The end of a pitcher at-bats likely came last year in Game 5 of the World Series. Gerrit Cole put together what could be considered the standard pitcher at-bat: he saw five pitches and struck out. Sean Doolittle walked off the mound after turning Cole into the inning’s third out.
Doolittle is now in line to become a historical footnote: The last time a pitcher faced a pitcher in Major League Baseball was Oct. 27, 2019 when Doolittle struck out Cole.
It appears that at-bat is the end because the universal designated hitter is expected to be agreed to for this year and next. Among the few, simple topics the league and MLBPA see the same is the introduction of the DH in the NL. This was coming even without this year’s tumult caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. The designated hitter has won.
The move creates more jobs. The union likes that. The move creates more offense. The league likes that.
It also unifies the rules in the World Series. No longer is one team built for a certain set of rules all year, then has to pivot in the championship series. How ludicrous such an approach is becomes apparent when applied to other sports. Imagine the NBA Finals being played one way when the Western Conference champion hosted, another when the Eastern Conference champion hosted. It would seem crazy, because it is.
So, no more pitcher bunting (or broken noses for Max Scherzer). Fewer strikeouts total. Pitchers in the National League will be easier to compare to their American League counterparts.
Free agency will change. Long-term contracts will appear less grotesque because of the room to move a player to designated hitter. Platoons may also increase.
Major League Baseball was a 24-team league when it agreed to the “designated pinch-hitter” being allowed in the American League. The owners voted on Jan. 11, 1973 to confirm the position’s entrance into the game.
The change was supposed to be a three-year experiment. It never went away.
The Yankees’ Ron Blomberg was the first designated hitter to reach the plate. Luis Tiant walked him April 6, 1973. Initially, the rule did not apply to the World Series. Then it was used every-other year. It became a permanent fixture of the World Series in 1986.
Purists will groan. The pro-DH crowd will celebrate. The argument is dissolution of strategy versus a plate appearance which has a legitimate chance of being successful.
Double-switches in the National League force managers to think ahead. They also force managers to leave a pitcher in a little longer or take him out sooner. The decision-making process was more complicated. How much? It’s hard to say.
Indisputable is how putrid pitchers are at the plate. Scherzer is among a handful who would practice hitting. The rest didn’t bother. And, the results showed that.
Let’s look at the hard-hitting Nationals pitchers of 2019. They struck out 135 times in 349 plate appearances (39 percent of the time) last year. They had 41 hits total. Stephen Strasburg led them with 12 (he also hit the only home run in the group, producing a dance we all want to forget but can’t unsee). Scherzer took home the pitcher’s batting title with a robust .182 average.
Those people will no longer be hitting. But, Cole served their legacy well in his final at-bat. Five pitches from Doolittle, an eventual strikeout, and everyone left the field.
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