It was widely reported last month that the designated hitter could be coming to the National League as early as 2021. My reaction was, “It’s about time.”
As you may or may not know, the designated hitter was introduced in 1973 in the American League, but for some reason, the NL never caught on and continues to have the pitchers hit to this day. It still doesn’t make sense to me because the DH is beneficial to basically everyone. The teams get to put another solid hitter in the lineup, veterans who can no longer play the field at an elite level can still have a role and pitchers can focus on what they’re getting paid to do.
The bottom line is pitchers can’t hit. They’re not getting paid to hit, and they shouldn’t have to hit. Sure, there’s guys like Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke who are adequate hitters, but for the most part, pitchers can’t hit major league pitching for their lives. We know this is true because the most valuable thing a pitcher can do at the plate is lay down a sacrifice bunt. Basically, they’re a guaranteed out anyways, so at least if they can make their out somewhat productive, it’s better than nothing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s this terrific invention called the designated hitter that allows you to put a respectable hitter in place of your pitcher that never hits the ball out of the infield. Pitchers as a group hit .128 with a .322 OPS in almost 5,200 plate appearances last season. That’s such a waste of time. You could have a guy like J.D. Martinez or Nelson Cruz in that spot — or even somebody who is league average — and your offense becomes much more dynamic.
The argument against the DH has always been the strategy that comes with late-game decisions regarding the pitcher. Not having a DH requires the team to have a deeper bench and the manager to make difficult decisions about when to pull his pitcher for a pinch hitter and when to leave him in.
However, I feel like that argument does not hold up against all the benefits of the DH. Nobody really watches baseball because they want to see whether Dave Martinez lets his closer Sean Doolittle, who probably hasn’t gotten a hit since high school, bat so he can use him the next inning to pitch. I’m sorry, but nobody cares.
People watch baseball because they love the action of the game, and more offense equals more action. Without the designated hitter, so much of baseball history would be altered. Players like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz put together Hall of Fame careers by almost strictly being a DH. Other Hall of Famers like Paul Molitor, Frank Thomas and Jim Thome were able to have much longer careers as productive DHs than they would have been able to have if that position wasn’t an option.
However, I believe the best argument for the DH is actually that it favors the pitchers. Every time a pitcher steps up to the plate, he is exposing himself to injury. If (miraculously) he is able to reach base, that opens up even more opportunities for injury. If a pitcher gets hurt while pitching, oh well. That’s his job. But when a pitcher gets hurt doing something that isn’t bringing any value to the team, it’s upsetting to me. Pitchers should not be put in that situation. They have no business hitting, and I don’t think a single pitcher would object to a DH in the NL.
Plus, it’s just stupid that there are two sets of rules in the same league of the same sport. It makes absolutely no sense. As my colleague Jorge Eckardt put it, it’s like if in the NBA, the Western Conference never added the 3-point line when the Eastern Conference did. It’s like playing two separate games of the same sport. If the DH was never added at all, it would be better than the discrepancy there is now.
The DH has so many benefits for all areas of baseball, and it can only be argued against by whines of “But the strategy…” Since Commissioner Rob Manfred already put in the three-batter minimum rule (which is awful, but that’s another argument) he’s shown he’s not afraid to shake things up. It would make sense for him to make the DH universal next season, something that should have been done long ago.