As I’m writing this, I know at least half the people that read this right now are already pissed off. That is is how strongly people feel about the designated hitter in baseball. It is one of the most controversial ideas in all of sports.
The debate over adding the designated hitting in the National League is just getting started. With proposed expansion in Major League Baseball, and with it, possible complete realignment of the teams, the DH in the NL could become reality sooner than many are ready for.
I will say that I am a National League guy. I root for the NL in the All Star game. I (generally) root for the NL team in the World Series.
I completely understand that people like the strategy of having the pitcher bunt. Or the strategy of the defense to play aggressively or just take the out at first.
I appreciate a good double switch. It makes having a deep and diverse bench important. There is strategy that goes into that as well. Do you pull your starting pitcher, for a pitch hitter, with the bases loaded in the fifth inning? Do you pitch hit with a player that can go into the field? Or do you use two different players?
Strategy. I get it.
I will get to my main issue in a bit. Before I go there, l want to explore some of the situations above.
Your seventh hole hitter gets a double. The eighth place hitter is immediately walked intentionally. Strategy.
Now the starting pitcher is responsible for keeping to rally going. For driving in runs. Runs that his, and his teams, win/loss record could depend on. A lot of starting pitchers were the best athletes growing up. And there was a time when most pitchers would love to come up with men on base. Now, most are lucky to get 60 plate appearances a season. That is almost 100 times less then everyday players. Now the game could come down the them getting one of their four or five hits of the season right then and there.
Pace of play is a big issue right now. Fans, and the commissioner of Major League Baseball, all want more action. More stuff happening on the field. As it is now, a double by the seventh place hitter means watching the next batter walk to first, then the starting pitcher flail at three pitches.
You want to say the pitcher is an professional athlete and he should be able to hit. Ok. I get it. It is a valid point.
I just like my pitchers to do what they do best: pitch.
That brings me to my main case for why the National League should adopt the designated hitter.
Why the NL should adopt the DH
Watch the games unfold this season. See if you see the situation happen, that I am describing. Former Mets player and Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura noticed it. He even wondered if it was a valid strategy to use against the opposing starter.
Your starting pitcher is cruising. Five or six strong innings. Low pitch count. Minimal baserunners. His command has been solid all game long. It looks like this starter could give you seven or eight strong innings, and the win.
Then his turn to bat comes up. By some miracle, he ends up on first base. Now he is there for a good five to ten minutes. Maybe he has to run on a few 3-2 pitches. Maybe he ends up on second base, and is there for another 5 minutes. Maybe he has to sprint home from second to score a run. Or maybe he’s just stuck at second for 10 minutes.
Whatever the case, he’s on the bases for 10-15 minutes. Now it’s been 20 minutes or more since he pitched last. He goes back to the mound and is a completely different pitcher.
That pinpoint control is gone. The fluid deliver is now off. His pitch count soars. The entire game before this inning, he has only given up two or three hits. Now, just like that, three guys reach base.
I started noticing this about five years ago. Something about being out there on the base paths effects the pitcher. It could be the adrenaline of being in an unfamiliar situation. Maybe just the act of running the bases raises the heart rate up. Either of those could effect the timing of a pitchers delivery.
It could be a mental thing. Pitchers are used to a routine. They come in between innings. Have a drink. Talk to their catcher or pitching coach, and start to focus on the batters for the next inning. They can not do that while running the bases.
Maybe this unfamiliar routine throws them off. Or breaks their concentration enough to effect how they pitch.
“They are professional athletes, they should be able to adjust”
That is true. But they don’t. Every season I see five or six games change, just from having the starting pitcher on the base paths. And that is mostly just from watching the New York Mets play. It happens throughout the league.
Robin Venture noticed it. He even talks about walking a pitcher intentionally, so he HAD to run the bases, in an attempt to get the pitcher off his game. I have seen so many pitchers struggle after a trip around the bases that I would instruct my infielders to make the play at first base, and just give the pitcher second. That, rather than allow a speedy lead off runner on first, and letting the pitcher go back and sit in the comfort of the dug out.
Pitchers are athletes, and they should compete with the rest of the team.
Ok. Is Todd Frazier going to come out and close out the game in the ninth for you as well? Would you ask Frazier to bunt a runner from second to third with no outs in a tie game in bottom of the ninth? Or would you let him do what you pay him to do, and have him try to drive in that winning run?
Todd Frazier is paid to drive in runs. Just like Chapman is paid to close out games. You do not ask them to preform other jobs. Jobs they are not good at.
This is not just about base running.
It is asking a pitcher to do a job he is not training to do. Most Mlb batters get 500 to 600 plate appearances every year. Most starting pitchers get between 50 and 60.
Baseball is at a point where it is filled with specialists. Players that do one thing really well, and they get paid to keep doing that one thing really well. With so much specialization in baseball, I say we allow starting pitchers to focus on what they do really well and what they train for. And that is simply to just pitch!
Let us bring the designated hitter to the National League.