National League DH Arguments Are Highly Flawed
Major League Baseball is embroiled in the sign stealing scandal, so it was time for baseball to dust off the old universal DH alarm. Many will have you believe there’s an air of inevitability to it, and from a Mets perspective, we hear this is the best case scenario with Robinson Cano, J.D. Davis, and Dominic Smith (as if you can DH three players).
Whenever we hear about this, proponents of the universal DH rush to make arguments which don’t hold up to scrutiny. Let’s look at them:
No One Wants To See Pitcher’s Hit
Looking at attendance figures, the last time an AL team had the highest attendance was 2010. This year, three of the top five and six of the top 10 teams in attendance were NL teams. By the same token, nine of the worst 11 teams in attendance were AL teams.
This is something which holds true year-in and year-out. If the DH is really a drawing point for fans, it’s not showing up in attendance figures.
Pitchers Kill Rallies
The scenario always painted is based loaded, two outs, your team down one, and you lose because the pitcher comes up to the plate. Frankly, this doesn’t happen.
In 2019, Stephen Strasburg led all pitchers in plate appearances. He averaged 2.3 plate appearances per game. Frankly, he and all pitchers are out of the game for a pinch hitter when the game is on the line.
On that front, from the seventh inning on, NL punch hitters have a 78 wRC+. That’s slightly higher than AL ninth place hitters with their 77 wRC+. Fact is, when the game is on the line, NL and AL teams are sending the same caliber of hitter to the plate.
As for the pitchers being rally killers, it’s hard to argue they’re not even if the case is grossly overstated. In 2019, there were 2,079 PA by batters with two outs and runners in scoring position. Only 97 of those PA (4.7%) were from pitchers.
Really, when you break it down, pitchers aren’t getting the plate appearances in high leverage situations proponents of the DH want you to believe.
DH Means More Offense
Now, there’s no doubting a DH is a better hitter than a pitcher. After all, in 2019, DHs had a 104 wRC+ as compared to the pitchers -18 wRC+. That’s an astronomical difference.
Even with the difference between the two, it’s not making the difference in run scoring and offense as people will have you believe.
In 2019, NL teams hit .251/323/.431, and AL teams hit .253/.323/.439. On average, NL teams scored 4.8 runs per game, and AL teams scored 4.9 runs per game. That is not remotely close to being a significant difference. In fact, on a game-to-game basis, it’s not remotely discernible.
This may come as a surprise when you look at the difference between a pitcher and DH hitting. However, as noted above, most pitchers get two PA per game. As the game moves towards increased bullpen use, that number will drop. Between that and pitchers not batting in high leverage situations, there shouldn’t be much of a surprise there’s no real difference in run scoring between the leagues.
The DH Adds Jobs
One argument for the DH is it adds jobs. It doesn’t. If you look, both AL and NL teams have 26 man rosters. The DH isn’t adding a roster spot, but rather, another spot in the lineup. As shown above, that spot alone isn’t driving attendance or run scoring.
DH Keeps Veterans Around Longer
This has always been a curious argument. At its core, this argument is saying fans would want to see older players with severely diminished skills over exciting young players.
Putting that aside, that’s not how teams utilize the DH. Last year, the 10 batters who had the most PA as a DH were:
- Nelson Cruz (39)
- Khris Davis (32)
- J.D. Martinez (32)
- Renato Nunez (25)
- Jorge Soler (27)
- Miguel Cabrera (36)
- Shohei Ohtani (25)
- Daniel Vogelbach (27)
- Yordan Alvarez (22)
- Shin-Soo Choo (37)
If you’re looking to discern a pattern here, it is these are players teams have decided they don’t want in the field. That applies to the 22 year old reigning AL Rookie of the Year to the 2013 AL MVP.
Looking at Cabrera, he is a DH not because teams want to see him finish up his Hall of Fame career and give him a chance to put more numbers. Rather, it is because he has a long-term deal, and the Tigers have to play him somewhere.
Cabrera and players like Cruz are a dying breed in the AL. Teams are increasingly using the DH for poor fielders or as a way to keep players fresh. We’re not seeing it as a place where Vladimir Guerrero or other Hall of Famers try to hang on for a few more years.
Pitcher Injury Concerns
Whenever this issue comes up, we undoubtedly hear about Chien-Ming Wang‘s season ending injury. It was unfortunate, but let’s revisit it.
Wang injured himself running. No, not sliding into a base. Not a collision with a fielder. He injured himself running. Want to throw in it was from his stepping on a base, fine, go ahead.
Realistically speaking, this is no different, than pitchers running to cover first. They run full speed and step on the base. In the end, Wang injured himself on a non-contact baseball play.
If the issue is we don’t want to see pitchers running and stepping on bases, we’re going to have to find out a new way to handle plays were first basemen have to stray too far off first to field the ball.
Another point on Wang’s unfortunate injury was this occurred over a decade ago, and we haven’t seen another pitcher suffer a similar injury since that time. We also don’t see pitchers suffer injuries batting.
In essence, this is an overreaction to an isolated event, which as we have seen, happens maybe once a decade.
MLB Is Only League Where Pitchers Hit
This is just flat out false. In fact, the NPL Central League also has pitchers batting. When you look at it that way, the two very best professional baseball leagues have pitchers batting.
In the minors, we also will see pitchers batting when NL affiliates square off against one another.
Looking at it this way, why should baseball lower its standards to what semi-professional and amateur leagues do? Aren’t these supposed to be the absolute best players playing at the highest level?
Really, it doesn’t make sense to lower baseball’s standards to comply with what far lesser professional leagues do.
Overall, this is much like the argument for the universal DH. It’s mostly largely unsubstantiated rhetoric which comports to what people think the DH should do, but doesn’t.
In the end, there are a substantial number of baseball fans who love the National League style of baseball. They should be permitted to enjoy that baseball, which as we have seen, generates higher attendance and larger revenues while having a game with more strategy and substantially speaking, the same amount of offense.
If you still can’t handle those roughly two PA per game from pitchers, there’s a whole league you can enjoy while you leave the traditional and better baseball for the rest of us, who based on the numbers, outnumber the DH or bust fans.