Ninety-nine days after failing to agree to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association came to an agreement on a new CBA that would ensure that a full 162-game regular season would be played in 2022. With the new deal also came new rules, including financial agreements that will impact player salaries and front office decisions for years to come. Changes were made on-field too, including proposals to make bases larger in hopes of reducing injury and keeping a ghost runner in extra-inning games during the regular season but not during the playoffs.
Despite the many changes that have been proposed for this MLB season, many proposals are simply that – proposals. Most of the rule changes that have been proposed have yet to be implemented for the upcoming season or cannot be implemented until the 2023 season, making the major rule changes on the new CPA seem further away than at first glance. However, there is one major rule change that MLB will implement this season that will drastically impact the way that teams play the game for years to come. That rule is the implementation of a designated hitter into the National League.
In 1973, the American League adopted the designated hitter rule, allowing teams to use another player to bat in place of the pitcher. Because the pitcher is still part of the team’s nine defensive players, the designated hitter – or “DH” – does not take the field on defense. Despite the American League making the switch to allow the extra hitter, the National League continued to use pitchers as hitters up until the conclusion of last season. Forty-nine years later and National League teams will finally be able to have DH’s of their own after years of speculation that American League teams were at an advantage for having the extra hitter.
Though it may take some time to get used to seeing “DH” listed as a position in NL ballparks, I believe the benefits of having a universal DH are quite obvious for MLB teams. With the inclusion of the DH in the NL, lineups around the league have suddenly become more balanced as teams can prepare to play with nine skilled hitters instead of eight. For years, pitchers have been penciled into the starting lineup as one of the last players in the batting order because pitchers have been known to be competent batters. Despite certain pitchers being able to hold their own in the batter’s box (ahem, Jacob DeGrom), the average batting average for pitchers in 2021 was an all-time low as pitchers hit for a pity .103 batting average on the season, even with the contributions received from two-way star Shohei Ohtani. With the addition of the DH in the pitcher’s batting spot, teams can expect to receive more consistent output from their offense and may look into carrying an extra offensive piece on their roster that they may not have kept if more pitchers were needed to take at-bats in games.
As players venture out to the NL and opportunities for more at-bats begin to open up, position players now have more opportunity for playing time than at any point in MLB history. After the new CBA was agreed upon and free agency was reopened, we saw a number of players sign contracts with National League teams in order to fill out their new DH spot, including Nelson Cruz signing with the Washington Nationals and Kyle Schwarber signing with the Philadelphia Phillies. The new rule also will allow players like Albert Pujols the opportunity to elongate their careers, and more specifically in the case of Pujols, will allow him to play one final professional season before retirement with the opportunity to continue to build on his already-impressive offensive portfolio. It is extremely likely that NL teams will produce some of their most competitive offensive seasons over the next several years with another fierce weapon in their starting lineup.
With more offensive firepower on display than ever before, fans should be excited to see which teams put together the most complete offenses in preparation for the upcoming season.