Weekend Debate: Should the NL Adopt the DH?

Jared Martin

Major League Baseball is pretty unique in that one of its two leagues plays with a designated hitter (DH) and the other does not. There are people on either side of the debate over whether the National League should use a DH to mirror their American League counterpart. 

This will be the first installment of Pirate Maven's weekend debate where tackle controversial issues in the baseball world. The debate will pin two of us against each other as we attempt to, with all of your help, make the case for our side of the argument. The debate will progress throughout the weekend. So, make sure to tune back in as the guys respond to each other, and all of you. 

Make sure you comment your opinion below. The guys will be checking the comments and using those that are helpful to their stance in their follow-ups.

The tale of the tape has Gary Morgan in the corner of a rule change in favor of the NL adpoting the DH, and Craig Toth, a self-proclaimed baseball purist, arguing for keeping everything the way it currently is. I will be playing the part of the unbiased mediator. I will make sure that guys keep it civil, limiting the use of all caps, and making sure they don't type over top of each other.

So, without further ado, let's get into the opening statements.

Should the NL adopt the DH?

Gary's opening statement: Absolutely! Look no further than the Cardinals needing to move and the Rays wanting to acquire a player like Jose Martinez. He is a ready-made DH and the Bucs themselves have a perfect candidate in Josh Bell. It’s just plain silly to have a league with two different conferences that don’t follow the same rules. The time has come.

The only arguments I’ve seen against the DH in the NL are dripping with baseball purists’ standpoints. Never do I hear arguments that the game itself would suffer. I love Steven Brault at the plate, but I’m not willing to block progress so I can watch one guy hit. The way things are, you can’t even compare stats between the AL and NL for pitchers as half never face the free out that most pitchers are at the plate. 

Interleague play suffers as the AL teams can’t play one of their best hitters or are forced to have them play the field where they rarely have a good showing. The NL teams are rarely blessed with the overflow talent to put a sure-fire DH in the lineup and typically use it as a way to sit a guy who probably profiles as a DH in the first place.

Bottom line, its silly to have two rules for one league. Change my mind.

Craig's opening statement: NOPE! The Designated Hitter was revived from earlier deaths in 1906 (Connie Mack) and 1928 (National League President, John Heydler) by eccentric A’s owner Charlie Finely, in the early 70’s, with the sole purpose of bringing in more fans by making the game more entertaining. At that time the American League was far behind the National League in both scoring and attendance. It was originally a three year “experiment”, beginning in 1976, that was eventually adopted and became part of the rules in 1976. It wasn’t until 1986 that it was regularly instituted in World Series games. 

So how is this 3 year experiment doing 46 years later? Well this past year National League attendance was at approximately 31.7 Million, while American League was at 28.8. Now I know there are interleague games now, but I believe the totals would most likely offset due to the number of games played in each ball park being split and this is even with the lowly total of 811,302 by the Miami Marlins. As far as runs scored the AL has surpassed the NL 41 of the past 46 years and since they have a DH it should be by an astronomical number right? Not exactly the largest margins in runs per game was in 1996 (.71 runs per game) and the smallest was just 3 years ago in 2016 (.08). If you were wondering what it was last year; it crept back up to .11 runs per game. 

Why hasn’t the AL been scoring a ton more runs and attracting a ton more fans? Well competitiveness could be one explanation as 8 of the top 12 were National Teams that either made it to the playoffs or were in the hunt until late in the season. It could also be the fact that designated hitters don’t always hit as well as we think or assume that they do. The number 8 ranked DH last year had a wRC+ of 100 and the 9th ranked Designated Hitter had a wRC+ of 74, while the aforementioned Steven Brault had a wRC+ of 105. That means that the aforementioned Steven Brault hit better than 8 of the American Leagues’ designated hitters, which can either be seen as awesome or really, really sad. So tell me again how the DH has benefited the AL? 

That was a great debate! If you're just joining us, read through the comments. There were plenty of great points made on both sides. Here's what the guys had to say.

Gary: Well, I learned one thing above all today, passion on both sides of the DH argument is alive and well.

I’m sure I speak for Jared Martin and Craig Toth when I say Thank You all for your thoughtful responses.

As you all read, I’m for the DH being added to the NL and several comments did give me pause. Like this one from our friend BlackMax:

blackmax

I can’t say he’s wrong, although I’m fairly certain the players union would have some issues with only having 6 batters. Still it shows how deep this subject hits many of us and the depth of the conversation. Its so much more than yes or no.

On the other side we saw great takes like this one from Nachoaveragebucsfan:

nacho

Strategy is an argument against the DH I can truly identify with. It’s why I was against it for so very long in the first place. But as was pointed out by this comment it wouldn’t do away with strategy, just change it.

Some like Colelrad made it personal to the Bucs which I love:

conelrad

And yes that is a viable angle. Think of how many players we have had to move on from because they were a tailor made DH!

At the end of the day, I still want to see the DH, but I’ve been shaken a bit by the outpouring of support for never ever bringing it to NL play. But that’s not my fight. Craig, on to you!

Craig: Not sure if my mind has been changed yet or that I have seen the light, but I can say the wheels are turning a little bit as to whether I would be OK with the DH should be introduced into the National League. @JBdouble_nickel on Twitter gave me the most push back and came close to changing my mind. 

You almost had me there, but luckily I snapped out of it long enough to have a nice back and forth, with me coming out on top by a wide margin (total sarcasm). I still stand by my point that the pinch hitter role can be used to keep aging players around (especially when they are on giant contracts teams don’t have options to get out of), that it doesn’t slow down the pace of play and it’s not like every team employs an All-Star caliber DH in their lineup, so how much extra “oomph” does it really provide?

As far as helpers I had a lot! One was RichardG on SI PirateMaven. 

richardg

Well said sir! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Some may say nostalgia; say it’s at the heart of the game we all love. 

Mrkillie was another that laid it on thick! 

mrkillie

This is maybe the most forgotten person affected by the DH; the role player, the defensive substitution or the pinch runner. Yeah that guy can still be used to run for your DH that can’t run. 

Clay Coey from Facebook was probably the most passionate, even more than me. 

“REMOVE THE DH from the American League and make those overpaid players EARN it again.”Wear and use a glove...swing a bat"...or you DON'T make the team.” 

I would not go as far as removing from the AL, but I also wouldn’t force it on the NL. Just because one guy can’t make at his current minor league position, it doesn't mean he is better suited as a DH. Maybe he is just in the wrong position and can be utilized somewhere else on the field.

 A lot of you insinuated that the DH is a power hitting/excitement factor. So is the pinch hit home run, a suicide squeeze or a bunt single to get the defense back on their heels. Call be old school. Call me a purist. Call me whatever you will. Just don’t force the DH on me (and my army of supporters). We love the game just the way it is. 

Conclusion

I can honestly say I had no strong opinion one way or another going into this, no real leanings either. It wasn't that I never thought critically about it, I obviously have. It was just that I could see the pros and cons for each side and they just seemed to balance out for me. With that said, I was convinced, although slightly, by one side, and I will lay out that journey here.

It's important to note the bias that became very clear throughout the day yesterday. This is a site that is dedicated to coverage of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a National League team. So, there is an inherent bias among our readers towards the way that baseball is played in the league they watch most regularly.

I'd like to commend Gary Morgan and the pro-DH crowd for holding down their point of view while getting lambasted with new arguments regularly. They did as well as they could, but the anti-DH crowd was overwhelming. Maybe it was the volume, but it was their arguments that were most compelling to me. There were two key points that I feel won the day, but before I get into those, I'd like to highlight what I thought were the best arguments from Gary and his pro-DH peers.

The idea that baseball is the only league with separate rules between their leagues/conferences is an issue. I agree with some in that it's an interesting twist that baseball has that no other sport does, but to me it's a net negative. It reminds me of the Demetri Martin joke where he talks about how he got around his college campus on a unicycle. In his mind he was thinking (and I'm paraphrasing), "Hey! I'm the only guy riding a unicycle." When really he should have been thinking, "Hey...I'm the only guy riding a unicycle..." Some in the baseball world may think it's cool to have different rules between their two leagues, but there's a reason they are the only ones. That doesn't mean the NL should adopt the AL's rules, but I do think they should be the same. 

Gary's team also highlighted the benefit that the DH position has provided to baseball's aging stars in the AL. I always thought it was a positive for baseball that players could play longer than many other sports, and the DH could be the answer to prolonging the careers of our most beloved players. 

Now on to the two points I thought were the most compelling. I'll bullet them here, but will explain my thoughts below.

  1. If the DH is the answer to more runs and better play, where does that end?
  2. Baseball is a highly-strategic sport, and the DH kills much of that strategy. 

For the first point, I'd like to reference a comment that Gary did as well. Blackmax asking why we wouldn't just shrink the batting lineups so that the best hitters are due up more, if playing your best hitters is the goal. It was a great point and it got me thinking about other scenarios in the game. Why not designated runners? Let's get our fastest guys on the field as much as possible. No one wants to see Colin Moran run anymore than they wanted to see AJ Burnett hit. It kind of sounds silly as I write this, but if the DH was a new concept and we were debating it as an original thought, I think the DH would be the more drastic change to the game.

For the strategy part of this, I won't say much but rather turn your attention to one of the comments. It's too long for me to screenshot and post here (I couldn't get the whole thing to fit on my screen). So, Mike Kirlin, I apologize for not giving you your due, but I would encourage all of you to read Mike's comment below. Like I said, it's lengthy but he does a great job of pointing out the strategic moments in the game that wouldn't exist with a DH.

For those two points, as well as the others, you can count me among the anti-DH contingency.

I'm going to leave it at that. Let me just say how appreciative we all were of the response. That was perhaps the best online discussion of two opposing points that I have ever seen. It was thoughtful, it was respectful, and most of all fun. So thank you all for participating. We will be doing more 

Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007

Follow Craig on Twitter: @BucsBasement

Follow Jared on Twitter: @a_piratelife

Comments (74)
No. 1-19
Cards fan
Cards fan

If uniformity is the big reason to change...then remove the DH from the American League. The fact that most pitchers can't hit is not a legitimate argument for the DH, nor is it a paramount part of the game, except in the situation where it might make sense to pull the pitcher to increase the chance of driving in runners in scoring position. In such a situation, the very fact that pitchers can't hit is, many times, an important game changer. Let's face it , good pitching is the foundation of success in this game and the strategy that revolves around changing a pitcher in certain situations is a huge part of many games during a season in the national league. This strategic part of the game is greatly appreciated by the purist fan. Unfortunately, the average fan wants to see towering home runs which the DH is rumored to provide. Nah. Give me small ball every time with the entertainment value of stolen bases, squeeze bunts, more sacrifices, pitching vs pinch hitter strategy, and the like that National League baseball provides the discerning fan.

1 Reply

Jared Martin
Jared Martin

Editor

For some reason people underestimate how small ball entertains baseball fans. Everyone assumes at a macro level that fans want flash, but I don’t come across too many that don’t love the strategy of small ball.

Elk.ins
Elk.ins

Differences between the National and American leagues used to make the World Series and the All-Star game must see TV. We all tuned in to see how the players from each league would match up against the other league. Each league even had its own umpires and the strike zone was called differently.

When interleague play began, it was also a novelty because the approaches were different. With National League teams playing small ball and making double switches while the American League played for the three run homer. Now the Major League game has been homogenized to the point that you have to check the standings to see which league each team is in.

I would like to see the differences between the two leagues highlighted instead of erased. I don't think Major League Baseball will ever eliminate interleague play, but I would love to see it reduced to two or three series per year to make it more meaningful.

piratefan4life
piratefan4life

Id hate to see the DH in the national league - how about getting rid of it in the American league? I love watching pitchers that know how to hit take their cuts guys like Brault, Grienke and going back to My youth Rick Rhoden ( who if I recall right DH'ed once for the Yankees as their normal DH - Balboni was hurt)as well as Rick Rueschel

bobcat1
bobcat1

This entire debate is just silly. Here we have teams cheating with video and we debate the D.H. Good thing, eh. Baseball needs some silly season, distractions. The D.H. is, to me, more boring than watching a pitcher try to hit. The D.H. adds a little bang-bang to some games, while on the other hand, having to pinch hit pitchers after two at bats is extending live arms in the NL. Ah, get rid of of the D.H. and just use bench players to hit for the pitchers as needed. Or, or, or, go to platoon teams, defensive specialists and offensive specialists all of whom only play half of the game. Yeah, then we can get the Special Teams guys, you know, players whose only job is to knock the knickers out of the other teams Base-player Specialists. I digress. Get rid of the D.H. it's socialistic in nature.

CodyPotanko
CodyPotanko

The DH should be used in baseball for the simple fact pitchers can't hit, at least not many of them. By implementing the DH in both leagues you make it more competitive and more exciting. Let's be honest most people when the 9th spot comes up they either take a bathroom break or they grab some more snacks. Now I know Pirates personality Bob Walk has his "ban the DH" phrase but let's not be silly and finally make the DH available in both leagues.

stevesheehy
stevesheehy

Larger sample size is essential. Thanks.

stevesheehy
stevesheehy

The DH is the cheapest ploy the inferior American League ever came up with to bolster their pathetic teams. The DH is a disgrace to the game and having grown up in Greater Boston and listening to all these yahoos insist the NL cheapen its game for the AL is ludicrous. How can anyone think that David Ortiz should be in the HOF is a joke. He was half a ball player who would have been finished 12 years ago if he had to play the field. he still cheated, steroids to pad his statistics. The NL game is more fun and moves along quickly. Try watching a 4 and a half hour Yanks-Red Sox game. Would rather go to work. The NL is the only reason I still watch the game is the NL. Pitchers arms burnout is a direct result of the DH. As for strategy, my cat could manage an AL team. Dump the DH once and for all!

Mike Kirlin
Mike Kirlin

I'm going to use basically the same argument as edbrewer3, but add to it some.

One of my favorite quotes about baseball comes from Henry Kissinger surprisingly enough: “Baseball is the most intellectual game because most of the action goes on in your head.” I could not agree more and that is where my love of the game begins.

There are many things going on "behind the scenes" at almost any moment of a game. Start with what pitch is going to be thrown. Is there a runner on? Is he going to go? Hit and run? Maybe not here. SS is shading toward the bag because the batter's a lefty who generally pulls. Will he try to go the other way to get it through the hole created with the SS covering? And on and on and on.

Managerial decision making is part of that game behind the game. Are we shifting the infield on this guy? Pinch hit here? Pinch run? Pitching changes. Hit and run or no? Take on 3-0 or swing away? Again, it goes on and on.

But, arguably the toughest thing a manager has to manage (at least, in the NL) is handling the fact that the pitcher has to actually bat on the Senior Circuit. Most pitchers are not even sub-par MLB hitters. The manager has to deal with that. We're down two in the 5th...guy on first with nobody out...do I pinch hit here? Is the bullpen worn down or not? Can this pitcher at least get a sacrifice bunt down or likely no? Do I have faith today's lineup can get a few runs these last 4 innings or not? Again, and on and on.

All of that goes away with the DH. No decisions need to be made with a DH that are different than any other position player. It just takes way too much away to me. But, I admit I am old school. I prefer a 2-1 pitching duel over a 14-11 slugfest. I remember being a little kid talking through every situation in a game with my dad, who loves baseball much more than I do and it's my game as well. I'm just highlighting just how big a fan my dad has been all his life. He's going to be 85 in May. I think he truly believes the DH is the work of the devil. No joke.

A much more minor factor to me is that a good hitting pitcher can give himself an advantage over his counterpart who can't hit. If a pitcher is not a good natural hitter, is he willing to put in the work to at least be able to put down an effective sacrifice bunt better than 50% of the time? That skill will likely lead to at least one win he wouldn't get over the course of a season. That could be the difference between in the playoffs or out for a good team. Or, above or below .500 for the Pirates. Haha! (Sorry this got a bit long.)

Oh, and regarding the AL having it already. That's easily fixed. BAN THE DH!!!

My two cents...

edbrewer3
edbrewer3

My reasoning against using the DH is it completely changes the strategy and intellectual part of the game. Without it, one doesn’t have to worry about sacrifice bunting to advance a runner, double switches when substituting and most importantly having to decide to pull a pitcher for a pinch hitter when he comes up to bat in a critical situation especially if the pitcher is doing real well at that point in the game. All that is gone if a DH is used

Homer2
Homer2

The DH has in large part led to the home run or strike out mentality in today's game. It has become BORING. I would rather watch...walk or HBP, stolen base, infield hit, sac fly, suicide squeeze to yield a run.. Fifteen minutes between a ball in play, and then only the ten seconds to round the bases is unwatchable!

Mrkillie
Mrkillie

The DH is bad for the game. The main reason that you see such a slim increase in run production it that it really only affects about 2 plate appearances per game. After that in the NL, the pitcher will most likely be pinch hit for, so you have an actual hitter instead of a pitcher at the plate. This allows NL teams to be able to keep a greater number of their players ready to hit day in and day out. The DH tends to limit the opportunities for bench players to pinch hit and keep their skills sharp.

KG32Gold
KG32Gold

For many years, I was against the NL adpoting the DH. The time has come for MLB to bring uniformity to the game. The days of each league have a president are long over. We have one Commissioner. The DH rule is the only difference in the two "Leagues". A universal DH would eliminates any advantage/disadvantage in Interleague play. Few pitchers can actually hit while the DH adds OBP excitement to the game. Ends the debate.

Smoothone
Smoothone

My opinion is no DH period, have both leagues play without them. The decision to let the pitcher hit or pinch hit makes the game more interesting. It also makes it more competitive making only those that play the field bat. Having a DH does not improve the game it just lets players that can't play the field as well swing the bat.

RichardG
RichardG

I feel the NL should not institute the DH. Having a pitcher bat is part of the game and it adds an element of strategy that not only appears at the plate via small ball, but it appears on the mound as well. Teams now may stretch a starters pitch count so not to use a bullpen guy for one batter if the pitchers spot is due up. It also adds the double player switch to make better use of the lineup in late innings. It is part of the game like using who to bat against a left hand pitcher. It’s not all run production. It’s about a player, no matter how specialized, must play all facets of the game. A pitcher must bat and a batter must play the field.

NachoaverageBucsfan
NachoaverageBucsfan

Great topic. I think the NL would benefit from the DH. I know many say it takes better management to be a NL manager, more decisions to make. But how about just making better decisions rather than more. The vast majority of pitchers bring nothing to the plate. Brault, MadBum and Grienke are pretty good hitters and Pirates fans enjoy Steven getting hits (we do need some fun!!) but Josh Bell is a natural DH, and if you want to continue to watch him play, or others like him, the NL needs to join the rest of the world. It’s 2020. This keeps guys that can hit in the game longer and that is good for the game.

Blackmax
Blackmax

In the standard game, where everybody both fields and hits, there are more occasions when the manager needs to make strategic choices. It’s more interesting. As for the argument that we want to see the better hitter at bat, this principle could be used to justify having your nine best hitters go to bat and having another 9 best fielders in the field. But if we’re always interested in seeing the best hitters, why bother with 9 players in the order? 6 will do. No need to sit through #’s 7, 8, and 9. Baseball wasn’t broken. DH was a mistake

Conelrad
Conelrad

Yes,it's absurd that MLB has different rules for each league,plus it would benefit the Bucs,Bell and Moran are dhs pure and simple.

PirateSteve
PirateSteve

The idea of one player jumping in once every 3 or so innings never sat well with me. A DH can make a huge impact on the game and play 5 minutes of it. Pitchers may be bad hitters, but they’re one of the nine. So, they should hit.

Gary Morgan Jr.
Gary Morgan Jr.

See, that’s the biggest argument against it Craig, history. This is about today’s game. Brault is an outlier and perhaps if it is instituted league wide you could make a clause that the team can choose to have the pitcher bat if you like, but guess what, the Pirates would literally never exercise the option. As good as Brault has been there would never be a day when the Bucs would prefer to see him bat than say Gregory Polanco. Now if the teams themselves would feel that way, it stands to reason fans would also appreciate seeing the superior hitter. I’d also suggest attendance is a very poor barometer, the AL has some real stinkers, Tampa, Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago (Sox), Seattle. Sure there are some in NL too like Pittsburgh, Miami, but no way to attribute this number directly to the DH.


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