- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Arguing about the designated hitter is kind of like eating Brussels sprouts: Either you're a fan or you're very much against it. There is no middle ground.
But it's time for the anti-DH crowd to come to its senses and accept the National League would be better off if it went to the DH. This is not just a reactionary take off Adam Wainwright's season-ending Achilles injury, suffered while batting; although I'm guessing there are a few more Cardinals fans in favor of the DH than a couple of days ago. That was a freak injury and should be viewed as such. It's not just a reaction to Max Scherzer injuring his thumb while batting, forcing him to miss a start.
Scherzer, however, got at the root of the argument when he said, "If you look at it from the macro side, who'd people rather see hit: Big Papi or me? Who would people rather see, a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper? Both leagues need to be on the same set of rules."
That's it: Pitchers can't hit and they're getting worse at it, not exactly a surprise since pitchers are getting better at pitching and many pitchers rarely bat in college or the minor leagues.
In 2014, pitchers hit .122, their worst average ever. They struck out in 37 percent of their plate appearances; remove sacrifice hits from the equation and they struck out more than 40 percent of the time. In 2015, they're doing even worse, hitting a robust .089.
There was a time when pitchers were at least a bit of a threat at the plate. In 1972, when offense dipped so low that the American League instituted the DH for 1973, pitchers hit .146. In 1962, they hit .150. A decade before that, they hit .162 and actually had an OBP of .202, which means they were at least getting on base 20 percent of the time. This year, their collective OBP is .111. A pitcher getting on base now is more an accident than an act of skill.
This is what happens as a sport evolves. The players get better and certain aspects of the game become more specialized. There used to be more good-hitting pitchers. Don Drysdale hit .186 with 29 home runs in his career, including .300 with seven home runs in 1965 and .227 with seven home runs in 1958. Earl Wilson, a pitcher for the Red Sox and Tigers in the 1960s, hit .195 with 35 home runs, including twice hitting seven. Warren Spahn hit .194 with 35 home runs and routinely knocked in double digits in runs.
Sure, there is the occasional Madison Bumgarner -- four home runs and 15 RBIs last year, although he hit .107 the year before -- or Carlos Zambrano or Mike Hampton. For the most part, however, pitchers are almost automatic outs.
Which, to me, means there isn't really any added strategy. Most pinch-hitting situations for the pitcher are automatic depending on the score and inning. If there's a runner on base and fewer than two outs, the sacrifice is automatic. That's not strategy.
Plus, pitchers themselves don't seem to care much about hitting. Scherzer is against it. I asked James Shields about the designated hitter in spring training. Coming over from the American League, where he'd hit .213 in 47 at-bats in interleague games, I figured he'd be excited to hit more. "I don't really care," he said. "I'm paid to pitch."
On top of that, National League teams are often at a disadvantage in World Series games, where the AL team may have a legitimate DH like David Ortiz and the NL is forced to use a weaker-hitting bench player.
The thing is, however: It's not going to happen. National League owners don't want the DH. For a long time, part of the reason was monetary; they didn't want to have to pay the likes of Ortiz a big salary. I don't think that's the issue as much now as a simple tradition. In some respect, the National League considers their game superior; it's kind of an arrogance left over from the 1960s and 1970s when the NL was the better league (in part, because it was quicker to integrate).
National League fans like to argue that their game is more pure; I understand that argument. It doesn't mean the game is better, however. I, for one, am tired of seeing those wet newspapers.
It's time for the anti-DH crowd to come to its senses and accept the National League would be better off if it went to the DH.