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The Single Best Designated Hitter Idea I’ve Ever Seen

Chicago Cubs

Most of you know that I’m unabashedly pro-universal DH at this point for a variety of reasons: (1) pitchers focus so exclusively on pitching these days that they get worse and worse as hitters every year, (2) it’s insane that the two leagues play under two different sets of rules (that disadvantage the NL in many ways), (3) the DH has been around for 50 years and isn’t going away, (4) no reason to expose pitchers to extra injury risk, and (5) more players get jobs.

HOWEVA, I have always respected folks who disagree on all of this, and would rather see the leagues harmonize their rules by just getting rid of the DH in the AL. Again, I don’t subscribe to that position personally, but it’s a position I can respect.

… but you’re never, ever going to get your way. Having become so engrained in the American League, and having become integral to player jobs in the American League, the Designated Hitter will be a part of baseball, in one form or another, for decades to come.

So, then, what if there were a way to kinda bridge the gap in our perspectives? Kinda-sorta bringing the DH to the NL, but also preserving some of what you like about the NL game, AND ALSO bringing some of what you like about the NL game to the AL?

OK. So obviously there could be all kinds of unexpected consequences that we’d need to think through a little more completely, but on first pass, this strikes me as one of the best baseball rules ideas I’ve seen in years, and is the best version of the DH rule.

From Jayson Stark’s great piece predicting changes to baseball in the coming years, a DH idea:

“[I]t’s hard to find anyone in the game who doesn’t believe that one of these years — possibly as soon as 2022, once the new labor deal is done — every team will be writing a DH into its lineup.

But wait! Here’s one possible wrinkle that has been kicked around in behind-the-scene brainstorming sessions: How about a rule that would allow teams to use their DH only as long as their starting pitcher remained in the game? Then, once the starting pitcher exited, that game would revert to old-school rules.

The more we think about this idea, the more we like it. Starting pitchers would no longer hit, which would eliminate some teams’ injury paranoia. It would create incentives to keep starters in the game longer, which could lead to more offense. And it would preserve some elements of late-inning managerial strategy that fans of ‘NL rules’ still love.”

All that’s lost under this approach is the worst part! Pitchers, who are not actually skilled hitters in the modern game, no longer hit. But all the good stuff? The extra bat. The late-game strategy. The importance of good pinch-hitters. It’s all preserved! And there’s an *additional* layer of strategy added, because now the decision on when to remove the starting pitcher – and whom to use as DH – becomes even more complicated (in a good way)!

I cannot overstate how exciting this idea is to me. To be sure, it’s just something that has apparently been kicked around, but there was a time when that was true of the pitchers-must-face-multiple-batters rule, and now that one is actually happening.

This rule would also seem to appeal to BOTH players and owners, because it doesn’t just “add 15 more expensive jobs” (something the owners likely have resisted in NL DH talks) so much as it limits how much the DH can impact the game overall, making it more likely that it’s not a dedicated position on all teams. From the player perspective, this rule would dramatically improve the value of bench players and fringe-starters, who are increasingly getting squeezed out in free agency. It also should help prevent stupid, needless pitcher injuries. So that’s good, too.

All in all, with only a morning to digest it, I’m freaking loving this rule. Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Do you just want to call me an idiot? Have at it.

INSTANT REPLY from a buddy, who makes a good point: “Like the alternative DH rule but I would want a wrinkle that if my starter gets blown up early I can keep my DH in until the 5th inning ends. Don’t want to put teams that get down big early at a further disadvantage from coming back.”

By the same token, a starting pitcher injury would be a particular issue. So maybe you get DH at least for the first at bat or something, no matter what. I think 5th inning probably goes too far, because managers could game that one a bit in a way we might not like (i.e., pulling starters after four innings consistently).



Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.