epstein conference cubsChicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has come down pretty clearly in favor of bringing the designated hitter to the National League.

“I think we’re going to see the DH in the National League,” Epstein recently told USA Today. “Hopefully we’re just a few years away.”

With the Houston Astros moving to the American League, leaving 15 teams in each league, interleague play is now a necessity throughout the year. Some see it as the final precursor to an adoption of the DH rule in the National League.

Epstein is all for it, primarily because of the disadvantage the rule imposes on National League teams.

“I think the AL has a big advantage,” Epstein told USA Today. “When a team goes into Boston, they have to face [David] Ortiz, and you’re putting a guy who’s a utility player as your DH.”

Cubs manager Dale Sveum was asked about the DH, and, although he said he prefers the traditional NL approach, he acknowledged the problem Epstein pointed out. Sveum also mentioned big first base prospect Dan Vogelbach as someone who could benefit from the DH coming to the National League. (Generally speaking, I avoid mentioning Vogelbach when discussing the DH, because I don’t think it makes much sense to support or oppose such a long-term, substantial rule change based on a single player in Low-A. But, if you were going to mention an NL prospect in this discussion, Vogelbach is probably the very first one that everyone in baseball would mention.)

I’ve come around on the DH thing in the last couple of years, and have laid out my position before. Among the arguments made by those in favor of the DH in the NL, in addition to the issue addressed by Epstein, which is the most compelling:

  • Pitchers are supposed to pitch, and watching them flail away at the plate is no fun.
  • AL pitchers risk injury by only intermittently doing things – hitting and running the bases – that they don’t otherwise do regularly.
  • AL teams can more comfortably bid higher on free agents like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, knowing that in the latter years of their deals, the players can be stashed at DH.

Fine arguments, all of them. But the one Epstein highlights, which I’ve discussed before, is the biggest one by far. To restate my thoughts on it:

While an AL team is able to dedicate a roster spot to finding purely the 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.

If the DH does come to the NL, when would we see it? Well, your best bet would be 2017, which would be the first year of a new collective bargaining agreement (the current CBA runs through 2016). That is not to say that rules cannot be changed, on agreement, before the expiration of the CBA. Indeed, if the pitcher/DH problem in interleague games in September impact playoff races, all bets could be off.

That is to say: if you’re a pro-DH type, you’re going to want to pull for an NL team to be ostensibly screwed in September by the lack of a dedicated DH, or an AL team to be ostensibly screwed in September by the fact that their pitcher has to bat while their DH is on the bench.

  • StevenF

    I’m backing the first two posts – with profound enthusiasm.

  • StevenF

    Brett, with respect, I have replies to your position:

    1. “Pitchers are supposed to pitch, and watching them flail away at the plate is no fun”.
    Rebuttal: They have 4-days in-between starts to take extra-extra batting practice. At the very least, learn how to bunt without “showing bunt” before the pitch. These guys are supposed to be paid athletes.

    2. “AL pitchers risk injury by only intermittently doing things – hitting and running the bases – that they don’t otherwise do regularly”.
    Rebuttal: See rebuttal to #1 above. Also, if a hitter is not good enough to play the field, he isn’t good enough to start full-time. A guy like Frank Thomas or Miguel Cabrara has weaknesses that level the playing field. I believe that the better the total package, the more opportunity a player should get regarding risk and playing time.
    Sarcastic Rebuttal: Why don’t we implement designated runnersfor all the slow guys. Tony Campagna would be worth $10-million if that rule was instituted.

    3. “AL teams can more comfortably bid higher on free agents like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, knowing that in the latter years of their deals, the players can be stashed at DH”.
    Rebuttal: Eliminate the DH and level the playing field. If a player has warts, they become exposed. Fair is fair. You can’t just let a player play to his strengths and substitute for his weaknesses. For the kind of money players are getting, they need to bring it to the table. The option is to play a more well-rounded player instead. Geez, what a concept.

    I grew up as an avid Tiger fan until I moved to Chicago in July, 1984. At 10-years old I cherished the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers. I lived through the transition of the DH in the 70s, and for years was undecided about the change. After moving here, I became a devoted Cub fan within 2-weeks. It took me that long (just 2-weeks), to realize what a collossal error MLB agreed to with the institution of the DH. I am forever a NL fan, and will remain so, as long as the DH is NOT in the NL. Rant over.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Pitchers should be spending their 4 days in between studying heat-charts and watching video of their recent performances and the next-teams opposing batters. Moreover, there is no way to really “practice” bunting. You cannot do this in batting practice: those pitches are nothing like what pitchers throw in real games. You cannot waste real pitchers throwing game-level pitches in these situations, either: you would burn through your staff in half a season.

      As for batters not being good enough if they cannot be on the field, that really is not the case. MLB position players are promoted or demoted based on their hitting. A brilliant fielder who cannot hit does not play. A good hitter who is a lousy hitter is run out there over the bad-hitting good fielder because, in the end, the first guy contributes more to positive run differential. At any rate, the issue is not about letting batters skip fielding: it’s about not wasting ABs on guys (pitchers) who are not in MLB because of their ability to hit.

      Again, it comes down to this: position players and pitchers succeed and fail based on completely different skill sets. One group is there because of their ability to deal with a ball coming at them. The other group is there because of their ability to throw a ball in a very exact and very precise way. Members of one group who are awful at the other skill set are in no danger of being released: MLB teams release players from the second group for being bad batters and just as often as NBA or NFL teams release their players for being bad batters.

      • MightyBear

        What about Ozzie Smith and Mark Belanger? A couple of great hitters there. What was Belanger, a lifetime 220 hitter? If a player is good defensively at a premium position like SS, C or CF, he will play even if he hits minimaly.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          That isn’t true anymore: the all-glove, no-hit players are pretty much extinct. Moreover, they really emphasize the difference between fielders and pitchers: Ripken, Jeter, Trammel, etc., drove the all-glove, no-bat fielders extinct; guys like Owings, Zambrano, etc., had no effect on all-arm, no-bat pitchers. Once Z stopped pitching, he stopped playing even though his hitting never got any worse. Owings couldn’t pitch well enough to stick anywhere, even though he hits so well that they now have him trying to play 1B.

          Now, if pitching was just another position, then under Moneyball logic a team would increase it’s run differential by trotting out Owings, Z Ankiel and other guys like that because, man, they would outhit the opposing pitchers by as much or more as Ripken was outhitting Belanger. However, those guys get dropped as pitchers: because if you don’t have MLB-level pitching skills, you cannot be a pitcher.

      • ETS

        haha I have stayed out of this one for the most part but “Pitchers should be spending their 4 days in between studying heat-charts ” – can you not say that batters also need to spend time studying? Sorry, but that one is a stretch.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          But batters do spend their time watching game videos. One of the things that has really changed the game over the last decade is the proliferation of iPods and smart phones that let them watch videos of the pitchers that they will face. It’s not as helpful as heat charts: you really would need video from the batters perspective. However, they must think that they are getting something out of it.

  • Fastball

    I don’t like the DH. I was a pitcher for a long time and was never DH’d for because I could hit. Im old school and I think pitchers should hit. If your a baseball player your supposed to learn how to hit . I rarely watch AL games as I don’t find them as interesting without much strategy required by the manager and his having to outsmart his counterpart. Today pitchers are babied there whole career. I don’t think baseball needs to create a position for fat guys who can’t run or play defense and look worse in a uniform than a beer league softball team.

    Im old school and Im not changing how I like my baseball. So I hope Sveum gets to be an old school manager.

  • Fastball

    Lillibridge sucks. He sucked as WS and he still doe
    s. 2nd coming of Neifi Perez.

  • MightyBear

    I write this at the risk of awakening the wrath of Kyle but has anyone heard any reports on Ian Stewart? When is he coming back? Somebody else at third would help immensely.

  • Fastball

    Raise the mound back up. Im for that.
    Im for the use of vaseline and vagisil and a roofing nail in the glove, hidden ball tricks and everything that was fun about a game if baseball.

  • StevenF

    I never want to attack a person posting a comment. Rational thought and common sense will have my respect. I’ll limit my thoughts to reiterating the emphasis on “complete ballplayer”. If you take the guy with upside talents you must deal with his warts. Or, choose well-rounded talent. Create your line-up based on that criteria. Let the best manager win without part-time half-talent DH players. Insist that pitchers invest their time in studying video AND batting practice!! – they certainly have enough time between starts.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    “Insist that pitchers invest their time in studying video AND batting practice!! – they certainly have enough time between starts”

    You cannot teach a non-batter how to become an MLB hitter with batting practice, no matter how good an athlete he is. Batting practice is for tuning your mechanics: it cannot teach you how to pickup MLB fastballs or discern a slider or curve from a fastball. Until they invent a way to replace conventional BP with simulations of game-level pitching, BP will always be a bit of a misnomer.

    If pitchers do anything “extra” between starts, then they would be better served to do first-base drills to practice catching throws from the SS, 2Bman and 1Bman. Unlike batting practice, you can replicate game conditions there (including having a runner go down the first base line). Moreover, those plays actually are a lot tougher than they look: baseball players usually do not throw to moving targets, but it is probable that practicing with particular individuals can develop a “rapport.”

    Do that, and you might steal a few runs back from the opposition in chops and “tweeners.”

  • Bric

    The DH is bullshit and should either stay in the AL or better yet go away entirely. The Astros going to the AL West should have nothing to do with the DH. If Selig hadn’t messed up the balance in the first place by moving the Brewers to the NL this wouldn’t even be an issue. Once again Selig is great about addressing non issues and ignoring the real ones.

  • http://www.frenchrocks.net Ian Afterbirth

    The problem is not that the NL doesn’t have the DH.
    The problem is that the AL has it at all.
    I can’t watch AL games because they are boring.

    It is not hyperbole when I say that I would likely watch a lot less baseball if the NL adopts the DH. I might even stop following it altogether.

    My rebuttal to the whole “Pitchers are supposed to pitch, and watching them flail away at the plate is no fun” thing?

    It’s no fun watching big fat unathletic “players” waddle off the bench every few innings to stand there and hack away. It’s unnatural and annoying.

    • saladbar

      It’s fun watching pitchers hit, because they mostly aren’t good at it. So it’s a different mood, shade, facet. One might enjoy the opposing pitcher pitching well at such moments. And all the more, the occasional miracle bloop double. Much more interesting game sans DH, and more formally beautiful. However, DH is not going away in AL and hence will be adopted eventually by NL, and those of us bored by that can go play a pick-up game. Probably the best idea in the first place.

  • Timmy

    I’d take it the other direction, abolish DH in both leagues. Every player on the field should hit. Anyone not on the field shouldn’t.