(This is a guest column penned by Blingboy.)
A commenter on the The Cardinal Nation message board mentioned a sports chat at the Post-Dispatch in which the demise of the power-laden bench was noted. (I didn’t see it or look for it.)
I’ve heard and read as much quite a bit lately. I have also seen articles on the internet purporting to prove it. My sense is that most or all who mention it or write about it not only note the ‘demise of the power-laden bench’, but also lament its passing. This suggests to me that they may have an agenda of sorts. I imagine them thinking the old days were better and the power-laden benches of yore are an example. So, for them, it is necessary for this demise to be real. But baseball is so full of stats that they can used to show whatever you want. Baseball is also full of clichés and common wisdom. So I just thought I’d look into it myself.
I first had to devise a method, so I will explain what I settled on, and why. First of all, power-laden compared to what? Second, how do you measure it in a way that is meaningful over a historically significant period of time during which the game has changed in many ways?
I decided to compare the power of pinch hitters to the power of all Major League batters, which I think is what the topic is about.
Then there is the question of what ‘power’ stats to use. One of the issues is that the game changes. The quality of defense, the quality of pitching, the use of relievers, and park factors all have, or at least might have, varied over time.
In the end, I decided that since defense has no impact on homers, I would go with that.
Another big issue is the designated hitter. I reasoned that the use of pinch hitters, and therefore the composition of benches probably changed in the American League from 1973 onward. For that reason I chose to look at only National League pinch hitting stats.
What I have displayed in the chart below is Major League Home Runs per 1000 Major League at-bats. This is the ‘compared to what’. It is my measure of the power of all major league batters.
Next is National League Pinch Hit Home Runs per 1000 NL Pinch Hit At-Bats. This is my measure of the power of benches not skewed by the designated hitter. Lastly, I show the difference between those two measures of power.
As to the time frame, I decided that 50 years would be long enough to provide historical context. It includes virtually all of the baseball-following experience of today’s fans, but is not so long as to include data from long-gone eras when the game was so vastly different than what we know. I was not about to look up, process and report 50 years of data, so I chose a sampling of years totally at random without rhyme or reason.
So are power-laden benches a thing of the past? The answer is no, but they are not a thing of the present either. The power-laden bench never existed at all. Power off the bench is and always has been significantly less than the power of all batters. The extent to which it is less in recent years isn’t much different than it always has been, if at all.
|MLB HR/1000 AB||NL PH HR/1000 AB||Difference HR/1000|
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