The American League has been using the Designated Hitter to hit in place of the pitcher since 1973. The National League still has the pitchers hit, and in interleague play, including the World Series, games at NL parks force the AL pitchers to (try to) hit as well. Not anymore. For the shortened 2020 MLB season, a universal DH is being used. And it needs to stay.
Relative to all other positions, pitchers are notoriously bad hitters. Only on the rarest of occasions are starting pitchers also known for their hitting skills. It does happen, but the vast majority of pitchers struggle mightily when trying to hit. Look, I am all for those moments when a pitcher comes to the plate and knocks a home run. Those are awesome. Madison Bumgarner leads all active pitchers with 19 dingers of his own at the plate. He has been in the league 12 years…
Now, the debate for the universal DH has been brewing for more than half a century, and what better time to try it out for the first time than the year when nothing is normal. I like it. With a universal DH, you have continuity in both leagues. No more NL managers trying to figure out whether they should double-switch, pinch hit, or put their pitcher at the plate, just so they can keep him on the mound. This is a problem that AL managers do not have to worry about. It’s a weird concept to have the rules, and thus the strategy, of the game significantly altered in one league, but not the other.
The NBA doesn’t have one set of rules for the Eastern Conference, and one for the Western Conference. The NFL doesn’t have different rules for the AFC and the NFC. Because of this, in the NBA Finals and the Super Bowl, you truly get the best of the best squaring off. The reason I say this is because I absolutely HATE watching American League pitchers try to hit in the World Series. It has never made sense to me. It’s the World Series. The AL pitchers look foolish up there. And most of the time, so do the NL pitchers. In the American League, pitchers only hit during interleague play when they are on the road in an NL ballpark. So, few and far between. But then, if they make it to the World Series, on the biggest stage, with more people watching, they will be hitting. I guess it just doesn’t make sense to me that these AL pitchers don’t need to worry about spending lots of time preparing to hit during the season, because they know they will seldom be asked to do so. So, they spend little to no time during the season working on hitting, but then on the biggest stage, they are put out there to hit. I don’t get it.
A universal DH also makes sense from a business perspective. If the DH is universal, it would open up the free agent market even more. It would essentially open up 15 spots for strong power hitters. The MLB Players Association would love that, because as there is more competition to sign these hitters in the open market, the price would go up (players love money). According to Zachary Rymer of Bleacher Report, as of 2016, out of 29 hitters to sign free-agent contracts worth over $50 million, 21 signed with AL clubs. Now, there are a lot of factors that go in to these signings, but the DH makes long-term contracts for players known for hitting more appealing. Players know that as they get older, their skills playing the field are likely to diminish. However, they can still hit at a high level. Players like David Ortiz, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, and Edgar Martinez, were able to extend their careers hitting at a high level because of the DH. They spent the majority (or all) of their careers with AL teams. If the DH is kept in the NL after this season, we would see more power hitters signing with NL teams in free agency. Kinda evens the playing field a little bit. I think that would be a good thing for baseball.
MLB front offices have stated this opinion before as well. In a 2013 interview with Jayson Stark from ESPN.com, former Brewers GM Doug Melvin openly discussed how hard it is to sign big-name power-hitting free agents to NL teams: “Just having the DH gives a definite advantage to an American League club in signing one of those guys. If you’re in the American League and you’re signing him past age 35, you say, ‘He can DH in a couple of those years.’ But you can’t do that in the National League.”
Another good thing for baseball? Home runs. Everybody loves the long ball. With a DH in both leagues, naturally there would be more home runs. It did not take long for the DH in the NL to make an impact in the 2020 season. In the first game of the Mets season, Yoenis Cespedes served as the DH, and hit a 406-foot solo blast into the left field seats. It was the only run in a 1-0 win for the Mets. Now I don’t know about you, but I would much rather watch hitters like Cespedes hit absolute missiles in NL games as opposed to the “free-outs” of pitchers trying to hit. I don’t think there are very many fans out there wishing that their starting pitcher was batting more. Nobody says, “Dammit why isn’t Jacob deGrom hitting?!” They say, “Whoa did you see that bomb Cespedes hit?!”
All in all, I respect the strategy of the NL game, and it can be interesting to watch, but I think the time has come for the DH to be in both leagues permanently. And I think Major League Baseball will realize this too. Although they have not officially made a statement that the DH is here to stay, I think we will see it from here on out. If not, I would expect it very soon.
Also, I mentioned how I love pitchers hitting home runs, and this is probably my favorite:
As a Tigers fan, I remember in 2015 when Daniel Norris made his Major League debut on national TV at Wrigley Field. After tossing a scoreless first inning, he stepped to the plate for his first MLB at-bat, and promptly HAMMERED a home run to deep center field:
It was an incredible moment. He was the first pitcher to hit a home run in his first career plate appearance since Tommy Milone did it for the Washington Nationals in 2011. More remarkably, Norris was the first AL pitcher EVER to hit a home run at Wrigley Field. Baseball has been played there since 1914! It was later reported that it was his first at-bat since high school (!!!). Can you imagine?? Not hitting in a live baseball game since high school and then stepping to the plate in your Major League debut at WRIGLEY FIELD, and then going yard? Absolute insanity.
As awesome as these moments are, to say they are rare is an understatement. Instead of sitting around waiting for moments like these to happen once in a blue moon, I think baseball fans would much rather watch good hitters hit in place of the pitcher. That’s just my take, but I think it would be good for baseball.