September baseball has come and gone yet again. The rosters expand on the 1st of the month, from 25 to 40, countless never-heard-ofs see their first big leagues action, some on the other get their last call up. It’s a time of joy for these men who have worked their whole lives for this, while other begrudgingly accept that it is indeed time to hang it up, and this is the last month of their storied (or not so storied) careers.
Some teams, deep in the pennant race, engage on the field of battle with one goal in mind, making the post-season. Others however were eliminated long ago, and are going through the motions, ready for October to come so they can be back with their families and work on their golf swing.
However, there is one thing that doesn’t happen in September, and that always seems to perplex me. With the expanded rosters, many moves are made during the course of a game that wouldn’t be made during the regular season, yet there is one that seems to have yet etched its way into the vernacular of baseball strategy.
For all the 6th and 7th outfielders pinch running late in games, all the 3rd string catchers riding the pine enabling one’s back-up backstop to pinch hit in the 5th, there’s one move that never gets made. Is it possible that nobody has thought of this one before. Surely a million dollar business wouldn’t be avoiding an extra chance to put some runs on the board just because it would take a couple extra minutes to break it down on a line-up card.
What we’re referring to of course is designating a pinch hitter as your starting pitcher during road games. Huh? What the H, you say. Yes, the next time a team is on the road and the bench coach trots out to meet a blue quartet at home plate before the game, it shouldn’t be his starting pitcher that we see in the number 9 hole. No, it should be a bench player whose singular duty is to take that 1st inning at-bat should his team have scored 3 runs, with the bases still loaded and 2 out.
How many times has a team crept out to a three run lead in the top of the first, and the bags are loaded. There’s 2 outs and a big hit here would break the game open, stepping to the plate… a light-hitting pitcher. Indeed, not an ideal scenario. Truth be told, there is no reason he needs to penciled into that line-up yet.
Enter: September baseball.
With the rosters expanded beyond the typical 25 players, it’s safe to say you could designate one player in particular on your now beefier roster. A gentleman whose only job is to take that at bat. Whether he hits or not is a moot point, during the middle of the first, you inform the umpire that you are bringing in your starting pitcher and plugging him in the 9 hole.
Granted, during the regular season this would eliminate one of your key bench players. A 6th infielder, a 5th outfielder, a back-up catcher. But we’re talking about September here, and the bullets are a plenty. Besides this would-be problem which would-not be a problem this time of year, let’s explore the negatives.
You lose your 35th man off the bench. I can’t imagine it rattling a starter warming up in the pen before the game. That’s it, nothing else? None? Ok, none. Moving on.
Let’s say you don’t employ this strategy. Let’s say you lose said game 6-5. Is there any reasonable explanation that would justify ignoring this move? Who’s to say we stop there. The possibilities are endless. You could lead off with this designated pinch hitter. A speedy guy that can lay down a bunt and steal a bag. There is a set-back in that theory, though. If your first 9 hitters get retired in order, your pitcher would be leading off the 4th. That shouldn’t stop us from exploring other options though or the benefits for that matter.
Let’s say your 8th place hitter is coming up in the first, with 3 runs in, and 2 runners on. That’s a formula for an intentional walk. You’re taking the bat out of his hands batting the pitcher 9th in this situation, when you clearly don’t need to.
Let’s say this designated pinch hitter hits a double. Now we could possibly pinch run for him as well. The possibilities are in abundance.
September baseball is a completely different beast. It can make or break a playoff team. It can leave a deserving group choosing between a four or a five iron, come the first week of October. Maybe it’s time the folks reaping the benefits of 40,000 locals 81 times a year start using just a little more elbow grease in formulating a way to keep playing until November.
Note: This article was featured in The Prospector Winter 2014 print edition.