The National League Should Probably Adopt the Designated Hitter

Matt Garza buntWith the Houston Astros headed to the American League, and the attending equalization of the split between the AL (15 teams) and NL (15 teams), we’re going to see interleague play throughout the season in 2013. The net increase in interleague games is relatively small, but the fact that interleague will be in our collective face all year will probably bring the distinction between the two leagues into greater focus.

And that means a debate about the designated hitter rule.

For whatever reason, that NL designated hitter debate flared up yesterday, sparked, it seems, by an article by Yahoo’s Anna Hiatt. The gist of Hiatt’s piece:

Don’t pay attention to decades’ worth of howling from baseball purists. The DH doesn’t ruin America’s national pastime. Forcing pitchers to hit is essentially just adhering to tradition for tradition’s sake. When the AL succumbed to reason in 1973, the rule change — which takes pitchers out of the batting lineup and replaces them with a designated hitter who doesn’t play in the field — did baseball a world of good. Batting averages rose. So did attendance. The games were far more exciting. Baseball became less a battle of managers and more a competition of athletes.

Essentially, the AL game is a better game, argues Hiatt.

Craig Calcaterra then wrote in reluctant agreement:

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that, though I prefer pitchers batting, I don’t believe the National League’s rules in this regard are objectively better. Indeed, when I take my personal preferences out of the equation and look at the matter rationally, I cannot escape the logic of the DH in today’s game and the futility of pitchers batting.

The game is not played by all-around ballplayers anymore. Pitchers are just dreadful at hitting and, increasingly, are unable to even bunt particularly well. The strategy and gamesmanship my NL friends like to talk up is rather contrived when one thinks about it. Really, these machinations are more about the avoidance of pitchers batting than taking advantage of it. The whole dance in which managers spend so much energy to optimize minor matchups, often costing them their best pitchers and best hitters runs counter to the idea of my best nine playing your best nine and let’s see who wins.

Again, the thrust of the argument is that pitcher’s batting is no fun, making NL games less enjoyable than AL games. Craig’s right, by the way, that the presence of the pitcher in the lineup leads to tactical discussions about how best to operate with the knowledge that a crappy hitter is coming up after the next two hitters. Is that more or less fun? It’s probably debatable.

The decided weight of the punditry that I have observed, however – or at least those who have chosen to weigh in over the last year or so – is in favor of the NL picking up the DH, for a variety of reasons. Among them: (1) pitchers are terrible hitters; (2) the game is higher scoring and thus more fun to watch; and (3) pitchers risk injury by batting.

The opposition to the DH in the NL is generally some variation of “TRADITION!,” shouted with neck veins emerged and pulsing. The thing on that one, though, is that, as each year passes, it becomes harder to rely on “tradition” when the tradition on the other side – the AL DH – is now 40 years old. The DH is now pretty traditional. (And, for the record, I used to be a traditionalist, myself … I guess I’ve just grown weary of watching pitchers flail away or sacrifice bunt. I hate sacrifice bunts, except in extremely limited circumstances. So, I guess I’ve become biased. But that’s not why I changed my stance … )

I think both sides miss the greatest point, and it is one that cuts heavily in favor of expanding the DH to the NL.

While an AL team is able to dedicate a roster spot to finding the purely best hitter it can find, and then deploys that guy when the AL and NL square off in interleague games and the World Series, the NL team is left to pick a guy off of its bench when in AL parks. Because pitchers as hitters – whether AL or NL – are roughly equal in performance, the fact that the AL team has a dedicated DH puts the NL team at a decided disadvantage in half the games. I am not OK with this. Ironically, it is because I’m an NL guy at heart that I think they probably should adopt the DH. I can’t stand the unequal footing.

Since the DH ain’t going away in the AL, the only way to even things up is going to be the DH coming to the NL. And you purists should probably resign yourselves now to the idea that it is coming: with the DH being a player who makes a whole lot more money than a random bench guy, the possibility of 15 additional high-paying jobs is going to be enough to get the MLB Players Association on board with adding the DH to the NL. That’s 50% of your fight right there. Get a few NL owners on board, and things can change very rapidly.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

238 responses to “The National League Should Probably Adopt the Designated Hitter”

  1. jayrig5

    That’s an unfair characterization of the rationale of DH opponents. I much prefer watching NL baseball due to the extra layer of strategy involved with pitching changes/pinch hitting/general substitutions. That’s a more interesting game, to me. I also tend to think the pace of the game is a bit faster when you have a pitcher batting, which I think is important going forward in terms of keeping a TV audience.

    1. Leo L

      agreed

    2. Corey

      But the audience would rather see a hit than a strikeout/groundout/popfly/ko via bunting

    3. hansman1982

      An old manager (I forget the name at this moment) once said (something to this effect):

      “It is far more difficult to manage in the AL. In the NL, the game tells you when to pull you starting pitcher.”

      Really, any strategy that does exist just shifts from who to send to the plate (which, in today’s game) is dictated by a piece of paper in the manager’s binder; to the mound where the manager has to actually use his skill and knowledge to know when a pitcher needs to be yanked.

      1. Norm

        Exactly. Most teams have 5 bench players. A back up catcher and 4 other position players, Likely two lefties and two righties.
        They bring in a LH RP, well, choose one of those two righties depending on the out/base scenario.

        Not much strategy, IMO.

  2. Timmy

    I agree insofar as I think there are two good arguments about this rule and we need to choose one: 1) Every player on the field plays the entire game. Hence pitchers should bat. Or, 2) Due to the many reasons stated above by Brett we should make pitchers a specialty position.

    As a National League fan growing up I tend to still fall in the first camp, but the interleague play has made such a position increasingly messy. The DH rule also has the benefit of lengthening careers for players who can’t run quite as fast in the outfield anymore, or who are too stocky/large to do anything but swing the bat.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      Actually, one of the biggest reasons why guys move to DH is because of arm/shoulder injuries ruining their throwing.

      I used to think that pitchers batting was great fun. Then it began to seem more and more that pitching really is like being a goalie or a quarterback: it’s not just that you simply don’t expect those guys to play other parts of their games, but that you do not pick those players base on their ability to do other parts of the game. Good hitting pitchers who don’t pitch well are not good enough to start on your team: the only thing that counts is pitching. Moreover, pitchign is a completely different skill (or collection of skills) than is batting: they are as different as golfing and fencing.

      1. Leo L

        playing shortstop is also a completely different skill than batting. they usually also arent considered as good hitters as for example a corner outfield. lets just dh for them also

        1. DocPeterWimsey

          Again, this is a false analogy: pitchers get to MLB because they can pitch; SS get to MLB because they can hit. The best pitchers in an organization are starting for the MLB team or soon to be starting for the MLB team. The best hitters in the organization are starting for the MLB team or soon to be starting for the MLB team. The best fielders are riding the bench to be used in late innings or languishing in the minors.

          (On a side note, this is my problem with WAR for fielding: it’s easy to get replacement fielders who are better than your starters, whereas getting replacement hitters better than your starters is tough: and also the sign of a good farm system!)

  3. Curt

    Is there no respect for tradition left, and ordinarily I agree with you but not this time , bc the dh has been around for 40 yrs does not make it a tradition, it just means the American League has been wrong for 40 years, I like the strategy in the nl , I myself find al baseball boring , is it really to much to ask a pitcher to learn how to bunt, at the money pitchers are bring paid they can’t learn to bunt really, I do understand the points for the dh, but does the game have to change completely, why can’t the pitchers bat on the al and ditch the dh, the dh is really nothing more than a position for old players or players who can’t field to hang on a little longer I really hope the nl dosent cave in and adopt the dh.

  4. North Side Irish

    In general, I am opposed to the DH, but I am even more opposed to the leagues playing under different rules. I can’t think of anything in other sports that is even remotely that ridiculous. The only way I could see them doing away with the DH in the AL is if they went to 27 or 28 man rosters, which adds 60 or 90 new jobs in order to appease the union.

    I’ve come to terms with the fact that the DH isn’t going away, so I now just want to see both leagues with the same rules.

    Or maybe I just REALLY like Vogelbach.

    1. beerhelps

      I wondered how long it would take until Vogelbach’s name came up!

      But really, it’s past time that baseball has all teams play by the same set of rules. And the player’s union will never give up the DH.

    2. JB88

      Your last sentence might be the only reason I started to seriously reconsider my position on the pitcher batting. While it is foolhearty to consider changing my viewpoint simploy on the offchance that a Low A player ends up developing into a DH worthy player, the concept of a Dan Vogelbach on the Cubs certainly makes me think it is time for the DH.

  5. muley

    some of us still enjoy the manaager to have to manage a game… I dont feel i need to explain the diferences here.. But if it’s all about big numbers maybe softball Rules is your game,,

  6. Norm

    The AL teams also have the advantage to give more years to free agents with the option of moving them into a DH spot as they age and deteriorate on defense/speed.

    I know people say they “like the strategy” involved in pitcher changes and pinch hitting, but think about all the scenarios when these things happen. Is there really that much “strategy” involved? Come up with any scenario you like, but I bet the “strategy” involved is a pretty obvious move that isn’t all that strategical, but obvious, and one that all of us would make.

    And even in those few instances where there may be actual strategy, are those few instances more enjoyable than the difference between seeing 3 wasted at bats by the starting pitcher?
    or more enjoyable than allowing the starting pitcher to stay in the game rather than bringing in the inferior relief pitcher?

    1. jayrig5

      It’s not a matter of it being some sort of guessing game in terms of strategy, it’s just that the fact that some moves have to be made makes for more entertainment, in my view.

      Here’s an extraordinarily common example, and the crux of why I prefer NL to AL: close game, 6th inning on, starting pitcher pitching well, 9th spot due up in the order, men on base. In the AL, this scenario has zero impact on the outcome of the game. In the NL, it means a lot, and a lot spirals outward from the decision. It’s not so much that I think that level of strategy is amazing or enthralling, it’s just that without it, I feel like I’m watching a game set on “Easy” mode.

      1. Mick

        Here’s an extrodinarily common example in the AL; close game, starting pitcher pitching well, 9th spot coming to the plate, men on base. In the NL the manager leaves the pitcher in because it’s a pitcher coming to the plate. In the AL, the manager is pouring through his matchup binders, looking at matchups and having to make the difficult decision to stick with his pitcher or bring in relief.

        The argument that there’s more strategy in the NL is RIDICULOUS because there’s at least the same taking place in the AL. Having a pitcher hit is a novelty at this point in baseball because as Brett stated pitchers are specialists. I mean, they put on jackets when they’re on the basepaths!

    2. Rcleven

      How many pitchers even make to the second AB. With pitch counts at hundred now days most pitchers are done by end of the 6th.

  7. emrac

    I was against DH in the National League but now I am in favor of this DH I am sick of tired of watching pitchers give away outs and the opposing team working around the 8 hitter to get to the pitcher who becomes a easy out it’s frustrating to have runners on 3rd with 2 outs and see the pitcher come up to bat it would be refreshing to know when the 9 spot comes up we have a chance to score and I am not too keen to giving up a masher like Dan vogelbach because we don’t have DH or a spot to put him at since we have Rizzo

  8. Jacob

    I really am against the DH.. but I have always agreed with what you say.. It only makes logical sense for the NL to adopt it.

    Will they have to wait until the next CBA to change the rule or can they make the change sooner? If they can, I imagine that the NL will have the DH before the 2015 season.

  9. Leo L

    I dont like DH either. i like the strategy and problem the pitcher leaves for the manager esp in the later part of the games. i argue that if pitchers dont have to bat and he is defense why not have that for everyone. Why not have darwin barney the best fielder out there and have a DH for him. lets just expand the rosters and have all offense lineup and an all defense lineup. well then there would be less strategy. pinch hitting is less of a factor. more boring for me. I understand the arguments. i just dont like it.

  10. Cubbie Blues

    I really don’t like the DH, but have resigned to the fact it will be coming to the NL sooner rather than later. I don’t hold onto “tradition”, but that I like the strategy involved. I also like the fact that the pitcher has to get up there and face the music if need be. I view baseball players as athletes and not specialists. There again I have resigned to the fact that is increasingly not the case anymore. The isnow a LOOGY, closer, 7th inning guy, 8th inning guy, DH and a better get that outfielder off the field in the bottom of the 8th inning so our regular doesn’t punt the ball over the fence and give them a ground rule double guy.

    All in all it needs to be excepted instead of fought because it is inevitable (unless you just like to argue).

    1. JB88

      I agree with the concept of keeping a pitcher honest (you hit our best player, I’m drilling you buddy), but in reality, when is the last time you saw a pitcher hit another pitcher after he nailed someone in retaliation?

      1. Cubbie Blues

        And i miss it.

        1. JB88

          All well and good, but if it already doesn’t happen, I’m not sure how valid of a reason that would be for not adopting the DH.

          1. Cubbie Blues

            Yeah, I’m not really trying to make an argument. I have resigned myself to accept the DH.

  11. baseballet

    Instead of adding the DH to the NL, I would think baseball owners would prefer to eliminated it all together because for AL teams it would mean one less high priced slugger they’d need to pay.

    1. Jacob

      That will never ever ever ever ever happen. The Players Association will never agree to getting rid of it. Ever.

  12. Chad

    The only argument that swayed my opinion was your Brett. The “it’s more fun to watch” is complete B.S. if you understand the game and like the strategy. If the NL did go to a DH I think it would change the way teh bullpen and starting rotation is managed during the game as seen in the AL and it would be a big change (good bye double switches). I’m still not sure if it is necessary or not yet, but hey if the NL went with the DH that would be fine, but I don’t want to hear about safety and fun viewing etc. Those are weak arguments.

  13. Jono

    The uneven world series affect is a decent argument, but which league has been winning the world series lately? I really hope the NL does not pick up the DH.

  14. guy

    I’m definitely in the anti-DH camp. Sure, tradition plays a role, but it’s mostly about strategy. I like it when teams have to actually use their bench and make strategic decisions regarding the lineup. AL teams barely need more than 2 bench guys. The last thing baseball needs is to REDUCE the amount of strategy involved in games.

  15. abe

    Bret,

    I always wondered. The AL cares less about bench players then the NL. Does the NL pay more for their bench? If yes would the MLBPA rather 50 medium pay jobs over 15 high paying jobs?

  16. abe

    Lets change the rule this year it will give soriano way more trade value!!

  17. CM

    I have to say, I despise watching AL games and the main reason is the DH. There is very little strategy involved from the management side, and I think NL games, at least on the surface appear more competitive because there are some “easier” outs so a pitcher who doesn’t have his stuff can still battle a bit more and get saved by the back of the order hitters. In addition, it’s always great to see the better hitting pitchers have a chance to help themselves out. I don’t care about the tradition, the pitcher hitting adds a level of intrigue to the strategy of the game.

    1. Jono

      Yes, good pitcher-hitting is one of the great things about the NL

    2. Mick

      If all things were equal, then yes, the pitcher hitting would force managers to make the difficult decisions to pinch-hit for their SP. But all things are not equal, and the NL is at a distinct disadvantage every time they play in an AL ballpark. If you’re a Cubs fan, why would you want to shoot yourself in the foot going into the World Series?

      1. Brian

        Why then isn’t the AL at a disadvantage coming into the NL park?

        1. Mick

          Because the difference in the AL and NL pitchers batting is less than the difference between a DH and a bench player serving as a DH.

          1. Jono

            Thats exactly right, which is why the AL theoretical has the advantage. But the BLACK has more world series victories in the last 5 years, so the advantage must not be significant. But, the extra enjoyment I get from watching the NL over the AL is larger than the advantage the AL gets. Hence, im anti-NL-DH

          2. Jono

            Forgive my autospell. There are a couple head-scratchers in my previous comment

  18. mak

    I personally prefer the NL style of play, but as a few of you mentioned, I loathe that leagues are operating under a different rule regime.

    Look at Soriano — for the last 3 years (last year notwithstanding), all we could talk about is finding a way to get Soriano on an AL team where he’d have some actual value. How unfair is it that a player has value in one league but not the other? Same argument goes for players like Vogelbach, etc.

    1. abe

      A good utility player has more value in the NL..

  19. truthhurts

    I can argue FOR the DH with two words….

    Matt Garza.

    1. MXB

      Yeah, less bunts/sacrifices for Garza to field and “throw” to first :D

    2. Rcleven

      Garza needs the designated fielder.

  20. Mick

    I was originally oppossed to the DH and an NL fan before moving to an AL city and taking in regular AL games. Now, I’ve definitely pushed all of my chips into the DH pot.

    An agrument I’ll make is that as the NL currently sits with no DH, the #8 spot also becomes a dead spot in the lineup because the pitcher always bats next. That in turn wastes two spots in an NL lineup.

    For those that argue that there’s more strategy around the pitchers batting in the NL, there’s also strategy surrounding the #9 spot in an AL batting order. The #9 spot in an AL lineup turns into a second leadoff spot where teams usually deploy either a high OBP or one of their fastest players. The purpose of this is to get your best baserunners in a position to score for the heart of the lineup. For example, the Twins would bat Span 1st and Revere 9th.

  21. DaveY

    Your third arguement that pitchers risk injury is very weak. First, I don’t know the exact numbers but I’ll bet the vast majority of injuries to pitchers are caused by…. pitching! Second, any athlete that steps in the field of play risks injury, if you don’t want to get hurt then don’t play.

    1. Melrosepad

      Please tell this to Mark Prior when he ran into the second baseman.

      1. Cubbie Blues

        When you talk to Prior, can you get me an autograph? Thanks.

        1. beerhelps

          I got a Mark Prior autographed bat I’ll sell you cheap!

      2. HawkClone

        Ughhh…I was at that game and to this day just hearing the name Marcus Giles stings as much for me as hearing “Steve Bartman,” “Alex Gonzalez” or “Moises Alou” uttered in the dark corners of a bar. The vivid memories that immediately come to mind during what seemed like such promising times for the Cubs are about enough to drive a man insane.

  22. mudge

    Let’s just have hitters and fielders. Double the roster size. We won’t have to see any slower outfielders or any with weak arms. Bring back steroids and make it 550 feet to dead center so we can really show the speed of the outfielders.

  23. cheryl

    I still like the Natonal Lague without the DH.

  24. terencemann

    Now that there is year-long inter-league play, not having a DH definitely hampers the NL. I just don’t see why they shouldn’t have a DH if this is a permanent thing.

  25. DaveY

    Of course, while the need to get outs should be the primary factor in deciding who pitches, I don’t think that should mean that pitchers should not work on their hitting or bunting. With all the off time they have there’s plenty of opportunity to work on hitting for pitchers. Carlos Zambrano and a few others work on their hitting, I don’t see why all pitchers can’t work on it. The don’t have to be as good as the regulars but they don’t have to be completely inept either.

  26. DaveY

    If you really don’t want to see pitchers hit one rule change I would consider as much as the DH is simply dropping the pitcher from the lineup and just go with eight hitters. I understand why you would want to give inept hitting pitchers a break from hitting but then why give an inept fielder a break from having to play defense?

    1. mudge

      DaveY,
      That’s a great suggestion, never heard that idea before.

  27. Kenster

    I will be all for it if they do it before Dan Vogelbach is ready. If hes already traded then I’ll pass on the DH for now

  28. Melrosepad

    If I remember right, don’t most of the minor leagues already use the DH? It would explain the reason we don’t have a lot of good hitting pitchers anymore.

    Yes, I like strategy in my baseball, but it just makes sense to unify the rules for both. If the NL doesn’t adopt the DH then we will see more players like Pujols, Fielder, and such that migrate to the AL since they have the fall back position to allow more years on the contract.

  29. ssckelley

    I am not a big fan of the DH but I do think it gives the AL an unfair advantage both in the free agent market and head to head. They either need to get rid of it in both leagues or have it in both leagues.

  30. Jim L.

    If the NL had the DH in 2004, Mark Prior would still be dominating batters for the Cubs.

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