Baseball Player Won-Loss Records
Home     List of Articles

Pinch Hitting and Designated Hitting: Is there a DH/PH Penalty?

In The Book, Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin studied player performances pinch hitting and DHing. Their conclusions were as follows:

“A player is significantly less effective as a pinch hitter than he is as a starter…. Players also lose effectiveness when being used as a designated hitter; the DH penalty is about half that of the PH penalty.” (Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin, The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, page 113)
I decided to undertake a similar analysis using Player Won-Lost records. Across all of the seasons for which I have estimated Player won-lost records, 36,158 players amassed offensive Player decisions as a pinch hitter as well as while playing a fielding position (i.e., excluding DH and pinch-running appearances as well as PH appearances) . Using the harmonic mean of the players' offensive Player decisions as a PH and as a position player for weights, the weighted average winning percentage of these players as pinch hitters was 0.477. The weighted average offensive winning percentage for the same players when playing the field was 0.484. So, on average, a player’s offensive winning percentage is 0.007 less as a pinch-hitter than as a non-PH. Overall, 58.7% of these players (21,217) had a worse offensive winning percentage as pinch hitters than as position players. So, I generally find the same result as The Book: players hit somewhat worse as pinch hitters than when they are playing a regular fielding position.

Doing the same thing for designated hitters (DHs), I find a weighted average offensive winning percentage as a DH of 0.512 and as position players (again, excluding PH and PR appearances) of 0.521 for the players who have done both in a single season. This works out to a DH “penalty” of 0.009. Overall, 59.1% of these players (3,725) had a worse offensive winning percentage as designated hitters than as position players, very similar to the PH penalty that I found above. This differs somewhat from The Book, which found a much smaller "DH penalty" than "PH penalty".

Out of curiosity, I did the same thing for pinch runners, comparing baserunning winning percentages for pinch runners as pinch runners versus when they reached base as a batter. Pinch runners have a weighted average baserunning winning percentage of 0.495 as pinch runners versus 0.521 for the same players otherwise for the 17,738 players who did both in a single season. This works out to a PR penalty of 0.026. Overall, 53.4% of these players (9,465) had a worse baserunning winning percentage as pinch runners.

Finally, I looked at players who earned player decisions as both a DH and a pinch hitter in the same season. There were a total of 6,011 such players. The weighted average of their winning percentage as a DH was 0.511 vs. 0.457 as a pinch hitter, implying a "PH penalty" of 0.053.

In calculating positional averages (which serve as the baseline from which I calculate positional replacement levels), I use the actual average winning percentage for these positions. Hence, these positional penalties are implicitly adjusted for in the calculation of these positional averages and replacement levels.

All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.

Home     List of Articles