The Major League Baseball Players Association is reportedly pushing to add a designated hitter to National League rosters as soon as this season, one of several eye-opening changes being batted around by the union, and MLB.
Per reports by Jeff Passan of ESPN and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, MLB on Jan. 14 tendered a proposal to the union for several rule changes, and the union responded with its own proposal on Friday. We'll get to some of the other exchanged ideas shortly. But first we need to tackle the most polarizing of the bunch, the universal DH.
It's fantastic! I don't usually use exclamation points in articles, but hell to the yes, it's about damn time!!!
OK, onto the calmer, more sober brand of analysis. Here are just a few reasons why the time is right to introduce the designated hitter into National League games:
Pitchers can't hit. At all. As a group, they batted an atrocious .115/.144/.149. We can pick on the banjo-hitting Jeff Mathis types of the baseball world, but the worst-hitting position player in the league still annihilates that anemic batting line. Pitchers are worse at hitting now than they've ever been. Romantics like to rhapsodize about the genius-level strategy involved when it comes to second-inning bunts and fifth-inning pinch-hitter decisions. You know what's way more fun than those minor strategic moments? Effing dingers.
"Max Scherzer/Zack Greinke/Madison Bumgarner are passable hitters, so you're wrong!" is not a viable counterargument. For every pitcher who doesn't embarrass himself at the plate there are dozens who make automatic outs, and humiliate themselves doing so. If a hitter like Matt Davidson decides to try his hand as a two-way player, that's definitely cool...but it's also his choice. If you forced hitters to pitch, the game would quickly become a joke. Though pitchers coming up to hit would happen far less frequently than our hypothetical all-hitters-must-pitch scenario, even one or two at-bats per game by a pitcher is still a farce that's ugly to watch.
Pitchers don't train to be hitters. In high school, college, and the minors, the DH rule kicks in, turning hitting ability into a pointless skill. Hell, if a pitcher gets drafted by an American League team, then signs with a National League team as a free agent, it might be a decade and a half between bouts as someone who hits with any regularity.
Because pitchers don't train to hit, they also don't train to run the bases. So while position players will have a lifetime to get used to stopping and starting and sprinting and sliding the way you would on the basepaths, pitchers (while still athletic) wouldn't be as prepared for those specific types of motions. This is how catastrophic injuries occur. Given that pitchers already have to dodge all the lat strains, shoulder impingements, and Tommy John surgeries under the sun, helping them avoid further injury risk is the right thing to do.
Though the DH rule officially took effect in 1973, its origins trace back to the 19th century, according to excellent MLB historian John Thorn. The intent then was the same as it is now: to replace the pitcher in the batting order with someone who'd do a better job of swinging the bat.