After watching the Mets pitching staff struggle to get a bunt down all year, it’s obvious that the Designated Hitter rule should be eliminated from professional baseball.
Wait, what? Shouldn’t the fact that they can’t execute the only thing they’re required to do at the plate indicate that the DH should be adopted by all of professional baseball, including the National League? No. The fact that pitchers in the NL hit like they’re swinging a wet newspaper tells us they need more reps.
Major League pitchers are guys who were the best all-around players on their high school and college teams – hitting as well as pitching. When they turned pro, they became victims of specialization. Bats were removed from their hands, and they were told to concentrate on pitching. They practice bunting in the cage, but don’t get to execute it frequently in games. The DH is used in the minor leagues – not in every game, but frequently enough to atrophy a pitcher’s skills at the dish. If pitchers get more at bats, they will stay sharp at the plate.
The Designated Hitter was adopted in 1973, following a stretch of unprecedented domination by pitchers in the modern game. This trend peaked in 1968, when Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA, Denny McClain won 31 games, and Carl Yastrzemski won the AL batting title with an average barely over .300 (.301). So, figuring fans wanted to see more offense, the American League adopted the DH to hit for the pitcher. And it served its purpose. Offense increased in the AL, and a parade of sluggers emerged who came to define the position – Don Baylor, Brian Downing, Hal McCrae, and Harold Baines. The tradition continued with players such as Edgar Martinez, Travis Hafner, and David Ortiz. However, the DH isn’t quite what it used to be.
How the role changed
According to MLB.com, there are only 7 players in the AL listed as a DH. Why is that? Because today, the DH is being used to rest position players without taking them out of the lineup. There are very few players who occupy this position on a daily basis. Among them, only David Ortiz has more than 20 HRs, and a Slugging Percentage over .500. The others are players who are trying to extend their careers (Vlad Guererro, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Bob Abreu), or play for teams that have a log jam at a particular position (Michael Young, Billy Butler). As to the players who are extending their careers, this was more of an issue when salaries weren’t as high as they are today. For what these guys make, not only can they retire, but their grandchildren can retire before they even reach working age.
The DH lengthens the game
The generic sports fan likes offense. However, more offense means more time to play the game. And in this day and age, with ESPN leading the “baseball games are too long” brigade (even though they are shorter on average than an NFL game), the DH does nothing to help this problem. Perhaps more to the point, having an extra hitter in the lineup takes away some of the crispness and flow of a baseball game, and extends rallies, even as you get to the bottom of the lineup. Having your worst hitter bat ninth is a big difference from having your worst hitter bat eighth in front of your pitcher.
But won’t we lose offense?
Offense in baseball has declined since the end of the “steroid era,” an era which also included 4 expansion teams in the 90s, the advent of weightlifting, and the opening hitter-friendly ballparks. Besides the ‘roids, those other factors remain. Baseball is certainly very far from the pitcher’s paradise of the late-60s. Besides, us real baseball fans never really embraced all those 10-9 games in the 90s and early 00s. There has to be a balance between the hitters and pitchers that keep the game entertaining and competitive. Besides, MLB can do more to gain and retain fans by having more day games during the postseason, and keeping the games moving along.
Interleague play and the World Series
With the 2012 schedule coming out, the debate over using the DH in interleague play will continue for at least another year. American League teams are at a disadvantage in NL parks because they can’t use a DH, and their pitchers work on their hitting even less than NL pitchers. This becomes an even bigger issue in the World Series. Level the playing field by eliminating the DH in both leagues, and that controversy goes away.
Baseball is played with 9 players in the starting lineup
Most importantly, baseball is a game that should be played with a lineup of 9 players who play “on both sides of the ball.” The DH is a way of dividing offensive players from defensive players, the way NFL teams do with their entire starting lineup.
If you eliminate the DH at all levels of professional baseball, you will see an improvement in hitting by the pitchers, players who have a higher baseball IQ, and baseball played the right way at all levels.