Universal Designated Hitter should be here to stay.

In 1973, in response to dwindling offensive production, the American League, acting on its own, opted to adopt a rule that would replace the Pitcher in the batting order, in the hopes that this would increase run production. For reasons that were never clear, altho allowed by the separate governing bodies of the 2 leagues, the National League elected to keep things the way they were. In the short term, the DH did accomplish its objective, altho over time, there still remained no large difference in offense between the A.L. and N.L.

47 years later, during a pandemic which shall go nameless, Major League Baseball, in trying to simplify the cobbled together 60 game regular season that was this year’s offering, determined that teams would play only against teams in their geographic region, and hence AL Central teams would only compete against other AL Central teams and against NL Central teams. Because of this, it just made sense to either use the DH all the time, or not use it at all. Since AL pitchers would be handicapped having to bat more often when many have single digit career at bats at the professional level, the decision was made to use the DH for all games.

The reason for the above summary is because it points to the first and arguably the primary reason why the DH needs to become universal. At the professional level, Pitchers HARDLY EVER BAT in a game. Use of the DH in the minor leagues is pretty much restricted to when 2 teams that are BOTH affiliates of N.L. teams play each other. For that matter, even at the Collegiate level, while the DH is somewhat optional, the majority of teams use it as a way to produce as much offense and play as many players as possible.

in 2019, only 49 Pitchers (all in the N.L. of course) batted 40 or more times! Stephen Strasburg had 72 At Bats, topping all other Pitchers. ONLY 6 had more than 60 At Bats. There are 15 N.L. teams, so an easy comparison is to look at how many batted that many times when all Major League Baseball had a total of 16 teams. In 1930, 86 different pitchers batted 40 or more times. Ted Lyons with 122 At Bats, led the way, and 11 different pitchers batted more than 100 times! Keep in mind, that all the minor leagues and different levels of amateur ball all had the pitchers batting too. As late as 1972 (the last year prior to the enacting of the DH), there were 6 pitchers who batted over 100 times, and a total of 36 pitchers who batted more than Stephen Strasburg did last year! So its easy to see, in contrast, that Modern Day Pitchers aren’t batting much at all–certainly not at the levels they once were.

One of the reasons that Pitcher At Bats have dwindled should be obvious to any one who is even a casual student of the game. Namely, starting pitchers don’t pitch deep into games any more. Complete games have become exceedingly rare: Only 28 were thrown in the shortened 2020 season out of almost 900 games , and even in 2019, only 45 were accomplished out of over 2400 contests! A Starting pitcher who averages even 6 innings per start now is most unusual, even “aces” such as Justin Verlander and Gerritt Cole, only average around 6 1/2 innings per start. So it is often the case that a Starting Pitcher will bat only a couple of times in a game, and since relief pitchers now seldom work more than 1 inning a piece, they are usually pinch hit for, or (thru a double switch) situated in the batting order so they never bat at all.

The point is, the game is ALREADY evolving to where pitchers bat very little, and there is very little reason to resist this for a few very good reasons:

  1. Pitchers generally, and with very few exceptions are TERRIBLE hitters. They don’t get much practice to begin with; they are not asked to be proficient, and most do not want to even concentrate on it. Sure there are exceptions, but what of it? Would you want a Goalie in a Hockey game to skate on a line every 9 shifts? How about having the Punter having to play QB every 9 plays? Why, in a sport, which presumably displays excellence, would you want to provide what couldn’t even be described as up to the level of mediocre, every 9 batters? There were only 8 Pitchers in 2019 who batted 40 or more times, that hit .200 or higher, and had a slugging average of .280 or more. Of the 135 regular position players in 2019 who had 502 plate appearances or more, none batted below .205 or slugged below .321. Yet the baseball purists are happy to run out .100 hitters who have no more chance of hitting for power than you or I. This is inconsistent with the purpose of putting premium athletes in situations where they can display their talents, when it is abundantly clear that the lion’s share of Major League Pitchers have no talent for (or much interest in) skillfully hitting a baseball.
  2. Hitting a baseball, in the current era, is more difficult, AND more dangerous than it ever has been. Pitchers throw faster now, and with a greater range of pitches than ever before. With Specialization, Pitchers have been forced to higher and higher levels of proficiency. Since Starters and Relievers don’t have the inning load they once did, and because Hitters are stronger and hit the ball farther than ever, the game has evolved to where Pitchers throw as hard as they can as long as they can. Pitchers don’t pace themselves, because they know if they do, the other team may put a crooked number up on the board. Consequently, even with an opposing pitcher at bat, he’s going to see the best stuff the hurler has. For someone who has little training, and not a lot of focus, hitting major league pitching is a daunting task, and may actually expose him to the risk of being hit, along w/ all the usual occupational risks associated with hitting, such as fouling a ball off his foot or running the bases.
  3. One of the tasks that Pitchers were asked to perform in the past was bunting. The thought was, if a teammate was on first, even with one out, you could at least bunt him over to 2nd, and then maybe the leadoff hitter could single him home. But think about it– this strategy largely evolved during a period of time when runs were at a premium. This is way back at the beginning of the 20th century– the “deadball era”. At that time, even POSITION PLAYERS were often asked to bunt. Playing for a single run was a common strategy when many games were as low scoring as a hockey or soccer contest. That makes sense to a point, when you are in that paradigm, but it makes no sense at all when the game isn’t even played that way any more. In today’s game, players hardly ever bunt, as most teams would rather play for the big inning. The proliferation of the Home Run has made managers unwilling to sacrifice an out for the chance to score one measly run. Especially when almost all the hitters in the line-up are now capable of hitting the long ball in any At Bat. The ONLY reason that management continues to have pitchers bunt is because they are capable of almost nothing else! It used to be that they’d have them bunt partially to stay out of the double play, reasoning that even if the bunt was poor, it likely would still produce only 1 out. But pitchers at bat strike out so frequently that this concern is rendered meaningless. For example: Sandy Alcantara batted 58 times in 2019 and struck out 46 times. Madison Bumgarner, who at times has been thought to be a reasonably capable hitter, struck out 40 times in his 63 At Bats. Clearly, there is almost nothing that Pitchers can provide, offensively, that is much worth preserving.

There are a number of issues that Major League Baseball should address, and one could argue that this one isn’t the most important. But it has one feature that should be sobering to the Brain Trust of the game. Baseball, because of abundant strike-outs and lengthy at bats with very few fair balls hit into play, has become a bit boring to watch. A 3 hour and 15 minute regular season game on TV is almost impossible to watch. And it shouldn’t be missed that a game that isn’t watched, sooner or later, is not going to produce much advertising revenue. Anyone who thinks that watching Pitchers strike out or bunt is compelling viewing, is probably in camp with those that think the Kick-off in Football is an exciting play. It’s time to let Pitchers be the specialists that they have become over time: Artists whose job it is to throw a baseball skillfully to thwart hitters, and not, to satisfy mis-guided purists who think that watching them flail ineptly at the plate is entertaining.

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