Demilio: The Universal Designated Hitter is Good for Baseball
For the longest time, I was against the National League adopting the designated hitter. I loved the strategy of the game that came with the pitcher in the lineup – the right time to lift him from the game in favor of a pinch hitter, the use of a double switch, etc. While a big part of me will miss the different decisions a manager would have to make in these situations, I’m happy the DH will be coming to the National League.
My conversion from the anti-DH train to my current views have happened for a couple reasons — apologies to Pirates’ play by play man Greg Brown, one of the leading forces of the “#BanTheDH” train. The first reason was that I finally realized how obscure it was that there was such a drastic difference in how the game was played between the two leagues. No other major sport has differences between the rules of their respective game.
The second and most obvious reason was that I was simply tired of watching pitchers hit. Even the best hitting pitchers, such as Zack Greinke (career 60 OPS+) and Madison Bumgarner (44 OPS+), are still uninspiring at-bats that most often result in negative outcomes. The ninth spot in the batting order is often times a guaranteed out, and if a team is threatening to score with the eighth man up in the lineup, he won’t even get a chance to deliver as he will trot to first base without getting to do his job.
Analytics even show that bunting isn’t even necessarily a smart, strategic play, and a runner on first with no outs can be more likely to score than a runner on second with one out. Some argue that the only people who should be sacrifice bunting are pitchers, since their at-bat will likely result in a strikeout or other unproductive out anyway.
It’s also not just about not wanting to watch pitchers hit, but it’s also about the possibility of pitchers getting hurt doing something that they aren’t getting paid to do. For example, Diamondbacks’ starter Zac Gallen suffered a hairline fracture while swinging a bat a year ago. Going back further to a more serious injury, Cardinals’ veteran Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles tendon as he began to run down the first base line back in 2015.
Could you imagine if someone like Max Scherzer, set to make over $40M this year with the Mets, suffered a season-ending injury while batting? The potential risk of a pitcher getting injured while hitting is simply too high considering the investments that teams make towards their pitchers in today’s game.
By allowing for the DH in the National League, the league is allowing more opportunity for position players who in large part are getting paid to produce with their bats. Instead of high-caliber sluggers who are limited to one league because more or less find themselves without a position, all 30 teams could utilize the services of players such as Nelson Cruz, J.D. Martinez, etc.
A few years ago, I never imagined myself making this argument. I never thought that I would be happy that the league and the union agreed to a universal designated hitter. Yet, for the reasons that I outlined here, I truly believe that the National League adopting the DH moving forward will be a positive for the game of baseball that is quite frankly long overdue.