On the Reds and Designated Hitters

Designated Hugger.

Last week, Joe Posnanski blogged about the use of the Designated Hitter in World Series.  One of the takeaways is that since the DH was first alternated by home park in 1986, NL teams have scored shockingly fewer runs in AL parks (4.15 at home versus 3.4 on the road).   You would think that designating your fourth outfielder or backup firstbaseman to bat instead of your pitcher would boost the NL's offense in World Series play, but that generally hasn't been the case.  The Reds have had mixed success at the DH but they've also won all eight WS games in the DH era, so it hasn't exactly been to their detriment:

Year

DH

Games

H/AB; OPS

R/RBI

1976

Dan Driessen

4

5/14; 1.152

4/5

1990

Hal Morris

2

0-7; .125

0/1

1976 was the first World Series that used the DH.  From then through 1985 the DH alternated by year, so that it was used in both parks only in even-numbered years.  Thus the BRM had to use a DH at home and on the road when they defended their crown.  Of course, that team was so deep that finding a capable hitter beyond the Great 8 wasn't a problem.  The 24 year-old Driessen was the obvious choice as a defensively limited player with a career 113 OPS+ up to that time. Though he may have been a turd in Sparky's eye, Driessen was one of several Reds to smoke the ball in the WS, leading the team to a sweep and an aggregate run differential of 22 to 8.  I wonder if Driessen's WS performance gave the team a slight push towards trading 35 year-old Tony Perez, who'd been rumored as trade bait for years.  The Reds dealt Perez that December to Montreal with Will McEnaney for Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray, who combined to give the Reds about 200 well below-average innings in a little more than a year.  

There was no single obvious choice for the Reds' DH in 1990, which featured a more traditional "National League" roster built on pitching, defense and speed.  Lou Piniella tabbed Hal Morris, normally his starting 1B, as the DH.  In the process of gaining a defensive edge at 1B by using Todd Benzinger, Piniella passed over Glenn Braggs as a potential DH.  The decision to play Benzinger over Braggs seems curious now.  Both were 27, but Braggs had about a 30-point OPS advantage in his career and had played exceptionally well (123 OPS+) after arriving in Cincinnati that June.  He was presumably familiar with the A's staff after having spent his entire career in Milwaukee up to the trade.  Meanwhile, Benzinger had endured a particularly bad offensive year in 1990, hitting .253/.291/.340.  He was a switch-hitter but without a pronounced platoon advantage.  And he certainly lacked Braggs' raw power and intimidating physique.

Regardless of the rationale, Piniella's decision worked out beautifully.  Benzinger went 2 for 5 in game 3, though it didn't really matter since the Reds took the game easily after scoring seven runs in the third.  But having Braggs on the bench in Game 4 would prove to be a lifesaver.  As Slyde has pointed out, the Reds ran into serious trouble early in Game 4 when injuries forced out both Eric Davis and Billy Hatcher.  Piniella had little choice but to use his only remaining outfielders, Herm Winningham and Braggs, in center and left.  The Reds were mostly able to hold serve during the game and found themselves down 1-0 entering the eighth.  They then loaded the bases with no outs and Braggs and Morris due up.  Both sacrificed in a run to tally the deciding runs of the game and series. 

In more recent years the team has had a literal embarrassment of riches when it came to DH candidates, from Adam Dunn to Ken Griffey Jr. and most recently Jonny Gomes.  The heir apparent to Gomes looks to be Yonder Alonso, whose questionable defense accompanies a highly promising bat.  Alonso should have no problem outhitting the average NL DH, who really shamed themselves last year in hitting .214/.270/.387.  Their AL counterparts (over a much larger sample) slashed .266/.341/.430.  This might explain some of the AL's advantage in interleague play, I'm thinking.  In any event, the Reds should be able to match up well with the Junior Circuit armed with a professional hitter like Alonso available to DH.  

In fact, maybe the Reds should think about something really out of the box this winter.  With the Astros' prospective buyer asking MLB for upwards of $50M to switch leagues, the Reds could potentially "underbid" Houston and switch to the dark side.  For somewhere around $25M, I might think about changing baseball religions.

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