By Steve Perrault – Follow on Twitter: @Steve_Perrault
The other day I was asked by a non-sports follower (crazy, I know) why pitchers in baseball also hit. He couldn’t wrap his brain around why pitchers were batting, and furthermore, why they only bat in the National League and not the American League. I would normally be able to defend anything about the great game of baseball, but for this one I had absolutely no answer.
Pitchers batting is dumb. It’s been dumb from the beginning. It was dumb when I first started watching the game. And it’s dumb now. The only question is, will this quirky acceptation ever change?
In 1973 it was voted that the American League would adopt a designated hitter that could only take the place of the pitcher in the batting order. At the time, the American League had fallen significantly behind in runs and fan attendance, so the owners thought it would be a productive change for that league. The rule initially began as a three-year experiment, but it was later permanently adopted and has been in play in the AL ever since.
The National League resisted the move then, and, 42 years later, it may be a hard sell to get them to make the move now.
It has been difficult to decipher the true feelings of new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on this topic, but he did discuss the challenges of changing the DH rule before the start of this season.
“I can’t see the American League clubs giving it up, and right now, given the composition of our National League owners, I don’t see them buying into it. So I think we’re staying where we are.”
While this reaction by Manfred may seem final, it’s within reason to believe his biggest “fish to fry” was speeding up the pace of play in major league baseball. Leaving the designated hitter rule at the top of his “Things to do as Commissioner” list.
The biggest reason that may get NL owners to budge are the number of pitchers that have gotten injured while at the plate. Just this past April, Adam Wainwright went on an extended DL stint after tearing his left Achilles tendon while hitting. Wainwright – who has been the ace of one of the most successful clubs of the millennium, in the Cardinals – missed five months of the season, only returning at the end of September to prepare for his role in the St. Louis bullpen for this postseason. While the Cardinals found a way to have the best record in baseball, extremely impressive at that, this was still a defining blow for their ball club, and could have easily been avoided if pitchers were not required to hit in the NL.
(Wainwright injury at 0:24 mark)
Even more recently, the Pirates were trailing the Cubs 4-0 in the NL Wild Card Game and Pittsburgh decided it was a good idea to plunk Cubs ace Jake Arrieta when he was at bat. As you may know, Arrieta had seemingly hit two Pirates by accident earlier in the game – a game in which he was dominating – and the Pirates either took offense to that or were trying to get Arrieta off his groove by hitting him. Think of if that pitch was thrown a little bit higher. What if that pitch hit Arrieta’s throwing arm? Worst case scenario the Cubs are now without their ace pitcher for the rest of the playoffs because of some completely uncalled for “pay-back” from a team that was about to lose a one-game playoff.
If you’re a major league pitcher, it’s safe to say the majority of your life has been dedicated to pitching. Yes, in Little League you may have been that kid with a mustache that threw the MLB equivalent of 100 MPH and also hit absolute moonshots, but after that stretch had come and gone, you only focused on pitching. So why are we asking these pitchers that dedicate 100 percent of their routine to pitching, to then also hit? It makes zero sense.
Having the designated hitter in the NL would also prevent how big a momentum killer it can be to have a rally going, only to then have your pitcher coming up to bat. Managers are constantly faced with the dilemma of whether to keep a pitcher in the game by allowing him to bat, or pinch-hit for that pitcher – obviously taking him out of the game – and try and keep that rally going.
Here are the 2015 regular season batting averages for the top two starters on each NL playoff team left. If this isn’t an easy indication of why these players shouldn’t be hitting, then I don’t know what is.
Jake Arrieta – .152
Jon Lester – .065
John Lackey – .113
Jaime Garcia – .098
Clayton Kershaw – .127
Zack Grienke – .224
Jacob deGrom – .186
Noah Syndergaard – .209
So the best pitchers that the NL has to offer this postseason had a combined .143 batting average in the regular season. It gets to the point that, as a fan, you’ll be watching at home and plotting out the lineup in your head, as if to prepare for that feared scenario of your pitcher coming up with the bases loaded and two outs. That complete buzz-kill is something that IS NOT NEEDED and makes the National League product worse than that of the American League.
The main issue at hand is not only to get the MLB owners to agree to this switch, but the players union as well. Full time DHs like David Ortiz don’t grow on trees, so you would have to convince the union that adding DHs in the NL would be a profitable move. But, if anything, making the switch to DHs throughout baseball would create a more unified game, and that should lead MLBs drive to make this important rule change.
Lastly, this is what happens when you have pitchers hit. Yet another reason to take the bat out of every pitcher’s hands..