DH in Both Leagues or Keep Pitchers Who Rake?
Last season, Major League Baseball made a motion to adopt the universal designated hitter in both leagues with a shortened 60-game schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To the surprise of many baseball traditionalists, the DH was one of the 2020 season’s greatest successes. While many baseball fans have been clamoring for the universal DH for a number of years, it does not appear probable at the moment that MLB will come to an agreement that both leagues will employ the DH in 2021.
That brings us to the widely-debated question: should the designated hitter become a permanent fixture in Major League Baseball?
After seeing the positive reactions from most National League team fan bases last year, it is safe to say that now is the right time for the designated hitter to replace the pitcher’s spot in an NL lineup. There are many advantages that would likely come out of the switch, but the DH is not without its drawbacks either.
Eliminating freak pitcher injuries could be one of the biggest perks to come out of a universal DH. Current free agent Masahiro Tanaka strained both his hamstrings while running the bases for the Yankees in 2018, and Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles running out of the batter's box in 2015, which ended his season for the Cardinals. Although batting injuries to pitchers are not incredibly common, the current breed of MLB starting pitchers are no longer throwing 200-plus innings a season, and there continues to be a spike in the number of Tommy John surgeries and shoulder-related operations, proving that pitchers are far less durable than they once were.
While Major League Baseball has had its great slugging pitchers in Madison Bumgarner and former big-leaguer Mike Hampton, it has to be frustrating for NL teams to have a lineup spot that is generally viewed as a guaranteed out. For those of you who are fans of the strategy involved in using pinch hitters, there will still be batters subbing in for other offensive players late in games and plenty of defensive substitutions, as well. While it does take away from the art of the hit-and-run, suicide squeeze bunt and double switch, managers won’t be pressed to lose some of their best relievers in favor of a pinch hitter that may not even win his team the game.
Eliminating the DH also eliminates the advantage American League clubs have had when it comes to offering free-agent contracts over the past few seasons. With the rising value teams continue to place on defense, AL squads have had an upper hand at offering free agent players longer contracts because they can play a below-average fielder at the DH position. Just last season, the Twins were able to woo Josh Donaldson to Minnesota because they could offer him an extra contract year, knowing that if his defense at third base were to falter at any point, they could still slot his power bat in the lineup at DH. Even this offseason, it appeared that Marcell Ozuna might sign with an American League club due to many NL teams’ hesitancy to play Ozuna in left field until he was re-signed by the Atlanta Braves.
The designated hitter provides teams with more lineup depth than they would with the pitcher’s spot. Whether or not a team has a full-time DH or uses it as a platoon position, it enhances a team’s lineup from top to bottom and stops pitchers from intentionally walking batters to face a pitcher. In all-time interleague play, the American League has won 3,315 games to the NL’s 3,047 games, so it would appear that the extra batter adds some weight to most teams’ offensive output. It even provides players with defensive off-days without taking their bats out of the lineup for a day.
To eliminate the pitcher batting would not only eliminate some of the strategy involved in baseball, but it would also take away from MLB’s deep history. From its foundation in 1876 up until 2020, the National League had always allowed the pitcher to bat. It has always been a part of the game’s history, and it has always been the one distinction that separates playing in the NL and AL. While the DH would cater to a younger audience looking for high-scoring offense, it would also be another MLB tradition that could be lost forever.
Establishing a universal DH would also take away roles from many players. The highly-coveted utilityman could become another one of MLB’s lost arts, as teams would instead just fill the positions that need more depth. Certain niche roles, such as a defensive player with good base stealing, might not be as desired by teams as they once were. While there would still be pinch-hitting with a universal DH, there would be a considerable decline in the number of pinch-hit chances and at-bats for players who used to play in the National League. With the possibility of fewer bullpen substitutions, due to the elimination of the pitcher’s spot and the three-batter minimum rule, it could also limit the game action of average relievers, whose innings would be given to his team’s top three bullpen arms. Therefore, the DH could very well allow teams to become way too comfortable with having less of a need for roster depth.
Going forward, it seems best that MLB employs the universal DH. It would likely increase fan interest in the game, lead to an increase in average runs scored per game and level the playing field among both leagues, both on the diamond and in free agency. As MLB continues to evolve over time, so should its rules, and it would be in its best interest to finally implement the DH for all 30 teams.
What are your thoughts about the DH in MLB? Feel free to let us know on Twitter @ftsmlb or @JoshTalevski!