Dave Cameron posted today about the relative advantages of keeping a twelfth reliever on a major league roster compared to a fourteenth position player. The post links to an article that Matthew Carruth wrote that explains that hitters hit 10% worse when they are brought in as pinch-hitters than they hit as starters. Matthew, in turn, links to Tom Tango's work on the same subject.
The consensus seems to be that hitters are worse when they are brought in to pinch-hit, and teams should make roster decisions and game management decisions that account for the pinch-hitting penalty.
I am curious to know more about this penalty. Matthew suggests that pinch-hitters hit worse because unexpected pinch-hit opportunities are not conducive to nerve-calming routines and pinch-hitters have little time to warm up. Let's take those two possible explanations in turn.
First, are pinch-hitting opportunities really unexpected? Are they more unexpected, for example, than relief pitching opportunities? Both occur primarily in the late innings. My unresearched guess is that a greater percentage of pinch-hitting occurs in the last two innings of a game than the percentage of relief pitching that occurs in the last two innings of a game. And most teams have a plan beforehand about the hitters on their team who might be pinch-hit for and the particular situations and opposing pitchers that would call for such a move.
So that leaves warm-up time. Inadequate warm-up seems to me to be a pretty good explanation for poor pinch-hitting performance. Pinch-hitters spend 7-8-plus innings sitting on the bench watching baseball, just like the folks in the cheap seats. They give a high-5 here and there, and perhaps there is a batting cage some place where they can take some hacks, but there is no precedent for them to routinely warm-up the inning before they may be called-for like a reliever.
So my question is: why not?
If there is a real 10% penalty for pinch-hitting that relates to opportunity to warm-up, doesn't it seem the correct approach is to make pinch-hitter warm-ups as routine as relief pitcher warm-ups? It seems to me that the reason that bullpens sprung up is that managers realized that calling pitchers to the mound who have been inactive all game, perhaps after a few sporadic warm-up throws, led to injuries and poor performance. How is the plight of the modern pinch-hitter different?
Introducing, the Matador Pen. Baseball teams should build Matador Pens for pinch-hitters where those hitters warm-up against live pitching before they come in and pinch-hit. The idea would be to help pinch-hitters get their muscles warm and get into the routine of hitting live pitching so that when they get the call to the plate, they are just as ready to hit as the bullpen-warmed reliever is to pitch. (NOTE: perhaps automated pitches would work as effectively -- I'm not sure -- but if we stick with the batting cages we already have, we at least need to make the process of warming-up to pinch hit more regular).
In the interest of entertainment, teams should consider building these pens in a place where fans buying concessions can watch the hitters warming up (NOTE: I would advocate putting them on the field, but I am worried the crack of the bat would be a distraction). Or at the very least, teams can show live footage of the pinch-hitters getting warm on diamond vision, just as they show relievers getting warm. Wouldn't it be fun to have the Mariners start to come back in the seventh inning of a game and then see up on the screen "Now Getting Warm in the Matador Pen: Ryan Garko!
So that was my thought upon reading the articles written by Dave and Matthew. Though, it also occurs to me that teams may already do this at least to a small extent with batting cages freely available. I suppose my response to that is that if lack of routine and inability to warm-up still result in a TEN PERCENT! penalty than players are not making use of those batting cages in the correct way, and perhaps institutionalizing the pinch-hitter warm-up session a bit and making a fan event out of it, might help.
Have I missed something? Thoughts?