The Designated Hitter: The End Of Conventional Baseball As We Know It


The end is near.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the MLB and MLBPA are discussing a slew of potential rule changes for the 2019 season. Those potential changes include a 26-man roster, a potential ban on “the opener”, and yes, the universal designated hitter.

First of all, it’s absolutely asinine that this is being discussed a week before pitchers and catchers report. If you are truly going to redefine the game of baseball, don’t do it the same month as you would implement changes. Teams didn’t plan offseasons expecting the sanctity of baseball to be desecrated by mid-February.

Now, onto the designated hitter. The worst rule in baseball could be coming to the National League next year, according to Ken. A rule which actively promotes players being bad at an aspect of the game. A rule which actively promotes limiting the power of a manager to impact the game. A rule which undermines the sanctity of baseball.

I think it is fair to say that, to enjoy baseball, you enjoy strategy. Baseball itself is encoded in strategy, every pitch being its own chess match. There is a reason the average person walking down the street won’t likely find enjoyment watching the Marlins and Royals play a mid-July game, and that’s because they more than likely haven’t exposed themselves to the intricacies that make baseball beautiful. For everyone that says baseball is boring, I truly believe you will change your mind if you give yourself a chance of understanding and enjoying.

It’s also asinine to believe that the designated hitter helps bring out those intricacies. I would have trouble seeing the well-executed double switch or the perfectly timed sacrifice bunt go. Sure, neither of those things will get on the highlight reel like a home run will, but we luckily don’t have to pick between them.

National League managers have way more to consider when making in-game changes than their American League counterparts. That’s just a fact. No one in the American League has to analyze the risk-reward factor about taking a decent fielder out of the game to ensure your pitcher doesn’t hit in a crucial spot late in the game. The AL manager doesn’t have to decide between pinch-hitting for his pitcher after 5 innings to try and drive in a go-ahead run.

I’m honestly shocked by the positive response I saw to this news on Twitter after it broke. I figured that, for a fanbase of a sport with such a base on strategy, they wouldn’t be trying to break that down.

There is a reason this picture exists, and that’s because David Ortiz is a good baseball player. The designated hitter doesn’t create jobs for guys like David Ortiz. If he was traded to a National League team halfway through his career, he would still be an everyday starter. By nature, all the DH does is give a lineup spot to the worst hitter on a team.

No team in their right mind would bench a David Ortiz because he has to play in the field. Defense is important, but it isn’t nearly as important as offense. If the nine best hitters faced the nine best fielders for 162 games, the hitters would win 140 times. The player everyone is so worried about giving a lineup spot to is not David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz, or J.D. Martinez. It’s the ninth best hitter on a major league roster.

Yes, pitchers suck at hitting. And yes, the worst hitting position player is better than the best hitting pitcher. But are you comfortable losing a significant section of the allure of baseball to give more at-bats to Martin Prado or Lonnie Chisenhall? I’m not. At least people don’t expect much out of pitchers at the plate, because it’s not like those guys are going to do all that much better.

The best proposal I have seen involving the designated hitter, and one I really actually like, is tying the DH to the starting pitcher. This leaves the strategy in the game right now relatively intact and would allow for the Prados and Chisenhalls of the world a couple more at-bats per game. This would also absolve the need for the three batter minimum for a starter, which was also proposed. It would also spark the need for a 26th roster spot, another proposed rule.

However, there is still a fallacy in logic with this rule. The reason people want the designated hitter is because “pitchers can’t hit.” But those same people don’t want replacements for people who can’t run or can’t field?

I don’t see the difference between calling for a pitcher not to hit and a really bad left fielder not to field his position. Sure, he’d just be the DH, but teams don’t generally start their best defensive lineup in a game. If we are mangling the game of baseball to where players don’t have to field to hit, why should they have to hit to play in the field? Why aren’t we calling for catchers, generally the slowest of all the positions, to have specific players to run for them?

Just because the pitcher doesn’t have to hit doesn’t mean more fans are going to watch. Nobody is going to turn on the television solely because Jake Lamb now gets three ABs a game. Nobody is going to tweet about Pablo Sandoval hitting a 390-foot solo shot. They will, however, freak out over Bartolo Colon hitting one. The average player hitting a bases-clearing double off of Max Scherzer won’t really be remembered, but we do remember Rick Porcello doing it.

The designated hitter doesn’t help baseball appeal to the Twittersphere, because it takes away potential talking points. It doesn’t appeal to the pace-of-play fanatics, because a position player will generally have longer at-bats than a pitcher. It won’t make a difference for the average fan because no one is a fan of guys like Howie Kendrick that much.

One of the most viral baseball events in years is, guess what, a pitcher hitting a home run. If the worst position player for the Mets hits that home run instead of Bartolo Colon, where is the sport of baseball? Because it wouldn’t be as well off as it is right now.

Just who does the designated hitter appeal to? I truly don’t understand the rush to improve one spot in the lineup from awful to bad. I can’t wrap my head around most of the so-called positives of the designated hitter.

The only unquestioned positive to a designated hitter is decreasing the injury risk for pitchers. I’m not going to deny that real plus for the designated hitter. However, hitting isn’t a generally dangerous occurrence like running over the catcher at home plate. I’ve seen some speculation this push for the DH is in response to Masahiro Tanaka’s injury last year, but that would be a massive overreaction if true. When Tim Hudson broke his ankle after being stepped on covering first, we didn’t change first base to the softball style, something which actually wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. So, I ask again, if that is your motive for the designated hitter, why?

We also shouldn’t be rewarding players for being bad at a large part of baseball. Yes, defense shouldn’t be valued as much as offense. However, it still matters. Players like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz were rewarded, through the designated hitter, to suck with a glove. No quarterback is going to be rewarded for not being able to throw deep. No right winger is going to be rewarded for having a weak shot. Baseball is the only sport in which we reward people for not being good at part of the sport, and once again, I have to wonder why.

It isn’t like the DH would get players paid more either. There aren’t many true designated hitters, like Edgar or Big Papi, left in baseball. As the Los Angeles Times’s Bill Shaikin pointed out, only two guys had enough plate appearances last year at DH to qualify for the batting title. Perhaps only Sandoval would be added to that list in the National League. Nothing would change on the business front of the game, besides getting 15 hitters more playing time.

So let’s get back to actual baseball. The American League has to repeal the designated hitter. We need equal rules in the era of interleague play, and it’s past time we stop using a hypocritical rule to incentivize players being bad at defense. It’s time we make managers earn their money again. It’s time we get back to actually playing baseball.



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