Pitchers batting looks to be a thing of the past.
For all the traditionalists out there, your worst nightmare has arrived. Lament the loss of enhanced strategy or the supposed purity of the game. But the designated hitter is about to become law in both leagues.
For one season, at the very least.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported Wednesday that the universal DH, part of Major League Baseball’s proposal to start a 2020 season still on hold due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to be approved by the players’ union.
Its inclusion in the proposal was hardly insidious, instead a way to keep American League teams from being at a competitive disadvantage in an increased amount of Interleague games during the pitched 82-game regular-season schedule. With teams playing only division opponents and opponents from the corresponding geographic division in the other league, AL teams would be playing a much bigger percentage of their games in NL ballparks, forcing their unprepared pitchers to swing away and potentially having a significant impact on the win-loss numbers.
But this is an idea that’s been discussed for a while, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the universal DH stick around past this exceptional season.
The traditionalists will sob, but they really shouldn’t, especially if they’re fans of National League teams. The implementation of a DH in the NL makes every one of those 15 teams instantly better. AL teams will benefit, too, as their schedules always include a certain amount of games in NL ballparks. They’re now better suited to score more runs in those games.
But NL teams are the ones that will really see a boost because they’re not giving up an out every trip through the batting order. Yes, there are pitchers who can hit. Yes, there are pitchers who like to hit and pride themselves on their ability to swing a bat better than the average hurler. But only a select few are guys you’d actually want to have in a major league lineup.
No NL team’s pitchers collectively hit over .170 last season. The “best” group of hitting pitchers in the National League was the New York Mets’, and they batted .167 and reached base at a .198 clip. That’s awful. And the Mets were the best of the bunch.
That’s a massive hole in the middle of the lineup. If any position player had those kinds of numbers, they’d be run out of town on a rail.
Certain teams are better equipped to flourish with a DH. The White Sox obviously made an expensive improvement in that area over the offseason, bringing in Edwin Encarnacion. The Cubs, with the players on their roster, could also especially benefit. But the DH means a better lineup for literally every team in baseball.
It’s no surprise the players like this idea, as it adds 15 more starting jobs — and starting salaries — to the game. Players can extend their careers if they’re unable to play the field as effectively as before. And there will be 15 more teams looking to pay top dollar for a middle-of-the-order bat.
But fans should like it for a similar reason. NL lineups just got a whole lot more potent. While the 2020 season will likely see DHs drawn from a pool of players teams already have, should NL teams continue to use the DH in 2021 and beyond, they’ll be looking for some of the best bats in the game, ones that can drive in runs in the middle of the lineup. That means another big free-agent addition or some more thump acquired in a trade.
NL fans might be grumpy about the loss of so-called “strategy.” But their favorite teams will have a much better chance of scoring runs, and as a result winning games, with another great hitter added to the lineup.
Plus, come on, does anyone really want to watch pitchers hit? Sure, when pitchers homer, those stand out as fond memories, but it’s only because of the rarity — the unlikelihood — of such events. AL fans get more bang for their buck, getting nine hitters for the price NL fans pay to watch eight.
In the end, the object of the game is to score runs. And if you’re better suited to score runs by avoiding an automatic out every time through the order, you’re better suited to win. The DH helps accomplish that goal.
It should be celebrated, not maligned.