DH to the NL?

Welcome Major League Baseball’s National League to the 21st century.

Well, sort of.

On Thursday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters that the role of the designated hitter could be making its way to the NL, possibly as early as for the start of the 2017 regular season.

“Twenty years ago, when you talked to Nationals League owner about the DH, you’d think you were talking some sort of heretical comment,” Manfred said. “But we have a newer group. There has been turnover, and I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways that we think would be good for the fans, always respecting the history and traditions of the sport.”

Designated hitter has been a position in the American League since 1973, and has been the cause of much discussion. The debate of whether or not the American and National Leagues should be the same in who hits and who doesn’t has intensified in recent years.

However, the debate has seemingly only been held amongst baseball fans and media personnel, and hasn’t gained much ground where it counts, in baseball front offices and amongst other MLB executives and officials.

That is until now.

Despite MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre saying, “It hasn’t even been talked about,” after meetings on Thursday, it’s obvious that the expanding the role of the DH to the National League is gaining momentum.

Personally, I’ve always felt that the two leagues need to be unified in that they both have a designated hitter.

Traditionalists will say that pitchers hitting, and that the strategy it entails on the part of the manager, is part of the fabric of the game that has been there since the current rules of the game were adopted. But, in a practical sense it doesn’t work.

Part of the reason that I believe that pitchers have continued to be forced to hit in the National League this long is because, and Tony Kornheiser echoed this opinion Thursday night on PTI, in high school the best hitter on the team is normally a pitcher, too.

But things don’t work that way anymore.

Having friends that play baseball at the collegiate level, they say college coaches make you choose between pitching, and playing the field and hitting. Too much time must be invested in honing your craft as a collegiate pitcher to also get the necessary cuts in the cage to be a truly successful hitter.

In order to make it to the next level, pitchers sacrifice time in the batting cage for band work, strength training and time on the mound.

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Davis & Elkins College sophomore Tyler Mason delivers a pitch during summer league action last June. Mason is an infielder for the Senators but also pitched in high school for Martinsburg High School.  Photo by Ryan Decker
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Glenville St. University junior Chris Longdo fouls off a pitch during a summer league game last June. Longdo primarily plays first base for the Pioneers but he also pitched during high school for MHS.  Photo by Ryan Decker

I can only imagine that pitchers that move on to the majors have to dedicate even more time to fine tuning their delivery and their pitches if they want to be successful.

So then why are they still hitting?

Last year 86 pitchers in the MLB had 20 or more at bats. Thirty of those pitchers hit for an average less than .100, including Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Mike Bolsinger, who finished the season with a .026 average.

Only 12 pitchers hit for an average greater than was greater than .200, the highest being .292 by veteran Mat Latos.

Who wants to watch that? Who wants to watch a “hitter” be successful (get a hit) less than 1.5 times out of 10? That’s half as much as what position players strive to hit for every year.

I’m all for knowing how to lay down a good bunt, but haven’t we reached a point where a “hitter” that can only bunt and strike out is a waste of an at bat that could’ve been better used by someone that can hit the ball over the fence or at least has a decent chance of hitting the ball the other way to drive in the runner from second?

Pitchers are paid to pitch. Not to hit.

Look what happened to Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright this past year.

The achilies tendon in his left foot snapped as he was coming out of the box in Milwaukee in late April. The injury forced him to miss the next five months of the season.

Luckily for the Cards Wainwright’s injury was somewhat overlooked considering St. Louis won 100 games this season. But on any other team, the injury could’ve been catastrophic.

Wainwright didn’t need to be hitting. He should’ve been in the dugout talking to manager Mike Matheny and catcher Yadier Molina about how he was going to pitch against the Milwaukee hitters during the next half inning.

Not only is having pitchers hit in one league while a DH fills a spot in the lineup in the other dumb, it also creates an imbalance during inter-league games, which is now an every day occurrence.

During the regular season, there is supposed to be at least one inter-league game every day. How can we properly determine which is the better league when the teams are used to playing by two different sets of rules?

It doesn’t make much sense.

Baseball hasn’t changed much over the last 100 years or so. But one of the changes that was made was the inception of the DH. And it works.

If having a designated hitter didn’t work Major League Baseball would’ve gotten rid of it long ago. Pitchers hitting doesn’t work, though.

So, Commissioner Manfred, put the DH in the NL, please.

 

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