same searches available to all PI subscribers. Also, as you see below, I used split data to compare performance by position. If I used outfield, then that data is further split by outfield position. I used 1B for an easy direct comparison of two stat lines.
- By picking guys who played at least 200 games at DH, I am already selecting for guys who must have had some decent ability to hit as a DH. In other words, if some player out there couldn't hit for crap as a DH because he "couldn't get in rhythm" or whatever, then in theory he'd never have played DH. Such an aspect is totally absent in this study.
- This search also doesn't consider whether the guy played an entire season at DH, then an entire season in at 1B, or whether he switched from 1B to DH every day. That also has implications about how well he hits in each role.
- I picked 200 games because that seems like a fairly decent sample size, but who knows.
That being said, here is what I did. For a bunch of players on the list, I clicked through to that player's career splits, and I listed below his BA/OBP/SLG for hitting as an first baseman, and the same three numbers for hitting as a DH.
First, here are those numbers for the top 10 HR hitters on that list:
Name as 1B as DH ------------------------------------------------------------ Palmeiro .291/.373/.517 .275/.374/.538 F Thomas .337/.453/.625 .277/.396/.512 Thome .282/.412/.587 .270/.407/.544 Murray .289/.363/.480 .282/.344/.460 Kingman .219/.288/.451 .236/.293/.453 D Evans .242/.356/.442 .241/.356/.462 Giambi .309/.433/.575 .246/.385/.476 J Clark .268/.420/.517 .235/.370/.418 Fielder .259/.348/.500 .247/.339/.451 Brett .306/.383/.487 .273/.331/.430
(editor's note: that's Darrell Evans, not Dwight Evans)
So a quick look at this list would suggest that just about all of these guys hit better as a 1B than they did as a DH. Palmeiro and Evans both slugged about 20 points better as a DH, but pretty much all other categories are, statistically speaking, identical or worse as a DH for all players.
But, there a couple of obvious things wrong with this simplistic study:
- It doesn't take yearly league-average performance into account. Those 20-point SLG differences I just mentioned could simply be league-wide fluctuations. Similarly, a player with an identical number at both positions may have actually performed quite differently if league conditions were different.
- For the most part, these are still players who DH'ed later in their carees when their skills had dwindled some. Frank Thomas is an example of someone who has DHed almost exclusively in the second half of his career, after playing 1B almost exclusively in the first half. Giambi has DHed mainly since he missed time after whatever he apologized for (many presume he stopped using steroids in the interim.) Jack Clark didn't DH until late in his career, after spending all his early years in the NL. The examples go on and on.
So, unfortunately, I'm not sure that this initial study shows us much. It would be helpful to come up with other ways of looking at this. Anybody have some ideas?