A Modest Sacrilege: Making Pitchers Worth Triple

by Patrick Dubuque

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Mets

Witnesses of National League baseball are aware that pitchers are terrible at hitting, and the numbers prove that they’re getting worse each day. The designated hitter looms over the league like global warming, a depressing inevitability, threatening to wipe out the rich tradition of the double switch. What was once a weakness that encouraged strategy is now a perfunctory strikeout, a waste of everyone’s time.

Pitchers in 2014 hit at a .122/.153/.153 clip, the worst in baseball history. At least until 2015, when they’re even worse, mustering a mere .099/.115/.117. Their collective wRC+ is -34, which would be okay if the average were zero. It’s not. It’s 100.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can actually instill even more strategy into that dreaded ninth spot. All it takes is a light rule change that would probably ruin the game. It’s a single sentence:

Any time a pitcher reaches base and manages to get all the way around to score, it counts as three runs.

Not only would this make pitchers more valuable for their own hitting skills, and incentivize them to remain in the game when pitching well, it also provides new in-game strategy for managers. Instead of hitting ninth, perhaps the pitcher hits seventh or eighth; instead of bunting the shortstop over, the shortstop is bunting him over when the opportunity arises. The Reds might pinch hit Mike Leake on his offday, down three with two out in the ninth, just to roll the dice. And if it worked, how magical would that be?

Even when the shortstop fields a weak grounder with runners at first and second, he has a new decision, based on the score: go for the out at third, or make sure to get the pitcher at first? Risk turning the 6-4-3? Or even perhaps go with a 6-3-4, just to be safe?

There are some kinks to iron out. Baseball would probably require an inning count, either in-game or during the season, to make a player eligible for his triple-bonus. Otherwise, the visiting Angels would lead off Trout and make him walk a single batter in the bottom of the first. Maybe pitchers get forced to wear gold pinnies to denote their special status. But there’s something here. Something compelling. Something that could make Bartolo Colon even more of a hero.