Why the National League Needs the Designated Hitter
Last year, as the Philadelphia Phillies were getting shelled 14-5 by the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park, a spot arose early in the game in which the Phils were threatening to score.
They had runners on first and third with one out. However, they were at the bottom of the lineup and the pitcher's spot was up, in this case Kyle Kendrick. In the National League, one of three options exists at this point.
The first is that you have your pitcher bunt the runner over from 1st to 2nd base, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with two out. The second is that you tell your pitcher not to swing the bat in order to avoid a double play, but still give the team another out. The third is that you let the pitcher swing away and try to drive the runner from third in with a sacrifice fly or a well placed ground ball.
In the Phillies' situation, Kendrick grounded a ball right back to the pitcher, who turned an inning-ending, rally-killing double play. And after the game, when asked why he allowed his pitcher to hit, manager Ryne Sandberg said he was looking for his pitcher to hit a sacrifice fly. To which Kendrick responded, "I'm not a hitter. That's not my job."
This was the seminal moment when I realized I had just watched something profoundly dumb. This was the moment I realized that we don't have to watch rallies die just because you're approaching the pitcher's spot in the order.
This was the moment I realized the National League needed the designated hitter.
And now, the issue has become front and center in baseball conversation, mainly because of two injuries to two star NL pitchers, one very serious, the other not so much.
Adam Wainwright is scheduled for surgery on Thursday. Recovery is 9-12 months, and the club is optimistic of his return.— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) April 27, 2015
Both Wainwright and Scherzer were injured while at the plate, although admittedly, injuries to pitchers while hitting are quite rare and not one of the stronger reasons to institute the DH in the National League. But there are plenty of other good ones and, if nothing else, perhaps these injuries will bring about the change that baseball purists should start embracing.
Pitchers Just Give Away Outs
As everyone knows, there's no clock in baseball (at least not yet). Outs are what determines the length of a game. Each team is only given 27 of them, and they are precious. So why do we stand for watching pitchers practically give away outs every single time they come to the plate?
Last year, pitchers across baseball hit a combined .122/.153/.153 in 5,519 plate appearances. So far this year, it's .088/.110/.102 in 615 plate appearances. Those numbers are beyond horrific, and barely better than what you or I could do up there.
Sure, there are a few good hitting pitchers around the league. Madison Bumgarner hit .258, slugged .470 and hit 4 home runs last year. However, among pitchers with at least 40 plate appearances, only 5 out of 62 pitchers had batting averages above .200.
We're simply wasting outs here, people.
Imbalance In Rules Creates Unfair Advantage
We now have year-long interleague play, 15 teams in each league. With one league allowed to have a designated hitter, it allows the American League team, when playing in an American League park, to have a distinct advantage over the visiting National League team.
The Red Sox get to use David Ortiz at home. The White Sox get to use Jose Abreu. The Phillies would get to use Grady Sizemore. A National League team is either going to put one of their start position players in the DH slot and have a lesser hitter fill in for them on defense, or put a far weaker hitter at the DH spot than their American League opponent.
It also allows American League teams to have an advantage when going after big-time hitters. They essentially have one extra spot on their roster at which they can put a big-time bat and not have to worry about finding a position for him. It's why the White Sox can go after a player like Abreu and not worry about whether or not they already have someone at first base, or why Detroit can sign Prince Fielder and not worry as much about any declining defensive performance in future seasons.
And for those who think eliminating the DH from the American League is a viable way to even the playing field, you can get that notion out of your head right now. The players' union will never allow the elimination of the designated hitter, because it creates too many jobs for players. Could both leagues institute an additional roster spot, making it a 26-man roster? Sure, but that wouldn't solve my next point.
Pitchers Hitting Is Embarrassing
It comes down to a simple question, one that Scherzer asked this week to CBS Sports.
"If you look at it from the macro side, who'd people rather see hit: Big Papi or me?" Scherzer told the website. "Who would people rather see, a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper? Both leagues need to be on the same set of rules."
Now, there are people who say they like watching pitchers hit, and that they would rather see Scherzer hit than Ortiz. And if that's what they want to see, then OK. But I'm with Max. I'd rather see a guy who can hit above .150 swing the bat than the guy who isn't always sure which end of the bat is the proper one to hold.
Is watching Bartolo Colon fall all over himself at the plate funny? Yes. Is it kind of embarrassing? Yes. Would I rather see a professional hitter up there to hit? Yes.
There is a reason position players don't pitch every day. They're really bad at it, because they don't ever practice it. Sure, it's always cool to see a position player take the mound, but there's a reason it's a novelty. If it happened all the time, it would make a mockery of the game.
I think baseball should be fun and all. But there's a fine line between fun and Colon's Clown Prince of Baseball show.
Of course, bringing the designated hitter to the National League would eliminate the NL style of play, which is much more of a chess match than in the AL. How long should a manager leave a pitcher in? When does he pull him? When does he double-switch? When is a good time to sacrifice bunt? All those questions have helped make baseball the thinking man's game among the four major sports in America.
But in this case, the bad outweighs the good, and it's time for a change. Instituting the DH in the National League will even the playing field, create more offense, and eliminate the needless giving away of outs.
It's time, America.