If you’re looking for objective, unbiased analysis of whether the designated hitter belongs in the National League, look elsewhere. No, seriously. I can picture myself as unborn twinkle in my dad’s eye in the early seventies, hollering at the American League, “Don’t do it!!!”
I may be in the majority, I may be in the minority, who the hell knows? But the notion that the best way of dealing with a professional athlete not being very good at a particular part of his sport is bringing in a ringer to take care of it for him is absurd. Let’s put this in context: The Los Angeles Clippers are having a wonderful playoff run. A bit part of it has been the play of DeAndre Jordan, but there has been some concern. Jordan is a career 42% foul shooter…and I’m rounding up. Are teams going to use the hack-a-Shaq strategy teams used to employ on Shaquille O’Neal when he couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean from the free throw line? Jordan is hardly alone. Dwight Howard makes slightly more than half of his attempts. Rajon Rondo is about 60% for his career, but shot an atrocious 40% in 2014-15. The Rockets have a rookie named Clint Capela who went 4-23 from the charity stripe this season. 4-23. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s 17%. Now, Capela may not be a guy who will ever be considered an offensive force, but the other guys are to varying degrees. They just have that one scoop of poop in their ice cream sundae. They can’t make their foul shots. Essentially, American League baseball absolves these fellas from having to attempt their foul shots. They can have JJ Reddick or James Harden come in and shoot the free throws for them. Ridiculous, right?
Ok, ok, let’s be at least a little bit fair. Advocates for the designated hitter cite several other reasons why pitchers should never hit.
They suck at it: Well, it’s not a lie. Pretty much the entirety of the pitching population hits far below league average. Ok, let’s take a look at this argument. Empirically, you can’t argue with the statistics. But it’s also not as if pitchers are alone in their hitting futility. The funny thing about the word “average” is that it implies roughly half of the sample group is above it, while the remaining half brings up the rear. It’s absolutely true the pitchers represent the extreme back end of the lower population in this argument, but at any given point in time, pretty much every major league line up has a hitter in it who is in the middle of a slump that makes him just as unlikely, if not more than whoever the pitcher is, to have a productive at bat. Take the Dodgers’ Jimmy Rollins. After a half-way decent start to the season, Jimmy hit about a buck over his last 100 at bats. That makes him only slightly more likely than my mother to get a hit. If history is any indicator, Rollins will eventually snap out of his funk to a certain degree, but odds are that if and when he does, another Dodger regular will be descending into one. You can pull up nearly any team’s starting line up from a game this week and find someone in it who is struggling horribly. The Astros’ Chris Carter and the Rockies’ Drew Stubbs are nearly automatic strikeouts at this point. Before his big three-run homer last weekend, the Red Sox Mike Napoli was completely lost at the plate. The Phillies’ Chase Utley is just barely hitting half the Mendoza line. I’m cherry picking names you’ll know or recognize to illustrate my point, but if I wanted to further strengthen my cause, the Mets started Kirk Nieuwenhuis, he of the .111 batting average and .172 OBP against the Phillies this past Sunday. That’s only marginally better than Bartolo Colon.
It’s a sub-par product with pitchers hitting: Max Scherzer said, paraphrased, who do you think fans would rather see hit, Big Papi or some pitcher swinging a wet newspaper? I don’t know, Max, but personally, I get real tired of watching Ortiz step out of the batter’s box for nine minutes between pitches and nobody doing anything about the pace of play rules. Additionally, the notion that a baseball game is only optimal if you have supreme hitters facing supreme pitchers all the time is preposterous. The people who would make that argument are the same ones who would say that a boxing match is only entertaining if both guys end up beaten to a pulp by the end of it. That’s fine if you’re looking to feed your primordial bloodlust, but means essentially nothing if you’re a fan of the “sweet science.” These are probably also the people who will tell you that soccer is boring because there aren’t enough goals scored. While it’s true that a soccer game that ends 4-3 can be quite spectator-friendly, true fans of the game will enjoy watching the world’s finest players compete even in a 0-0 tie. If anything, you can argue that having the pitcher bat actually adds intrigue to the game as managers will have to make more decisions – do I pinch hit, do I walk the 8th place guy to force the other manager’s hand, double switches, etc.
It’s a huge injury risk: Oh, for f***’s sake… Adam Wainwright ruptured his Achilles tendon leaving the batter’s box this season. A few year’s back, Chien Mien Wang suffered a significant foot injury running the bases. Brett Anderson last season broke a finger on a particularly inept bunt attempt. But apart from those guys, you have Scherzer with his thumb owie, and not a whole lot else in terms of pitchers suffering notable injuries while hitting. If you’re looking at risk of injury, how about a line drive to the dome? Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Carrasco, and Archie Bradley this season alone could tell you a little bit about those. In seasons past, Alex Cobb, Hiroki Kuroda, Bryce Florie, Juan Nicasio, and a host of others have been brained. Of the less bloody variety, it seems every other day we hear about another pitcher needing the Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. And this is purely conjecture, but having to spring off of a downward slope to field your position after throwing a ball as hard as you can sounds like there’s more injury risk involved than swinging a 32oz piece of wood at a ball.
You’re just holding on to tradition!: No. I’m not. Change for the sake of change is stupid. We have 40 something years of evidence that the designated hitter adds nothing to the game from a fan friendliness or competitive perspective. When MLB introduced interleague play a couple of decades ago, the reasoning was obvious. Generations of fans had never gotten to see games like the Cubs against the White Sox in any game that mattered. Dodgers and Angels. Yankees and Mets. The opportunity to attract new fans as well as win back old ones was ripe. There was ABSOLUTELY a reason to give that a shot. The DH, not so much.
The players want it: Maybe a couple of them do. But the prevailing majority don’t. Even Scherzer, who sort of kind of spoke up for having a DH in the National League quickly said his comments were taken out of context once Madison Bumgarner basically said he was a nincompoop. And when Madison Bumgarner, who is enormous and can pull tractors with his teeth, says you’re a schmuck, well, who am I to argue.
Sorry, folks. “Why not?” is simply not a good enough reason.