Everyone Hits as Baseball Embraces the DH
Image courtesy of © David Dermer-USA TODAY SportsFor every Madison Bumgarner or Zack Greinke, there are literally hundreds of guys that look the part of a hitter who hasn’t stepped into the box in literal years. The entire premise of paying hurlers significant sums of money only to have them haphazardly compete against 100-mph darts remains questionable at best. Doing it under the guise of strategy or uniqueness only further complicates the situation.
Going into 2019 the Minnesota Twins put up $14 million (with another $12 million likely) on a player that had no value besides his bat. Nelson Cruz hasn’t routinely played a defensive position since 2016, and a position hasn’t been his primary responsibility since 2013. He is very good at hitting the baseball, and the designated hitter role allows him to focus on just that.
In an effort to create uniformity and allow pitchers a heightened ability to focus on their intended job, proposals for the 2020 season include a universal DH. While any hitter presents a greater probability of success in the batter’s box than a pitcher, it is true that National League teams are not specifically equipped with a resource solely intended for that role. In former times, no NL team would get in a contract discussion with a player like Cruz, and only 15 of these jobs traditionally existed within the sport.
Expanding the designated hitter rule this close to the start of a season presents more than fair arguments in respect to preparedness. Given the shifting landscape of squeezing a season in amidst a pandemic though, there are plenty of ways to mitigate the advantage. With the assumed 82 game regional schedule, teams would only be competing against a traditional DH if the American and National League’s were to regularly intermingle. Keeping the divisions as is would entirely wipe out a discussion about one team having an advantage over another on a nightly basis.
Then there’s the fan experience that Rob Manfred has been so aimlessly seeking. In an effort to rejuvenate the game, he’s given us pitch clocks and limited mound visits, but it’s in allowing a traditional hitter to bat in all nine spots of the order that you’d see a more substantial impact. Jobs open up for players on 15 new teams, and careers are lengthened solely by continuing to execute on the most foundational skill in the game.
There’s no denying that baseball, and many that follow it, are traditionalists in every sense of the word. Not early adopters, and often risk averse, changing the game in any significant way is going to be met with hesitation. A monumental move such as this being forced by an outside force likely doesn’t make the acceptance any easier. However, taking a step back it’s hard to see how this isn’t a positive for everyone.
Regardless of any outside feelings, the Twins are in a good place here. Nelson Cruz was brought in to fill this role, and Miguel Sano may be waiting in the wings. We don’t yet know if this rule will be instituted going forward, but on a trial run basis, I’d hope for a best foot forward approach and a strong desire to not regress after such an exciting step ahead.
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