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Recent Blogs


Everyone Hits as Baseball Embraces the DH

For years I have argued that pitchers hitting remains among the silliest things in the sport. Despite playing at the same level, the National League has run out watered down lineups for decades. Although there’s been plenty of discussion regarding a universal DH rule, it took a global pandemic to bring about the shift. Now we wonder if it’s here to stay.
Image courtesy of © David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports
For 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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11 Comments

Despite being a life long Twins fan, my viewing of baseball on TV was regulated mostly to Cubs, Braves and Mets games in my youth as my cable provider carried stations with these teams. I always found it frustrating and disappointing to watch pitchers flail at the plate. And I always have laughed at the "strategy" of inserting a PH in the 6th or 7th inning with a possible rally. That's not intelligent strategy, it's putting in a better hitter. Even in the AL that is done.

I read an article, many, many years ago that discussed the differences in the AL vs NL game. The NL had the reputation as being a more defense minded league who played more to speed and situational hitting. (Things I enjoyed and still do). The jist of the article is the NL teams largely played in larger parks than their AL counterparts, and also had more turf fields vs grass. Thus they adapted their game as such.

Everything from ballparks to hitting approaches have changed over the years. The entire bunting, SB and situational hitting format of years past has changed. Its time for a universal DH. Let pitchers pitch. Players aren't expected to pitch, so why must pitchers be mandated to hit?

I've always felt AL teams in NL parks were at a disadvantage. While the arguement can easily be made that NL teams, at this time, are not necessarily equipped with a quality DH option, they are still replacing a generally poor hitter with a better one. Further, they may have a poor defender playing a position for his bat, but can let him DH in favor of a better fielder taking his spot against an AL opponent.

It's time to make this a universal change.
    • Trov and Tom Froemming like this

My main issue is that NL pitchers' stats get inflated. They're guaranteed easy outs and more strikeouts. When you replace a guy like Nelson Cruz at the plate with a weak-hitting guy who bats .046 at the plate 3 times per game, just think about the advantages.

 

Let's say a pitcher gets 20 starts and gets to face, on average, weak-hitting pitchers 2.5 times per game. That's a total of 50 easy outs that his AL counterpart isn't getting. That's 17 innings worth!

 

Meanwhile, it's not like his AL counterpart is getting to face average hitters - instead, he's facing THE BEST hitter on the opposing team. So he's getting 17 innings against very, very difficult hitters like Nelson Cruz or JD Martinez.

 

I'd just prefer if both leagues did the same thing, for continuity purposes.

 

Then again, at this point I'd just be happy with regular old baseball without any changes! Here's hoping they play ball this summer.

 

 

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Tom Froemming
May 13 2020 06:20 AM

My guess is once every NL fan has a year or two to get accustomed to the DH they'll never want to go back.

    • DocBauer and Minny505 like this
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diehardtwinsfan
May 13 2020 08:01 AM

while personally I prefer the DH... I know a lot of fans that don't. I think the premise is largely accurate, but I could also see there being unhappy fans... I for one, still don't like interleague play. That isn't a show stopper for me and baseball, but I do think there's value to having slightly different rules across the leagues.

Personally, I do not care DH or no DH, but now that interleague play will never go away, we need one rule to play by.As pointed out the DH allows some great hitters to keep playing later in their life as a DH.One thing I would point out, is until Astros came to AL to even leagues at 15 each, there was only 14 AL teams for years so even less teams that did DH.

 

I agree that with the change in way game is played DH will happen I think in both leagues.This does not mean when you get a pitcher that can hit they cannot be allowed to DH on games they do not pitch.Look at Otani.McKay from Rays is being used in duel roles at times.  

 

Funny how there is now a rule that position player cannot pitch, unless extra innings or a huge gap late in game, but yet pitchers can play other positions and hit.The DH is not an easy spot to fill, it seems like it would be, but look at many long time greats that would DH and play positions over a year.Many would hit better when they were in the field than when they DH.Not all of course, but many have talked about it is a mind game you need to work through.I know when I play I hate sitting on the bench, even between innings of fielding I will walk around and never sit, could only imagine what it would be like to sit and watch for innings except for the short amount of time you are hitting.

How many more rules will they have to change to speed the game back up since this will obviously make the games longer. Plus I think it would negatively impact the Twins, I know that is a biased take, but, how likely will the Twins be able to outbid the Mets and the Dodgers for the likes of a Nelson Cruz??

 

Despite being a life long Twins fan, my viewing of baseball on TV was regulated mostly to Cubs, Braves and Mets games in my youth as my cable provider carried stations with these teams. I always found it frustrating and disappointing to watch pitchers flail at the plate. And I always have laughed at the "strategy" of inserting a PH in the 6th or 7th inning with a possible rally. That's not intelligent strategy, it's putting in a better hitter. Even in the AL that is done.

I read an article, many, many years ago that discussed the differences in the AL vs NL game. The NL had the reputation as being a more defense minded league who played more to speed and situational hitting. (Things I enjoyed and still do). The jist of the article is the NL teams largely played in larger parks than their AL counterparts, and also had more turf fields vs grass. Thus they adapted their game as such.

Everything from ballparks to hitting approaches have changed over the years. The entire bunting, SB and situational hitting format of years past has changed. Its time for a universal DH. Let pitchers pitch. Players aren't expected to pitch, so why must pitchers be mandated to hit?

I've always felt AL teams in NL parks were at a disadvantage. While the arguement can easily be made that NL teams, at this time, are not necessarily equipped with a quality DH option, they are still replacing a generally poor hitter with a better one. Further, they may have a poor defender playing a position for his bat, but can let him DH in favor of a better fielder taking his spot against an AL opponent.

It's time to make this a universal change.

 

Bill James brought this up in his (I think) 1986 Baseball Abstract. It ain't strategy if everyone does it. It is a rote tactic.The pitcher is coming up to the plate late in the game so you pinch hit, or if the pitcher is up and he bunts. 

 

He showed there was a lot more "strategy" in the American League because the choices were much more varied (the standard deviation of bunting, pinchhitting,sacrificing, etc) in the American League vs. the National. Having the DH gave the manager a wider range of tactical choices than in the National.

 

But his other point is why do people think "bunting" is such a big strategic concept?

    • DocBauer, Taildragger8791 and Minny505 like this

Yet another Manfred move I don't like. No real comment about it during the 2020 situation, but: yuck, not for me.

I want the highest level of tension in every AB of a baseball game. A DH delivers that desired experience.

 

Pitchers hitting lowers the tension for, sometimes significant, periods of the game. This lowering of tension makes a baseball game less interesting. Baseball, and all forms of entertainment, need more tension, not less.

 

In the game of baseball, tension creates drama. Drama creates a better baseball viewing experience for the observers of that game. 

 

To use a Gleeman-esque terrible analogy of the day, it's like having an automatic garage door opener. We all take it for granted that we'd prefer an automatic garage door opener, but back when they came out, some people probably didn't want one, thinking it's so unnecessary and even diminishes the experience of garage & car ownership. But once you have one and no longer need to expose yourself to the procedural drudgery of leaving your car to park it safely away in your garage, you realize you love it. That is what the DH will be like for NL fans.

 

Ultimately, I am happy for the fans of NL teams that will get to experience the heightened tension and added drama that the DH adds to an observed baseball game.

 

Especially being the I just moved to Phoenix and would like to have more tension in those games I will be watching in the future. The only downside will be that there are less opportunities to go hit the can while at the ballpark watching a game.

I hate the DH. I don’t care about pitchers hitting, hell I just watched Jason Castro flail away for the last three years. I like the strategy that it brings to the game and the position switches

I like the strategy that it brings to the game and the position switches

I dislike routinely finishing games with inferior players on the field. Unless... the manager didn't have his good players in the starting lineup for some reason?

    • Minny505 likes this

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