Why Baseball's Designated Hitter Should Be Abolished

As usual, MLB overcompensated for a perceived problem. In the late 1960s, due to lower attendances and dominant pitching, MLB lowered the mound and shrunk the strike-zone. They gave that experiment all of four seasons to fix the offensive "problems." Apparently it didn't work fast enough, so MLB did what it normally doesn't do: make a quick decision. It added a "designated hitter" to the AL to boost offense, and hence (hopefully) attendance. 

What they apparently failed to consider were negative repercussions, namely that it would make games longer, reduce strategy, and lead to more health problems.

- In 2007, AL games lasted six minutes longer than NL games. That doesn't seem like much on a given night, but over the course of a season, that adds up to nearly 1000 extra minutes (more than 16 hours) of AL baseball.* I personally prefer two-and-a-half hour, crisp, well-played, well-pitched contests. 

- Somehow pro baseball not only survived, but thrived, for nearly a century without a DH. It became "The National Pastime." But then in the span of five years, MLB, which normally moves at a glacial pace, implemented several significant changes to the game without properly assessing the effects of each.

- NL baseball actually requires some strategy on the part of the managers. What a concept! Outside of deciding when and where to use certain relievers, AL managers' strategy is pretty much just setting the lineup and the starting rotation, both of which even a casual baseball fan could do. NL managers have to monitor their starters far more closely. It's not as simple as deciding when they've "lost it," because several other factors play a part: 1) is the pitcher due to hit in the next inning, 2) is the game close, 3) do you risk a few more batters in order not to have to "waste" a reliever for just one out, 4) what about a double-switch, 5) do you use your best pinch-hitter or save him for later on?

- It discourages versatility in ballplayers. Why bother working on fielding when your hitting is sufficient to earn a ML paycheck? Would it not make for a more-balanced and enjoyable game to know that all nine fielders had to swing a bat, and that all nine batters had to field and throw? I mean, why not have designated runners and fielders while we're at it?

- Pre-1973, pitchers had to be evaluated on more than just their arm. Hitting was a not insignificant part of a pitcher's repertoire. A good-hitting mediocre pitcher might be more valuable than a poor-hitting above-average pitcher. For example, CC Sabathia would actually be more valuable to the Yankees without the DH because he's such a good-hitting pitcher (.627 career OPS). 

- Pitchers OPS'ed a pathetic .357 in 2011. Only two positions hit better than DH's this season, first-basemen and right fielders. It's much tougher on pitchers to have to face "professional hitters" than other pitchers. That, in turn, puts more stress on their bodies, thereby reducing the numbers of innings they can pitch and leading to more injuries.** A pitcher hasn't thrown 300 innings in more than 30 years. Before the DH, it was a relatively common occurrence.

- Preventing pitchers from hitting has also increased the rate of hit batters. (Before you tell me that there are more wild pitchers nowadays, the increase in the AL is relative to the NL.) So not only is it likely causing more health problems for pitchers, but for hitters too.

- Since they already have AL pitchers hitting in interleague play, why not make it universal so that they're used to swinging a bat and and running the bases? Chien-Ming Wang had all of eight ML plate appearances before the infamous game in Houston where he injured his foot and was never the same again. MLB could have eliminated interleague play to prevent these types of injuries to pitchers, but they've done the opposite: increase it (with Houston's move to the AL). Therefore, pitchers need to adjust to running and hitting, and that means eliminating the DH. 

- While attendance across MLB has risen over the last 40 years, the teams drawing the fewest fans today are mostly in AL (i.e. DH) towns. What now, Bud? Two DH's?

 

[Note: I don't expect most of you to agree with me. After all, everyone under 40 (like myself) has grown up with the DH. It's the only form of Yankee baseball we know. But I have watched my share of NL contests and often find them more enjoyable and interesting because of the lack of a DH.]

* Some might say, "What's wrong with more of a good thing?" Is it really "good" to see games going past three hours, pitchers constantly stepping off the mound (due to facing tougher hitters) and batters stepping out of the batter's box?

** Based on empirical evidence. 

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