Universal DH Accomplishes Nothing
According to reports yesterday, it is apparent the topic of adding the Designated Hitter to the National League is once again on the table. For some reason, this is a topic brought up for discussion time and again, and it is not clear why as it really does nothing to the sport of baseball and its intended goals as defined by either the owners or the players.
Putting aside for a moment how there are hardcore fans who prefer baseball without a designated hitter, there is zero proof that the designated hitter creates fan interest.
In fact, last year, nine of the top 15 teams in attendance were National League teams. Correspondingly, eight of the 10 teams with the worst attendance were American League teams. Those top end numbers held true in 2017 with six of the bottom ten teams in attendance being American League teams.
As we have seen with the postseason, fans aren’t any more drawn to National League or the American League style of games. In fact, as Sports Media Watch pointed out in response to the declining postseason ratings, it’s the teams who drive the interest in ratings. There is always going to be more interest in the Yankees in the postseason. That is because they are the Yankees, not because they have a DH. Really, if that were true, fans would be more interested in an ALCS between the Rays and the Twins than they would be a Cardinals/Giants NLCS. We know that’s not the case.
When you break it down, if fans interest in games is not driven by the DH or the supposed corresponding offense, you are then trying to solve a problem which does not exist.
Higher Paid Players
With potential labor strife on the horizon, you will see how the Designated Hitter in the National League would create 15 new jobs thereby placating the players. That is wrong on many levels.
First and foremost, the DH does not come with 15 additional roster spots, and as such, it’s not a new job. Instead, it is a team merely reallocating their internal resources. Also, you may want to argue it is a higher paying job, but it’s not.
In the upcoming season, J.D. Martinez is the highest paid player who was signed to be a team’s designated hitter. The next highest is Edwin Encarnacion. When you see these $20+ million figures, you have the starting of a case being built. However, it should be kept in mind those players are really the exception.
According to Spotrac, the bottom half of designated hitters (as ranked by salary) made an average of $4.4 million. Keep in mind, the Mets just signed Jed Lowrie to a salary with a $10 million average annual value to be a super utility infielder. Breaking it down like this, the Designated Hitter is not adding higher paying jobs to anyone except the elite designated hitters. That is the same for any other position.
Beyond that, teams are simply not expanding their payrolls to sign a DH. No, their budgets and payrolls will remain the same. That means nothing will be solved on the labor front by adding a DH.
Need for Uniform Set of Rules
Since Ron Blomberg stepped to the plate in 1973, the American League and the National League have had a separate and distinct set of rules. According to Parks of Baseball, total MLB attendance in 1973 was 30,108,931 or an average of 1.25 million fans per team. Last year, at a time when teams were upset about declining attendance, the only two teams with attendance figures below that number were the Rays and Marlins. In fact, MLB teams averaged 2.3 million fans last year.
As noted by Baseball Almanac, every Major League team has had their best year in attendance over the past 30 years. As previously noted, the National League teams have been the biggest drivers of attendance.
Put another way, fans apparently have no issue with the different set of rules. In fact, you could reasonably argue the different set of rules could be generating interest and debate among fans. Then again, it could have no effect. As we have seen, implementing the DH doesn’t really do anything to garner interest.
Another point to be made here is the National League being the only league where pitchers hit is a false narrative. The Japanese Leagues have a similar design to MLB where the Pacific League has a DH and the Central League does not.
Putting all of that aside, there is absolutely nothing to suggest there is a need for a uniform set of rules, especially since baseball has fans which prefer baseball played different ways. Overall, there is certainly something to be said for creating a product which interests multiple groups of fans.
According to Roster Resource, there were 190 stints on the disabled list for starting pitchers. Of those 190 players, Jacob deGrom was the only one to land on the DL with hyper-extended elbow. It should be noted the DL stint was precautionary and only cost him one start.
Going deeper, the only time we really see pitchers land on the DL for offense related injuries are flukes. The chief examples are Adam Wainwright and Chien-Ming Wang with leg injuries, which basically amounts to a pitcher hurting themselves running. Put another way, they could have landed on the DL for chasing down a bunt. As for Wang, the real issue with his career was his shoulder.
Going deeper, there is a real debate whether avoiding these one-time freak injuries really protects pitchers more than facing a DH in the lineup.
Let’s assume for a moment, the pitcher is an automatic out. Judging from last year’s stats, that’s a fairly safe assumption. With the pitcher being an automatic out, that gives the pitcher fewer high stress pitches than they would have against a DH. Those higher stress pitches contribute more to wear and tear which can eventually lead to an injury.
But more than any of that, pitchers don’t get hurt batting or running the bases. Invoking the argument is a complete red herring.
No One Wants to See Pitchers Hit
As referenced in the first point, that is false. With the National League garnering higher attendance, people obviously want to see pitchers hit. We also see plays like Bartolo Colon‘s home run endlessly replayed because people love seeing it. They want it because this is partially what makes baseball great – the chance you can see anything. Of course, without pitchers hitting, you don’t get to see just anything.
Beyond that, there is way too much focus on the amount of at-bats a pitcher receives. Last year, Max Scherzer led the majors in plate appearances by a pitcher with 78 over the course of 35 games. That averages out to two at-bats per game.
In essence, we are supposed to believe the cure-all for what ails baseball is eliminating at most two at-bats on average per game from the best pitchers in baseball. We are supposed to believe that is going to increase interest and attendance. It is going to drive salaries through he roof at a time when teams have alligator arms when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are free agents.
No, the fact is there are a significant people who are diehard fans who prefer baseball without the DH. There are also fans who love the DH. It is something that is a talking point which does create interest and debate in the game. Overall, a universal DH does nothing to improve the game or improve player relations. Really, it is no more than pointless and unsubstantiated rhetoric.