The Designated Hitter in Major League Baseball: A Solution 


Recently, there’s been discussion in Major League Baseball about expanding the Designated Hitter rule to the National League. The DH has been the subject of endless debate and speculation since it was introduced as an experiment to in the American League in 1973. While the AL adopted the DH rule permanently, the NL has resisted the DH and so for more than four decades the two leagues have played by different rules. In the AL, a designated hitter bats in place of the pitcher while in the NL the pitcher bats for himself. 

I believe that I have come up with a brilliant solution to resolve the DH debate for good, but before I reveal it, let’s sum up the arguments for against the DH. Arguments for the DH include:

  • It adds spark to the offense, and fans like a lot of offense. 
  • Conversely, pitchers can’t hit and fan wants to see any easy out. 
  • Allows players who are talented hitters but weak fielders a place in the game. 
  • Additionally, aging sluggers whose defensive skills are eroding can extend their careers a few years by becoming a DH.
  • Pitchers get injured while batting and base running. 

Arguments against the DH include:

  • Tradition and history. There’s a beautiful symmetry to a game with 9 innings, 9 fielders, and 9 batters. 
  • One of the biggest complaints about baseball is that games are too long. American League games on average are longer than National League games and the DH is a major reason for that. 
  • “Pitchers can’t hit” is not an absolute. Pitchers throughout history have a hit and a wise GM would gain a competitive advantage by having their organization develop and maintain pitchers’ hitting skills. 
  • An aging slugger who extends his career at DH often does so by taking the roster spot of a younger, more versatile player. 
  • Injuries happen all the time, on and off the field and the DH doesn’t stop that. If anything, cross training to pitch, bat, & run helps prepare the body to resist injury. 

My preference is that the DH be eliminated and the game be returned to its purer roots where all players compete in the field and at the plate. But after more than 40 years and endless arguments, I accept that the DH is here to stay. I also believe that the two leagues should follow the same rules. 

So what is my solution? This will initially sound strange but bear with me because I think it’s the perfect compromise. All 30 teams will be able to use the designated hitter, but only on odd numbered days. 

What this means:

  • In games played on odd numbered days (ex: May 1, 3, 5…) all Major League teams may have a DH bat in place of the pitcher. 
  • In games played on even numbered days (ex: May 2, 4, 6…) all Major League teams play by the traditional rules in which the pitcher must bat to remain in the game. 
  • If a game is postponed it will follow the rules of the day the game is actually played. 
  • If a game is suspended and continues on another day it will use the same rules the game started with. 
  • Both games of a double header follow the same rules.  
  • The odd/even rules will also apply to all postseason games. 

Why this works:

  • Just like under current system approximately half the games in a MLB season will be played using the DH rule, and the other half will follow traditional rules. 
  • Unlike the current system, both leagues will be using the same rules. 
  • Fans of the DH and fans of traditional baseball will have plenty of opportunities to see each style no matter which team they follow. In fact it would be interesting if one style of baseball would gain higher ticket sales/TV ratings, although I expect the difference would be negligible. 
  • All teams would get experience in both types of baseball. Pitchers would have to know how to hit, sluggers would have to know how to field, at least half of the time. The imbalance of interleague games where teams are accustomed to playing under different rules would be negated. 
  • Hitters with weak or deteriorating defensive skills would still be able to use the DH to extend their career. In fact, the number of teams competing to offer then contracts would double. As long as they can play half their games as DH, and half as a fielder or pinch hitter, they should continue to be an asset to their teams. 
  • The full-time DH would no longer exist, but this would not be as big a problem as it appears. Most people think of the DH and think of the likes of Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez, or David Ortiz who played the majority of their career as DH. In fact, in 2015 only 8 American League teams had a player appear in more than half the games as DH: Morales (KC) – 141, Fielder (TEX) – 139, Gattis (HOU) – 136, Butler (SEA) – 136, Rodriguez (NYY) – 136, Ortiz (BOS) – 134, Martinez (DET) – 104, and Encarnacion (TOR) – 85. The remaining teams rotated players among defensive positions and the DH, and would be able to continue to do so under my plan. Most of the players listed above would have no problem playing 30-50 games in the field and the rest at DH. So the change for the AL wouldn’t be drastic while opening up opportunities in the NL. 

So that’s my plan. It’s a bit unconventional but I think it will work. Let me know if you agree in the comments below. Or if you have modifications that would make this an even more effective resolution to the DH, let me know those too. And if you think this is a bad idea but have an alternate solution you think would work, I’d love to hear it. 

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2 thoughts on “The Designated Hitter in Major League Baseball: A Solution 

  1. While I agree in spirit in principle a rule governed by odd/even days would be a hard sell. To me it makes the rule less reasonable–a rule is a rule and should be in play for all games.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree it’s a hard sell. When I first had the idea it was for a joke, but the more I thought about it the more sense it makes.

      Besides the DH rules as it is now is not in play for all games. Since neither universal DH nor elimination of the DH rule are acceptable this is a compromise to nor equitably distribute which games use the DH rule.

      Like

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