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Updated 12:15 PM June 6, 2005




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Wild pitch: DH rule doesn't lead to more beanballs

Since the American League (AL) introduced the designated hitter (DH) rule in 1973, most baseball fans have assumed that it has led to more AL batters being hit by pitches. The theory is that pitchers are more likely to hit batters because they rarely bat and don't face retaliation.

Most baseball fans are wrong, according to Lee Freeman, assistant professor of management information systems at U-M-Dearborn. He is the author of a study titled "The Effect of the Designated Hitter Rule on Hit Batsmen," published in the 2004 volume of "The Baseball Research Journal."

"A number of research papers have looked at this issue from various economic theories, including moral hazard theory and retribution theory, and have concluded that the claim is true," Freeman says. "I take a different look at the baseball statistics and reach a different conclusion."

In addition to his teaching and research on systems development, information-systems security and information-systems ethics, Freeman is an avid baseball fan. He follows the Chicago Cubs and plays on the Lah-De-Dahs Historic Base Ball Club at Greenfield Village in Dearborn. The league plays by 1867 rules, which do not include a DH.

The DH rule allows a team to replace its pitcher in the batting order with any other player, usually a stronger hitter, who then doesn't play a position in the field. Since its introduction, the rule has been adopted by nearly all of organized baseball from the high school level through the professional ranks, except in the National League (NL).

One of the long-standing and well-recognized traditions of baseball says that if a pitcher hits a player on the other team with a thrown ball, the other team's pitcher can be expected to retaliate.

Earlier studies have concluded, "that there was a moral hazard in the AL as a result of the pitchers not batting and therefore not facing possible personal retribution for their actions," Freeman says. "From an economic perspective, NL pitchers bear more of the costs of their actions."

As with most discussions in baseball, there is statistical support for the idea that more AL batters were hit by pitches after the DH rule was introduced. One study cited 18 years of data to show that AL batters were hit by pitches at rates 10 percent to 15 percent higher than NL batters.

Other studies agreed with the data but disagreed with the moral hazard theory, substituting a cost-benefit analysis. "They argued that more batters are hit in the AL because there are more benefits to hitting a DH than hitting a pitcher, as the DH will likely do more damage offensively," Freeman says.

The U-M-Dearborn scholar looked at the numbers and came out with a fresh look.

He began with the notion that since the introduction of the DH, AL teams send a lineup of nine "true hitters" to the plate during the course of the game, while NL teams use a lineup of only eight true hitters, not counting their pitcher.

As a result, AL teams send approximately 12.5 percent more true hitters to the plate in any given game. "With an increase in the number of true hitters that a pitcher has to face, there should be an increase in the number of hit batsmen in the AL, and the data show this is true," Freeman says. But the increase is only 12.2 percent, and can be explained by the extra true hitters in the game in the AL.

When examined in that perspective, "there are no significant differences in either league or in the differences between the leagues," he says.

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