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.
Once again, we have seen Major League Baseball has floated the idea of implementing the Designated Hitter in the National League only to drop the issue again. That said, in some corners there is the perception there will be a universal DH sooner rather than later. In others, it seems as if baseball wants to keep this topic forever as a debate.
To that end, the Mets Bloggers have undertaken the question about whether the National League should implement the Designated Hitter:
he DH sucks. Plain and simple. However, pitchers aren’t hitting a lot in college. They’re not hitting a lot in the minors. Teams don’t even have their pitchers hit in exhibition games until the third week of March. Clubs are telling their pitchers to not invest energy into many of their at bats, they hardly run when they make contact, and quite frankly, most of them can’t bunt. The point is, more and more it has generally become an automatic out and if that’s how the game is evolving, I see no reason to not embrace a change like this.
Generally there is now no investment into that lineup spot in the NL anymore. Teams don’t want to invest there. They’d rather the pitcher strike out three times with RISP and less than two outs and turn in 7 innings of quality pitching. That’s where they see their value. And honestly, it’s fair at these salaries.
Michael Ganci (Daily Stache)
Okay, I am a traditionalist, so not a big fan of the DH, but I understand that it’s inevitably going to be a part of the game in the not-too-distant future. The thought of implementing it for 2019 is downright asinine, because teams are mostly finished constructing their rosters (sorry Bryce Harper and Manny Machado). It’s going to be a sad reality to not see guys like Bartolo Colon have their moments in the sun. I guess with Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes though, we have built-in DH candidates on the roster.
Mark Healey (Gotham Baseball)
A little birdie told me that Brodie Van Wagenen was quite aware as to these behind the curtain machinations. I don’t need to have pitchers hit, nor am I going to die on a hill for double switches.
So, I dig the DH.
Joe Maracic (Loud Egg)
Many don’t want a DH in the NL, until they start driving in runs for their team. Another bonus, one less thing for a manager to screw up.
Metstradamus (Metstradums Blog)
I’m not a fan of the DH … but I’m old so that’s to be expected (get off my lawn). But what I’m less a fan of is half the teams in the league having to allocate roster space and salary differently than the other half. AL teams get to spend $20 million on a DH to hit 30/100 and completely ignore their bench, while NL teams actually have to spend on a bench. There’s a reason AL teams have killed NL teams in interleague play until last season. Everything else about the leagues have been homogenized, this very significant rule should be as well. While I would prefer the leagues to get rid of the DH, with every single minor and independent league having a DH, that’s not realistic. So bring it on, in the name of fairness.
Greg Prince (Faith and Fear in Flushing)
I never asked for the DH and would never ask for the DH. I’d ask for its abolition altogether if possible, but I understand it’s not. Let the AL have its arrhythmic game. Let me have the one that flows naturally, with the pitcher batting ninth, occasionally surprising us with a hit and turning the lineup over until it’s time for the manager to make a decision.
MLB should feel free to add a team to each league, giving us 16 apiece in the NL and AL and eliminate Interleague play and save AL pitchers the intermittent horror of remembering how to approach a fundamental aspect of baseball until the World Series.
Bre S. (That Mets Chick)
I just want what benefits the Mets overall. Cano can fit as a DH, so can Cespedes and Peter Alonso. Tough decision.
Having a DH would certainly make the Mets lineup look better and more versatile. Plus cano is with the Mets until he’s what? 41-42? lol
Tim Ryder (MMO)
Do I want to? I’m indifferent. I don’t think I’d miss “traditional baseball”, though. I’m having a hard time justifying a collective .115/.144/.148 slash line for pitchers in 2018 with a 42.2 K% over 5k+ PA just to save the beautiful strategic aspect of the National League game. Plus, it could be beneficial for a suddenly depth-laden team like the Mets. The hypothetical luxury of plugging, say, Broxton into the OF late and with a lead AND keeping Michael Conforto or Brandon Nimmo in the game as the DH would be a good thing.
James Schapiro (Shea Bridge Report)
I don’t like the DH, which I don’t think is a secret. But I would be willing to accept a universal DH if it meant everyone would be satisfied and we could back off these ridiculous pace-of-play proposals. Adding a DH doesn’t actually do much to change the game on the field; it’s just a different person hitting. But almost every pace-of-play proposal out there is a terrible idea. Pitch clock? Bad idea. The dumb thing with automatic runners on second in extra innings? Bad idea. So if a DH in the NL means we avoid those, then I would accept it. But if it’s just the first of a bunch of changes that Manfred is waiting to jam down our throats, then it’s a very bad thing.
I’ve written on my distaste for the National League DH on a number of occasions. Rather than regurgitate it all ad nauseum here, I’ll synopsize it by saying MLB needs to tread carefully. Once you implement the DH in the NL, you have forever changed the game by eliminating the purest style of baseball there is. It is a style many love dearly. Even if the die hards are still going to watch, it does not mean you should snub your noses at them to try to institute something which will likely not accomplish its purported goals.
Once again, I sincerely thank all of these very talented writers for contributing to one of these roundtables, and I encourage everyone reading this roudtables to click the above links and read their excellent work.
At the end of the day, baseball is an entertainment product. If it does not deliver what its fans want, they risk losing them.
Much like presidential election time, there doesn’t seem to be just one poll that provides a definitive answer. So instead, we’re going to look at a number of polls to try to find some sort of consensus. Admittedly, each and every single one of these polls has some issues. These issues stem from sample sizes, inability to control people from voting multiple times (on their phone, tablet, or computer), and lastly, we don’t know how the polling question was necessarily presented.
With that said, looking at a number of polls can be informative. Here’s a look at some polls taken on the issue:
- Public Policy Polling found that 55% of people want to see pitcher’s hit
- NJ.com reported 59.41% of people do not want the DH in the National League
- CBS Boston poll results were 52.14% wanted no DH, 30.35% thought both leagues should have the same rules, and 17.51% wanted to leave the current rules in place
- ESPN Radio Cincinnati poll indicates 57% of people do not want the DH in the National League
- A Reddit poll essentially determine AL fans love the DH and NL fans hate it.
I’m sure there are polls that I missed that may prove fans feel differently. I also don’t think that five different polls is definitive. However, it is informative. As the last Reddit poll shows, people seem to like their brand of baseball.
Depending on whether you buy the Abner Doubleday story or not, the game of baseball has been played since 1839. In those 176 years of baseball, somewhere there was a pitcher hitting for himself. It’s apparent not just from these limited poll results, but also from the strong opinions everywhere on the topic, people like the idea of the National League having the pitcher hit.
For those fans who don’t like it, who will not watch a game without a DH, there is the American League. As we see, people seem to care less about the DH, and more about seeing good baseball. If you put two, good, talented, and interesting teams on the field people will watch regardless of whether or not the pitcher is batting for himself.
This is a big game that lasted a lot of years. It lasted through scandals like the Black Sox and steroids in the 90’s. It survived with pitchers hitting. Generally speaking, people like baseball. Many of those people like it with the pitcher hitting. There’s no need to add the DH to the National League.
The fans just don’t want it.
One of the reasons offered for the institution of the DH is to protect pitchers. Pitchers are expensive, and you don’t want them getting injured at the plate or on the basepaths. The theory is the DH would prevent these pitcher injuries.
On the surface, it seems like a reasonable argument. Last year, pitchers made 243 trips to the DL. That’s 213 times more than any other position. Of those 243 trips to the DL, guess how many of them were batter or basepath injuries? There was only one pitcher. Adam Wainwright suffered a torn Achillies tendon while swinging the bat. It’s true that Wainwright was injured while batting, but was he injured because he was batting?
Achillies tendon injuries are due to overuse or tightness in the muscles and tendons. Achillies tendon injuries are common in people who play sports, including baseball players. People who are in their thirties or forties, like Wainwright, are more susceptible to an Achillies injury. Overall, unless you’re involved in a serious accident, an Achillies tendon tear is not caused by any one event.
Yes, Wainwright injured himself while batting, but that was not the cause of his injury. Unfortunately, as is the nature of Achillies tendon injuries, it’s not one event, it’s a multitude of events. The specific act of batting for Wainwright is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t the reason he tore his Achillies tendon. It doesn’t work that way.
Yes, there are pitchers who are legitimately injured at the plate or on the basepaths. There are examples, which include getting hit by a pitch, swinging a bat, or running the bases. However, these injuries are few and far between.
Let’s look at it from another perspective. Next to pitchers, left fielders went to the DL more than any other position last year with 30 trips to the DL last year. Let’s assume for a minute each and every single one of the DL trips by left fielders were sustained as a result of batting or baserunning activities. Let’s further assume that regardless of position, any position on the field will have 30 trips to the DL as a result of batting or baserunning activities. Finally, let’s assume these 30 DL trips were already a part of the DL trips made by pitchers last year (this way the denominator of total DL trips isn’t increased).
With all these assumptions, batting and baserunning injuries would only comprise 12.3% of all pitcher injuries. That tells us that the real issue with pitchers is that they get injured with pitching. They rarely get injured batting or running the bases. In fact, the real percentage of pitchers getting injured at the plate or on the basepaths 0% – 0.004% of the time depending on what you believe the cause of Adam Wainwright’s injury was.
If you want to solve the problems with pitchers getting injured, find a way to protect their arms. Keeping them off the basepaths isn’t going to keep them healthy. This is not the reason to add a DH to the National League.
In 1973, the American League instituted the DH in order to increase scoring and attendance. It’s now 2016, and there is a call for the National League to adopt the DH for various reasons, including increasing offense. While we can admit a DH is a better hitter than a pitcher, what impact does a DH have upon offense.
To look at offenses, let’s look at baserunners. The best gauge for baserunners is OBP. Here’s the OBP average per team in the AL and NL the past 10 years:
- 2015: AL .318/NL .316
- 2014: AL .316/NL .312
- 2013: AL .320/NL .315
- 2012: AL .320/NL .318
- 2011: AL .322/NL .319
- 2010: AL .327/NL .324
- 2009: AL .335/NL .330
- 2008: AL .335/NL .331
- 2007: AL .338/NL .334
- 2006: AL .339/NL .334
Even with the automatic pitcher outs, there isn’t a great disparity in the OBP between the league’s. However, there are more baserunners in the AL. As a result, it is reasonable to expect that there will be the average AL team will score more runs over the same timeframe:
- 2015: AL 710/NL 666
- 2014: AL 677/NL 640
- 2013: AL 702/NL 649
- 2012: AL 721/NL 683
- 2011: AL 723/NL 668
- 2010: AL 721/NL 701
- 2009: AL 781/NL 718
- 2008: AL 775/NL 734
- 2007: AL 794/NL 763
- 2006: AL 804/NL 771
Again, it is undoubtedly true the average AL team scores more runs over the course of a season, especially in 2009. However, to determine what impact these additional runs have on a game, we need to look at what the average runs an average team scores per game
- 2015: AL 4.38/NL 4.11 Difference 0.27
- 2014: AL 4.18/NL 3.95 Difference 0.21
- 2013: AL 4.33/NL 4.01 Difference 0.32
- 2012: AL 4.45/NL 4.22 Difference 0.23
- 2011: AL 4.46/NL 4.12 Difference 0.34
- 2010: AL 4.45/NL 4.33 Difference 0.12
- 2009: AL 4.83/NL 4.43 Difference 0.40
- 2008: AL 4.78/NL 4.53 Difference 0.25
- 2007: AL 4.90/NL 4.71 Difference 0.19
- 2006: AL 4.96/NL 4.76 Difference 0.20
So overall, even with the DH, the average AL team does not even score a run more per game than the average NL team. the highest differential over the last ten years was in 2009 when it was 0.40 runs per game. There may be different reasons to explain why these numbers are so close. However, these are numbers are close each and every year over the course of a decade.
So while many will say the DH increase offense, they would be right. However, they are wrong on the extent of the impact. The impact is essentially negligible.
Even though Commissioner Rob Manfred said the NL will not have the DH anytime soon, he has opened up Pandora’s box with his previous comments that the NL could see the DH in 2017. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring at the end of the year, the issue is still on that table. Accordingly, I believe it’s an issue that still needs to be addressed.
Now one of the key arguments anyone has in requesting the DH be implemented in the National League is because the move would increase offense. That is undoubtedly true. The corollary to this argument is that more offense will create higher ratings. It’s an axiom that is heard time and again, but is it true?
Before delving more in depth, there needs to be a clear understanding of baseball’s current business model. Baseball has become a regional sport. Part of this can be attributed to the rise of regional sports networks like SNY and YES. More likely, this is the result of every team having all 162 games televised. Given the choice, a vast majority of sports fans will choose to watch their team play than watch the National Game of the Week. For example, when ESPN has Wednesday Night Baseball, I’m watching the Mets.
The only real issue of what drives ratings is when the postseason begins. At that time, a fan has no other baseball viewing option. Whether you’re a die hard fan or a casual fan, you’re choices are limited.
For my determination of whether or not the DH helps with ratings, I selected the ALCS and the NLCS. With there being four division series shown at different times of the day, the issue of availability becomes murky. However, typically, MLB attempts to schedule the ALCS and the NLCS so there’s as little conflict as possible.
Last year, the NLCS between the Mets and Cubs was the most watched NLCS since 2010. The series averaged almost eight million viewers per game in what was a four game sweep. On the flip side, the ALCS was drawing record low numbers. There was a disparity of about three to seven million per game who watched each series. In 2014, the script was much different.
The 2014 NLCS featured the Giants and the Cardinals, two fairly historic and important National League teams. The Giants last won a World Series in 2012, and the Cardinals were in the World Series the previous year. This NLCS had terrible ratings. The Giants-Cardinals series drew about 4.5 million viewers per game. That was down two million from these teams NLCS two years earlier.
The 2014 ALCS between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals drew terrific ratings. The series averaged 5.1 million viewers. It consistently outdrew the NLCS. It outdrew the NLCS despite having smaller media markets and less historic franchises. Was the difference the DH and the increased scoring that goes with it? No.
As we have seen, baseball will tend to attract more fans with better and more compelling series. It should be of no surprise that Mets-Cubs drew terrific ratings. These were two young teams with some terrific pitching going head-to-head. It also didn’t hurt these franchises had a history. It also doesn’t hurt that the Cubs haven’t won in forever.
So no, the DH and increased offense isn’t what is driving ratings. It’s the matchups. Plain and simple. If someone says the DH will hp increase offense and create better ratings, they are creating a narrative that simply does not exist. Sure, someone can argue that they don’t want to see a pitcher hit, but we also know it won’t stop them from watching a compelling game or series.
Overall, ratings is not a reason to bring the DH into the National League.
If you’ve worked anywhere, and a new boss comes in, you know they want to immediately set new things in place. They want to leave their mark. It doesn’t matter if the changes are needed or wanted. When Commissioner Rob Manfred took the helm, he set forth to improve the pace of play and average game times.
We can discuss whether the changes and/or enforcing of rules already in place was a good thing. We can debate if the changes had a noticeable impact. We can even argue if this was even necessary. That is all besides the point. What is clear, however, is that is something that the Commissioner wanted to improve.
To me, this is why the “momentum” towards adding the DH in the NL doesn’t make sense. Let’s start with the subjective. At a minimum, for innings 1-5, a National League pitcher will normally get at least two at bats. When a pitcher comes up to bat, you normally see an out. This out may be the result of the pitcher being a poor hitter. The out may be as a result of the pitcher going up there to sacrifice bunt. Regardless, the pitcher is typically a quick out. When there are quick outs, you move the game along more quickly.
Now, this quick out that helps move the game along and arguably helps improve the pace of play is replaced with a DH. As structured a DH is not an easy out. They’re typical a better hitter than the pitcher who wins the Silver Slugger. This year it was Madison Bumgarner, who hit .247/.275/.468 with five homers and 9 RBI. That’s an outlier, where you are blown over by that pitcher’s hitting stats. If you got that from a position player or a DH, you’d be screaming for them to be benched, like Evan Gattis, who hit .246/.285/.463. Side note, what was A.J. Hinch thinking last year making Gattis the DH for 136 regular season games and all six postseason games?
While it’s noteworthy that the worst DH was a better hitter than the best hitting pitcher, it’s not a complete analysis. Given that I live in the New York market, I predominantly see the Mets and Yankees play. As you may guess, I watch a lot more Mets games. In any event, in New York, the best hitting pitcher is Jacob de Grom, who hit .186/.226/.203. The Yankees normal DH was a guy you might have heard of who goes by the name Alex Rodriguez. Last year, A-Rod hit .250/.356/.486. That’s a massive difference. With A-Rod getting on base much more frequently over the position he’s replacing, the game should be longer.
However, is that necessarily true? We can think it makes the games longer, but that does not make it necessarily true. Well, it turns out AL games are typically longer than NL games. In 2014, AL games were about four minutes longer than NL games. Admittedly, four minutes may not seem like much time. However, MLB put measures in place to reduce game times, and the net result was six less minutes per game. Say what you want with respect to this, but it’s a start.
In all fairness, it does appear that the pace of play initiative had a more profound impact on the AL. The split between the NL and AL is now approximately one minute. With that said, NL games are still shorter. I’m still interested to see if: (1) MLB will continue this initiative; and (2) what the further impact this initiative has on both leagues.
However, the main point is MLB wants to shorten games. If the DH is introduced into the NL, game times will lengthen. These two concepts do not jive. As such, if MLB wants to reduce game times, it should keep the DH out of the National League.
Editor’s Note: this is the first in a series on the possibility of the NL adding the DH.