FanGraphs is running a poll, asking readers what they thought of the changes MLB made for the 2020 season. The first question is about the NL adopting the DH and asking if it should be that way going forward. My vote was for “no” and I was disappointed to find out that slightly over 75% of the fans voting in the poll voted the opposite way. It’s too bad we don’t have a poll from the same source on the same question from November of 2019 to compare. My guess is that it would have been much closer back then. Probably not 50-50 but perhaps 60-40.
There are several reasons to prefer the game with a DH and there’s no need for me to list them here – or anyone to tick them off in the comments section – because this is a discussion we’ve all had more times than we can count on the fingers of two hands. For me, it’s always come down to the fact that if you prefer to watch baseball with a DH, you have the opportunity to do so by watching AL games. It doesn’t mean you have to root for the Yankees. There are plenty of interesting teams in that league that deserve additional fans.
But if you prefer to watch a game where all parties have to bat and field and run, the only place to do that is in the NL. That was taken away from us last season and it seems likely it will be taken away permanently, whether that decision comes in 2021 or with a new CBA in 2022. For people like me, who want to see the game played this way, we’re in the unfortunate position of having to root for the owners using this as a way to get concessions from the MLBPA that the union doesn’t want to give, just to get one more year of real baseball in.
And things are further complicated for Mets fans, who had the opportunity to get another bat in the lineup with the DH in 2020. It makes things easier to have that extra offensive position. But is easier really best? Cue the scene from “A League of Their Own.”
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
Maybe for you that scene is nothing more than a Hollywood cliché. And that’s okay if you feel that way. Just know that it’s not that way for me.
Perhaps the pragmatists among you fret what the Mets will do if there is no DH in 2021. It will force them to do what they should have done the past two years – play Jeff McNeil at 2B. In the past two years, most of which was spent playing out of position, McNeil has a 5.8 fWAR over 775 PA. In that same span, Robinson Cano has a 2.1 fWAR over 605 PA.
While the decision at 2B is easy – really, really easy – it’s not so cut and dried at either 3B or LF/CF. And this is where you have to make decisions. How much defense are you willing to sacrifice to get a bat into the lineup? Or, stated another way, how much offense are you willing to punt to get a good fielder in the game? Despite what you might think, there’s no one right way to approach this question and you can make a case to play it one way in the infield and the exact opposite way in the outfield.
It’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that J.D. Davis is too much of a liability to play every day at 3B and that the team should look to bring in a full-time player there. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that Dominic Smith in LF and Brandon Nimmo in CF is a defensive disaster and a CF should be brought in and one of those two guys should be moved to the bench or traded.
But the beauty of the game is that the players have to play on both sides. It’s not football where you have one squad playing offense and a different group playing defense. You want Davis’ bat in the lineup? Then live with his glove. You want Juan Lagares’ glove in the outfield? Then live with his bat. You want Jacob deGrom on the mound? Then don’t pinch hit for him in a tie game in the sixth inning with runners in scoring position.
My preference is for the game to feature lots of choices. While Mets fans spent the better part of the last decade handcuffed by the team’s blind fealty to the LOOGY strategy, my vote in the FanGraphs’ poll was to do away with the three-batter minimum, because it takes away choices. If a team wants to use Scott Rice because he limits LHB to a .536 OPS, they should be allowed to use him for one-batter appearances in each and every game. They just have to deal with the consequences of a player that limited in what he can do.
Perhaps what we really need is a league without choices or consequences. Roster sizes are unlimited, you can make as many substitutions as you want, with players allowed to come back in after they’ve been taken out of the game. Players can take steroids and apply any substance they want to, either to the ball or the bat.
It would be interesting and it might even be fun. But it wouldn’t be baseball.