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I’m no fan of the DH, but pitchers batting has got to go

Jan 2, 2013, 11:07 AM EDT

Justin Verlander

Anna Hiatt argues for the DH to expand to the NL.  We all know the parameters of this argument by now and have engaged in it many times, so allow me to offer up my opinion on the matter in a way that attempts to eschew the religious war vibe of this time-worn debate.

I am an NL partisan. I have been since I started following the Braves in the mid-1980s. I’m not a fanatic about it, and it matters far less now than it did back before interleague play, realignment and new ballpark construction blurred the distinctions between the leagues, but I still remain an NL guy. And part of that is, yes, I like pitchers batting.

I like pitchers hitting for the same reasons I like medium-rare steaks, pale-skinned brunettes, Batman, bourbon and a lot of regrettable 1980s synth pop: personal taste. These things just strike me the right way and make me feel just so. It’s not an objective thing. Many people are vegetarians, many gentlemen prefer blondes, like Superman, hate hard liquor and would rather die than be subjected to Human League’s “Don’t you want me.” They have their tastes and I have mine, and there is nothing more obnoxious than someone telling you that your subjective tastes are somehow, objectively, wrong, so I live and let live when this kind of stuff comes up and I hope they feel the same way.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that, though I prefer pitchers batting, I don’t believe the National League’s rules in this regard are objectively better. Indeed, when I take my personal preferences out of the equation and look at the matter rationally, I cannot escape the logic of the DH in today’s game and the futility of pitchers batting.

The game is not played by all-around ballplayers anymore. Pitchers are just dreadful at hitting and, increasingly, are unable to even bunt particularly well. The strategy and gamesmanship my NL friends like to talk up is rather contrived when one thinks about it. Really, these machinations are more about the avoidance of pitchers batting than taking advantage of it. The whole dance in which managers spend so much energy to optimize minor matchups, often costing them their best pitchers and best hitters runs counter to the idea of my best nine playing your best nine and let’s see who wins.

And it’s not like this will get better. If anything, it will only get worse. In the absence of any expectation for pitchers to hit before reaching the NL combined with the absence of any financial pressures that might make adding a specialist to the roster problematic, there is nothing that will incentivize teams to make their pitchers better hitters. It makes no real sense to have pitchers batting now.  We certainly wouldn’t set it up that way if we were starting from scratch today.

I think baseball will, eventually, expand the DH to the National League. It probably won’t be because one side of the great DH debate concedes defeat and the change is made for the greater good of the sport itself. Actually, I figure it will come as a result of some collective bargaining thing, in which the players give up something to the owners in exchange for 15 more high-paying roster spots. But it will happen. Probably within the next decade on the outside.

And when it happens I will be a little sad. But ultimately I must conclude that pitchers hitting is a lot like player-managers, automats, ornate bank lobbies, milkmen, drive-ins and any other number of 19th/20th century things which tickled my fancy. They were cool. I kinda miss them. But they are an artifact of history and today there is no logical reason to have them, even if it seemed natural and logical to have them once upon a time.

170 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. mojosmagic - Jan 2, 2013 at 7:04 PM

    The DH should go and last time I checked pitchers are athletes too.

  2. Minoring In Baseball - Jan 2, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    I agree totally, Craig. The time has simply come, and let’s not forget the advantage this give the NL in the World Series. Having two sets of ‘rules’ determining a championship team has always seemed a little strange to me. Then you have the minors, where AL and NL affiliates play each other, some with the DH and some without. In baseball, there have been many ‘eras’, and that’s just they way the game has evolved. I, too, prefer pale-skinned brunettes and 80’s music, though, and that’s just my opinon. I do see the NL ‘traditionalist’ side of things, too.

  3. lostsok - Jan 2, 2013 at 9:19 PM

    Ok, DH…no DH…there are more important issues in the world.

    But, seriously Craig? Human League?

    Seek help. Immediately. Play Who’s Next and Exile On Mainstreet ten times each and for GOD sake stop drinking wine coolers while stroking your pet rock.

    Human League. Jesus…

  4. cadub49er - Jan 2, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    here’s a silly thought…why don’t teams teach pitchers to be better hitters? Then it would be more like 9 on 8. Having a pitcher who can hit .225-.275 would seem to be a huge advantage. Another novel idea….bunting seems to be something you can coach too, right?

    • jarathen - Jan 3, 2013 at 7:53 AM

      That’s what pitchers should do. Spend more time working on hitting instead of pitching.

    • Beezo-Doo-doo-Zippity-Bop-bop-bop - Jan 3, 2013 at 10:27 AM

      Plus, pitchers by and large were the best players in grade school, high school and LL and probably were some of the best hitters. They get to college and the minors and are only allowed to work on pitching. By the time they get to the majors they have all but forgotten how to hit. Sad really. Eff the DH!

  5. iladel90 - Jan 2, 2013 at 10:58 PM

    Check out this fun free baseball game

  6. 1historian - Jan 2, 2013 at 11:19 PM

    Solution – let each team – NL or AL – decide on a game by game basis whether or not they want to use a DH in that particular game. Once they decide they can’t go back on it.
    Don’t make it so damn complicated.

  7. nightman13 - Jan 2, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    I didn’t really feel like reading through all the comments to see if anybody brought this up, so if they did, sorry.

    Since there are some pitchers that can hit well, if the DH rule was expanded I think I’d like to see it apply to all positions rather than just pitchers.

    If you have a great defensive shortstop that can’t hit worth a damn, but a pitcher than can, DH for the SS.

    I don’t know how I really feel about that idea, I do prefer the NL and no DH, but if it has to change I think they should look at a broader change rather than just matching the NL to the AL.

  8. xjokerz - Jan 3, 2013 at 4:16 AM

    I don’t like to see my tigers ace ever swinging the bat. Get with the time nl, your style of baseball is boring and a serious turn off

  9. Chipmaker - Jan 3, 2013 at 8:39 AM

    I’m vaguely pro-DH — mostly I’m pro-things-are-fine-the-way-they-are, two sets of rules does not bother me — but when I encounter an anti-DHist who holds forth that with the DH managers stop using strategy because it kills the need for the double switch, I ask them to recall one memorable double switch.

    Never yet gotten an answer.

    The DH shifts tactical options from managing the bench to managing the bullpen.

    • jarathen - Jan 3, 2013 at 8:53 AM

      Exactly. At best, it’s a tactical wash. I can see how there are some interesting options earlier in the game, say the fifth to sixth innings, but after that any close game with a reliever is going to see the pitcher yanked every time through the lineup. Where’s the strategy in that?

  10. Chris Fiorentino - Jan 3, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    There are plenty of logical reasons to have Drive-ins. They are awesome!!! I am lucky enough to have one within 50 miles of where I live and we go at least 4 or 5 times a summer. Nothing like 2 or 3 first-run movies, good food, meeting the same people, and just all-around good times.

  11. conjecture101 - Jan 3, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    Someone explain to me how it’s an objective fact that pitchers not hitting is better for baseball? Would you use the same argument in support of having 10 players so that we could have 4 outfielders?

  12. leftywildcat - Jan 3, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    How about having only the 8 position players come up to bat? An 8 man lineup would be a huge change; I’m not particularly in favor of it, but I’m surprised it hadn’t been mentioned yet.

  13. jrbdmb - Jan 3, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Why stop with just one DH? I say have 9 DHs. If they happen to play the field as well, great. Just put your best 9 fielders on the field and your best 9 hitters at the plate.

  14. Minoring In Baseball - Jan 3, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    Wow, some really crazy comments here…. One ‘reasoning’ in favor of having the pitchers hit, is because they could have been one of the best players and hitters on thier high school/college team or something. Well, since everyone (except me) loves football so much, what about the punters and place kickers? Would they be seen playing any other positions? No..their leg is their value to the team, and their ticket to the NFL. Same with pitchers, they need to protect that arm, as that’s the value to the team who’s most likely over-paying them.

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