National LeagueThat which separates the National League from the American League threatened to evaporate last week. Fortunately, that has not happened.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed changes to improve offense are likely coming after adjustments for pace-of-game issues. He’s considering serious changes like outlawing shifts, lowering pitching mounds and tweaking the ball to make it fly further.

He also suggested forcing the designated hitter (DH) upon the National League.

A brief history of America’s pastime – baseball as we know it took form in the mid-19th century under New York-style rules. The Cincinnati Red Stockings became America’s first professional baseball team in 1869, prompting creation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NA) two years later to handle allegations of fixed games. The NA collapsed in 1875 with games left unplayed, league mismanagement and continued allegations of cheating. In 1876, a Chicago businessman at the helm of an NA team organized a meeting in New York City to create a more stable successor. The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs was born.

The National League had rather strict rules as a result of the previous shenanigans. Teams were forced to play their whole schedule even if they couldn’t make the championship game, players were restricted from moving between clubs and suspicions of cheating continued. Multiple competitor leagues formed, the most successful being the American Association in 1882. Both leagues merged to form a 12-team NL in 1892 before eight formed an American League in 1901.

Back then, pitchers in both leagues batted. The concept of a DH was first introduced in 1906, but found little momentum until the late 1960s. Attendance was way down in AL games, with nine of the 12 teams drawing fewer than a million customers in 1972. The DH was approved for a three-year trial the following year. Meanwhile, a NL vote on the DH in 1980 ended up failing 4-5 with three abstentions because Philadelphia Phillies management couldn’t contact ownership about their vote. St. Louis fired their general manager – the leading proponent for the change – five days later and the measure has never since been considered.

The argument to institute the designated hitter across both leagues is the same now as it was then – pitchers looking pathetic at the plate. The average hitter in 2015 sported a .721 OPS, with pitchers earning a paltry .329 OPS. Perhaps it’s due to small sample size, but seven of the 15 teams with highest on-base plus slugging came from the American League. Small sample size, however, is not an issue with the comparison between team and pitcher OPS. Those figures have been very similar even going back into the steroid era at the turn of the millennium. Where was the clamoring for pitchers not to hit back when offense was king and everyone wanted a roided-out bopper to hit 70 home runs?

I’ve also heard the argument that a DH-led American League clobbers the National League weaklings. It is true the AL won nearly 56 percent of the 300 interleague games last season. What’s also interesting is how the senior circuit had fewer than 1.5 percent less wins than their junior counterparts, revealing how little impact the interleague series actually have on a full season.

It’s not like the designated hitter is powering AL teams to title after title either. In all 113 years since the first World Series was held in 1903, the American League has won 64, or almost 58 percent, of World Series. However, the DH was not implemented until the 1973. Counting from that season on, the junior league has only won 23 titles compared to the senior circuit’s 19. The argument could be made that adding a tenth hitter in one league has actually led to parity between the leagues, although it holds just as much water as claiming the AL’s DH is a disadvantage for the NL. It’s worth noting both sets of numbers include the New York Yankees league-leading 27 series wins, significantly skewing the figures.

Attendance was the other argument in favor of forcing the DH upon the NL. Supposedly fans are so disinterested in watching pitchers bat it’s damaging the game. But the funny thing is the facts don’t seem to support that. Nine of the 15 MLB teams with the highest total attendance figures for 2015 were National League clubs. Some familiar faces like St. Louis, Detroit and Boston are high on the list, but the lowly Colorado Rockies sit at no. 14 with 2.5 million paid attendance compared to playoff-bound Houston Astros at no. 22 with 2.15 million. Speaking of postseason play, all five National League teams to punch their ticket for the dance finished in the top 15 in total attendance, but the AL West winning Texas Rangers finished at no. 16 with 2.49 and their Houston counterparts even further below.

Perhaps the most damning argument against pushing the DH into the National League are the overall offensive numbers from last season. League A finished with an average slash of .253/.316/.397 and a 284.8 WAR. League B finished with an average slash of .255/.318/.412 and a 285 WAR. The numbers are close, so close I won’t reveal which is which.

We’ve reviewed how the designated hitter is a johnny-come-lately in a sport with a rich history; pitchers aren’t hitting any worse lately; the American League’s World Series dominance is eroding; National League teams saw larger crowds at the ballpark last season; and comparing 2015 offensive stats between both leagues is a waste of time. I’ve yet to see a pro-DH argument that isn’t just that.

9 comments on “DH strikes out with NL clubs

  • Name

    It’s only a matter of time before we have the DF, Designated Fielder ,so guys like Lagares can field without having to embarrass themselves at the plate.

    And then what? Have a Designated Runner like in the Little Leauges?

    ” Rule 7.14 (Page 78) Special Pinch Runner
    Once each inning a team may utilize a player who is not in the batting order as a special pinch-runner for any offensive player”

    And then we’ll realize that it’s too much difficulty for the pitcher to fielder, so we’ll place another player besides the pitcher so that they may make all the fielding plays for them.

    And then we’ll make it a rule so that every team must have a lefty pitcher in the bullpen to pitch to lefty hitters, no matter how bad they are even if there are more deserving righties who have the ability to get both lefty and righty hitters out.

    Oh wait, this idiotic position already exists….

  • James

    I mean, they weren’t gonna ‘force’ it on the NL. Teams looked interested, and then, I’m gonna assume here, they realized that they’d need to actually pay for another full-time player.

    Although that’s the other thing- NL pitchers are the only ‘full time’ players in the majors. Think about it; they field, hit, and pitch. It’s not like we’re up in arms that first basemen don’t pitch, or that NL bullpen arms don’t hit, or that pinch runners don’t field or hit.

    Here’s the argument for the DH: pitchers can’t hit, and have basically never been able to hit. As mentioned, their OPS was a .329, which is further from the nearest positional OPS (catchers at a .682) than the last place non-pitcher position is from the first place position (.791 for 1B). That’s a .109 difference between first and last place position player groups, and a .353 difference between pitchers and the last place position player group. The difference between pitchers and catchers would be a better hitting group than pitchers are. So the question is, do you want to see competence at all 9 hitting positions- not excellence, competence- or do you value other things (tradition, Bartolo ABs, etc) more?

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    • Name

      “So the question is, do you want to see competence at all 9 hitting positions- not excellence, competence- or do you value other things (tradition, Bartolo ABs, etc) more”

      Or, do you value strategy and depth?

      A computer could do an AL manager’s job.
      SP, 100 pitches. If you’re winning, go to your backend of the bullpen. 7-8-9. If you’re losing, throw your lesser guys out there. Can change pitchers at any time, because you don’t have to worry about the batting order. Don’t need to rotate position players in and out because you can throw the same 8 guys out there every night if you wanted to because you rarely have to worry about your bench guys getting PH ABs.
      A NL manager has to strategize in all of those things. 95 pitches. pitcher due up 4th. Do you leave him in or take him out if the batting spot gets to him? What if it’s tied? What if you’re up by 1? What if there’s a guy in scoring position? What if it’s only the 5th inning? NL managers need to keep their bench guys much more fresh because they could have a PH assignment or be double switched into the game at any moment. You need to consider giving them starts to keep them fresh as well.

      I would imagine the average fan mostly doesn’t care about the strategy as much and wants to see offense. Heck, i’ll even admit when i’m at the game it’s a lot more exciting to watch hitters get hits than pitchers striking out batters.

      But the well-informed fan in me loves to dissect and talk about the strategy part of the game, aka we wanted to backseat manage. It’s a lot more fun debating about whether or the manager made the right move taking a pitcher out at a certain time than just talking about a game that that involves little controversy or room for discussion.

      • James

        “A computer could do an AL manager’s job.”

        I mean, a computer could do an NL manager’s job too, most of the time.

        ” 95 pitches. pitcher due up 4th. Do you leave him in or take him out if the batting spot gets to him? What if it’s tied? What if you’re up by 1? What if there’s a guy in scoring position? What if it’s only the 5th inning?”

        But that also means that you have to subordinate your pitching strategy to your hitting strategy. In DH leagues (because that’s, well, most of them, but that’s a side point), you have a hitting strategy, and a pitching strategy. You play matchups (but, dear god, hopefully not like the dregs of Terryball. Same side is not necessarily an advantage, oy), put players in who can give you a situational advantage, and that’s that. You have bench guys who can fulfill roles, bullpen guys who fulfill roles, and you have to make the decision on when to put them in. This ‘NL has strategy, AL doesn’t’ is kinda bonkers- the AL still has to decide when to take the SP out, the AL still has bullpen management, the AL still has pinch hitters. You just don’t have to work around the entirely arbitrary offensive non-contributor hitting position.

        • Name

          “This ‘NL has strategy, AL doesn’t’ is kinda bonkers”

          No, they don’t have zero strategy, but comparatively, the NL has so much more strategy and thinking involved than the AL-game. And some of us value that component of the game.

          Ya know, catching is a tough job. Maybe we should have a full time defensive catcher, and then add yet another DH to the lineup.
          But man, those SS have it tough as well, always having to range far to their right and left, getting dirty in the process. Should we have a full time SS and replace his meager bat with another DH?
          In fact, why don’t we just completely separate fielding, hitting, and pitching all together? Have the gameday lineup become 18 players – 8 players just for fielding/1 pitcher and 9 DHs.

          There’s no right answer, but where do you draw the line? Personally, i see no reason to move it at all, which is why i’m against the DH.

          • Mike Koehler

            I don’t understand the call to fully institute a partial change only made 40 years ago to reduce the amount of strategy and open the door to more pointless specialization when there’s no evidence indicating it’s necessary.

            Oh, and I can’t stand those four-hour atrocities between Boston and the Yankees. A DH will only add more scoring and more pitching changes, bumping up NL game times to stupid levels.

  • Eraff

    The Game has become tremendously tactical versus “old time baseball”. I believe the biggest change is the Specialization of the pitching and the situational use of specific pitchers. Whether DH or Non-DH, the In-game Managerial decisions and Manipulations of Pitching Substituitions provides “strategy guys” with more than they’ve ever had before.

    If some bright team would embrace situational offensive baseball—Base Stealing…Bunting…Hit and Run— they’d not only win a Championship, they’d provide even more strategy for us old timey fans. I guess the Royals have done that!

    The Hitting Pitcher may be an advantage to the Mets right now—because their pitchers look like they can handle the bat a bit…but I’d be more happy with the DH now. Most Pitcher ab’s don’t represent a romantiic throwback with a Strategic Decision—they’re just bad at bats!….so bad that they even ruin the ab’s in front of them!

    The additional benefit to the 8th place hitter, along with the direct switch of the DH for the pitcher adds effective ab’s.

    If I were to figure that the Pitcher’s at bat (inclding pinch hitters) is presently producing at 50% of MLB replacement player production, that means that I’m adding a Net of 2-3 ab’s per game with the DH. Likewise, the effect on an 8th place hitter might add 20% net effectiveness to the ab’s

    I believe the DH add’s offense and leaves most strategy intact. It adds to better abs(Unless it’s Juan Lagares Hitting). My “very rough etimate” is that you gain a Minimum of 3 effective ab’s per game.

  • James Preller

    I have no problem with the DH. Both leagues should play by the same rules. It’s nothing to get hysterical about.

  • Gary raudabaugh

    The dh makes AL games boring.

    If you check baseball paid attendance any time during the season, the bottom 10 AL was have 6 or 7 AL

    People who say the the average fan wants more scoring are way wrong.

    We good fans love the NL strategy a team and NL manager has to have.

    AL games are long and boring.

    Part of the excitement of NL games is watching when the pitcher is coming up, wondering if the manager will go to the pen, will the pitcher, if he hits, bunt?

    AL baseball?

    I’d rather watch paint dry

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