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Edgar martinezThere are few issues that divide us like the designated hitter rule. It’s a debate that shows no signs of dying down. Here’s the latest argument in favor of using the DH in the NL, via Splice Today:

Last weekend, for example, while watching a slew of inter-league contests via the MLB “Extra Innings” package … I finally switched gears and figured it was time for the National League to acquiesce and adopt the still-controversial designated hitter rule.

Heresy, I guess, but what the hell; if you’re a Milwaukee Brewers’ devotee, wouldn’t it be delightful to see the world’s tubbiest vegetarian, Prince Fielder, in the dugout, contemplating his next plate appearance, instead of anchored at first base? One league’s dominance over the other usually runs in cycles, but the N.L. seems mired in a slump that’s likely to run longer than the Great Depression, and this was evident once again over the weekend. Sure, the strategy required of an N.L. manager is more intricate than A.L. counterparts with double-switches and more sacrifice bunts, but the two leagues might be more competitive if older free agents (or crummy fielders) could extend their careers as a DH.

I think the above argument in favor of the DH is weak and poorly articulated. But I do think it raises a valid question: is the DH giving the AL an advantage over the NL in interleague games? And, if so, does something need to be done?

I have absolutely no data to back this up, but it seems to me that the presence of the DH allows AL teams to build better rosters. Quite simply, if I’m a free agent, I’m going to sign with an AL team if possible, because AL teams have one more position and that means one more chance for me to crack the starting lineup.

If the DH does confer an advantage on the AL, then something needs to be done. Bud Selig could stop scheduling interleague games, but the problem would still rear its head in the World Series.

So I guess there’s only two options: give the NL the DH, or take it away from the AL.

My buddy Dan, despite being an otherwise intelligent person, is passionate in his support of the DH. He thinks it’s boring watching pitchers hit. And, of course, with the exception of Micah Owings, he’s right. I appreciate the beauty of a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt as much as the next guy, but I’m not about to tell you that it’s as exciting as watching Big Papi swing for the fences.

Still, it seems to me that just because pitchers can’t hit, that isn’t a good enough reason to mess with a rule that is at the heart of the game: everyone hits, everyone fields. After all, shouldn’t America’s pastime value equality?

What do you think? Does the DH confer an advantage on the AL? Does something need to be done? Let’s settle this in the comments.

20 Responses to “Talking about the DH”

  1. Paul Moro says:

    I think if any advantage is given to the AL in interleague or WS games, it’s slight. Half of them are played in NL parks, so no DH there. And while over the course of 162 games there would be a significant difference between an average pitcher and an average DH at the plate, we’re talking nine games during the regular season and maybe four games in the World Series. Over that short a span of time, the difference probably isn’t as big as we think.

    With that said, any small difference, if unfair, needs to be amended. I’m still not crazy about the DH. If you don’t hit AND field, then you’re not a real baseball player in my book. Which I’m sure if I thought it through would even sound ridiculous to me. But I feel it in the gut. And my gut is solid. Anyway, first and foremost, it’s just utterly inane to have different rules between the two leagues. Makes no sense whatsoever.

  2. I think an NL team should try letting a pitcher hit in an AL park. NL rosters aren’t built for the DH – there is no NL team that is adding an Ortiz-caliber to their lineup during interleague games.

    Letting the pitcher hit would bring the NL game to the AL park… The NL roster would be used the way it was built – double switches, sac bunts, hit and runs… Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what would happen?

  3. Paul Moro says:

    Oh wait, I meant the average NL pinch-hitter, not the average NL pitcher. So… yeah…

  4. Sarah Green says:

    I like having the DH, mostly because I love David Ortiz (there, I said it). But I don’t think NL teams are necessarily at a disadvantage playing AL teams in AL parks because they don’t have a DH. If you look at MLB’s leaders in VORP, which *only* counts offense, the top four players are in the NL (and 7 of the top 10 are in the NL). Only one of those guys is a DH, and it’s really not someone I would have expected at all. I’ll give you time to guess. Ready?

    It….

    is…

    ……

    …………………

    Milton Bradley! WTF? He’s ranked 8th. The next DH doesn’t come along until #37, in the person of Hideki Matsui. That’s a big, whopping advantage, I’m sure (she says, rolling her eyes).

  5. Lyndsay says:

    give the NL the DH. having the pitcher in the lineup is bad for both leagues, as they both pull the double switch. if you have to switch around your lineup once a game, sub in 2 players just to avoid having to bat that one guy…let’s ask ourselves, is this plan working? no, it’s just a waste of a lineup spot.

  6. Sarah, I don’t think it matters that this year’s crop of DH’s aren’t among the league leaders in VORP. The question is, are they better hitters than the bench players that NL teams use as designated hitters when they play in AL parks. And I’d have to guess they are.

  7. Nick Kapur says:

    The double switch is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

    If you are a smart manager, and you have a good bench, you can do lots of interesting things with the double switch. You can not only make sure that pitchers never come up to bat, but you can also switch in guys that are better on defense, or add more speed to your lineup late in a close game, or line up an extra left-handed batter to face a tough right-handed reliever the next inning, and so forth.

  8. Paul Moro says:

    Also, this year’s DH stats are a bit skewed thanks to injuries to the big names. Papi, Pronk, Sheff, Frank Thomas, and to a lesser extent, Matsui, have been injured. So counting stats like VORP are off right now. Plus, the “replacement level” for DHs and 1Bs are higher than the others.

  9. Coley Ward says:

    Also, I really feel that because AL teams have one more position (DH), that gives them an advantage when it comes to pursuing free agents and, thus, they end up with stronger teams.

  10. Danny O says:

    Ditto Nick’s comments. The DH takes so much strategy and intrigue away from the game. It even goes beyond the double switch. (Aside – I remember LaRussa fouling up a double switch against the Braves in his first year with the Cards.) In the NL, managers match wits and compare lineup cards, trying to determine which reliever is best against any number of potential pinch hitters. A common conundrum is whether to let their right-handed pitcher try to get the third out against a left-handed hitter (or vice versa) when the pitcher’s spot is due up next inning or using up a left-handed reliever on the last out of the inning. Or do a double switch so that you don’t have to worry about the pitcher’s spot. Managers have to keep in mind who’s on their bench and what positions they can play. Do they risk using up their last catcher or middle infielder to pinch hit? What if there is an injury in the next inning – is there anyone who can play short in an emergency? In the NL, there are often consequences for changing pitchers. Fans are aware of this, and it sparks a lot of debate during and after a game.

    Some people argue that by creating an extra position, the DH extends careers, and is a player-friendly modification. But what about all the call-ups and major league minimum guys in the AL who sit on the bench day after day, their only hope for some PAs being an injury to one of their mates? Look at a box score for the AL and one for the NL. Most AL boxes have just nine guys who play the whole game. BORING. The NL gets the whole roster involved. In the NL, you’re much more likely to get some chances to pinch-hit soon after getting to The Show because your manager needs you. Yes, more positions in the AL, but more opportunities to shine in the NL.

    As for the players who get to hit without fielding: If you can’t play a position in the major leagues, then you’re not a major-leaguer, period. Don’t defend Steve Balboni. If a manager really wants his bat in the lineup, then he should have to suffer an error at first base every week or two. The slugger with no glove skills is just another one of life’s tradeoffs.

    It’s one thing for AL fans to defend the AL’s use of the DH, but please don’t advocate to infect our league with your concession to short attention spans. The audacity of AL fans to suggest that their game is better just because they like to see fat guys hit home runs is beyond the pale. If you enjoy it, fine, but don’t drag your shit into my house.

  11. Nick Kapur says:

    Coley, I don’t see how having another position to fill gives AL teams an advantage in signing free agents. While it’s true that they might have one more starting job to offer, they have to pay more money for that guy, and both leagues still have 25 guys. The reason AL teams have been better recently is that they have been outspending NL teams. If the NL teams were willing to spend more money than the AL teams, then they would sign more and better free agents, DH or no.

    Also, another thing I’m surprised no one has really mentioned so far is that aside from a few rare exceptions like Ortiz, most of the AL DH’s aren’t really that good, even at hitting. Have you looked at who some of these teams are DH’ing? Rod Barajas? Jose Vidro? True, some guys have gotten injured, but most of the AL teams don’t actually have an all-star caliber fulltime DH. They either have a subpar guy on the downside of his career or they just rotate position players through. And NL teams are outscoring AL teams even despite the fact that they hit pitchers for two at bats every game. The DH is in large part prolonging the careers of mediocrities at the expense of exciting young talent.

  12. Coley Ward says:

    Nick, do you think that means that AL DH’s aren’t that good, or that AL pitchers are better? Or that NL pitchers are getting better at swinging the bat (or at least at advancing runners)?

  13. Nick Kapur says:

    Well, I discussed this a bit in an earlier post, but I think it’s because the NL has more hitting talent right now. A lot of the free spending AL teams are burdened with older players, locked into longterm contracts. The median age in the AL is 30 but in the NL it is 28, which is closer to the peak hitting age of 27.

  14. melissa says:

    AL teams do have a huge advantage because they can carry an extra bat that never has to play in the field. NL teams can’t necessarily do this. An aging free agent slugger would be much more inclined to take an offer from an AL team so that they didn’t have to play the field. Most AL teams may not have an all-star caliber DH but the higher payroll teams do and the higher payroll teams in the NL don’t have the option of carrying the extra slugger. That’s a disadvantage.
    I think the DH should be eliminated and they should add a roster spot so teams can afford to carry an extra hitter if they so choose. It won’t ever happen but one can dream. The whole reason the DH was added was to increase interest in AL teams and generate more scoring. I don’t personally feel the beautiful game of baseball needs to be bastardized in this manner any longer. The NL game requires more of the manager and the players. I personally love seeing Carlos Zambrano hitting triples and home runs from both sides of the plate. I realize this type of occurrence is rare but it brings an added level of excitement to the game when a pitcher is a complete baseball player.

  15. melissa says:

    Even if a team’s regular DH isn’t of a high caliber they will still have more flexibility in their lineup. The DH allows for a player to get at bats when he may be banged up and can’t play his position. An AL team can keep their best hitters in the lineup on a more consistent basis. I would also suggest that an AL roster can better compensate when a team loses one of its’ better hitters. If Ortiz played on an NL team their lineup would likely suffer more than an AL roster which should have more power hitters. It is also a disadvantage to NL teams as far as acquiring an extra bat. For example many NL teams might want to acquire Griffey or Dunn but if they already have players in left and right that they need in the lineup those guys aren’t an option. It would be much easier for an AL team to juggle their roster and add a bat at the trade deadline. That DH slot just gives a GM more options when trying to make his team better.

  16. Sarah Green says:

    “Also, another thing I’m surprised no one has really mentioned so far is that aside from a few rare exceptions like Ortiz, most of the AL DH’s aren’t really that good, even at hitting.”

    Nick, it’s when you say things like that I have to wonder if when I’m talking, you just see my pretty lips moving and no sound coming out. Siiiiiigh.

  17. Peter Schwepker says:

    The DH has nothing to do with the AL’s dominance in Interleague. Most experts I have heard feel that Interleague is tougher on the AL teams. The DH controversy is driven by NL fans who can’t accept the AL domination of Interleague, All Star and World Series.

    We hear NL fans talk about being purists. If that is so, let’s also raise the pitching mound higher as it was before l969. There are complete lists of rule changes in MLB by searching Google. You can start with the spitball rule and bring it back too. THAT was part of early baseball, although I doubt a spitball works well for a purist

  18. Paul Moro says:

    Peter, I don’t think anyone here is (or at least should be) saying that the DH is the big reason for the AL beating the crap out of the NL. AL teams right now are just better. It’s pretty much indisputable at this point.

    And although I’m not a fan of the DH, for me at least, it’s not an issue of “purity”. I hate that word and baseball was never “pure” to begin with. I don’t even know what that means.

    Yeah, I understand that increased offense creates a wider fan base. I’m just not one of those people who’s drawn to it. It’s like in basketball. As long as you’re going up for a monstrous dunk, it doesn’t seem to matter if you travel en route. The crowd loves it so they let it go. But dammit, I’m one of those people who yell at the tv as to how that travel wasn’t called.

    And the whole “mound height” argument doesn’t hold. The problem here is that one league has one set of rules and the other league has their own, which is stupid. At least the mound height is regulated. We’re not talking about the same thing.

  19. Danny O says:

    Re: Mr. Schwepker: As far as rule changes fundamentally affecting the game,

    mound height regulations are not even in the same area code as instituting

    the DH. The DH takes the reponsibilities of one player, splits it in half,

    and gives one half of the job to another player. Ridiculous. Let me offer an

    analogy between baseball and American football that I think exposes the

    absurdity of your argument -

    Mound height limits : the DH

    as

    Shrinking the field goal post width : telling running backs they no longer

    have to block on passing plays

    The DH is far more than an adjustment to bring some parity to the offense v.

    defense struggle or to increase scoring. It’s not just about purity – the DH

    removes a major element of strategy from the game and allows players to

    leave the weakest area of their game unexposed and untested.

  20. Peter Schwepker says:

    Danny O

    All I am saying is that anyone who argues “purity of the game” has to be consistent. That person should be concerned about any number of changes in baseball, including mound height. Take purity out of the argument and I take rule changes through baseball history out of the arena as well.

    My argument seems absurd to you because you are an NL apologist. You argue that the thing that separates the DH change from the lowering of the pitching mound is different because it is not used in both leagues.

    I think that says more about the NL than the AL. You believe otherwise. That’s cool.

    But I see that the DH is used almost universally in almost every pro and amateur league in the world. And though you don’t like my argument about the mound height, the fact is that the mound was lowered for the same reason the DH was introduced..more offense.

    You believe that the lowering of the pitching mound did not change the game? Of course it did and you, as a good baseball fan, know it. Do a Google search on the affects of the lowering of the mound on offense in baseball and you will see what I mean.

    We can argue this forever. You don’t like the DH and you work the same argument I hear from most NL fans. You are entitled to your opinion, as am I.

    Though I am not someone who has extreme attachment for the DH, I have even less attachment for the National League. One of the reasons I have less attachment to the National League is the fan obsession over the DH, and yes, blaming the DH for the demise of the National League, an “impure” game, global warming, famine and war (just kidding, but you get the idea).

    Here’s what we DO have in common. We love baseball. If we did not, we would not be arguing this issue.

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