|The Hitter's Game - The DH in the big leagues||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on January 19, 2003
The designated hitter rule was put into place as the third of three rule changes designed to help the hitters and provide more offense to the game. The other two created a smaller strike zone, and lowered the height of the pitcher's mound. All three had the desired effect and changed the game from being a pitcher dominated game to one where the hitters took control. Offense exploded, and has only continued to explode over the past three decades.
The numbers put up in today's baseball are staggering compared to baseball of eras passed. In fact, the balance of power has shifted in favor of hitters so much that teams cannot find the starting pitching which would let them be competitive.
This is especially true in the American League, where 7 of the 14 American League teams finished with ERAs above 4.53. Only four of the remaining seven teams in the American League finished in the top ten in pitching. (The astute fan might guess that the Yankees, Red Sox, and Oakland made up three of the four, but the inclusion of the Anaheim Angels may surprise you.)
With that in mind, you wonder why the American League persists in using this inane rule. Offense is at its highest point of all time. Because of this, the price of decent starting pitching has skyrocketed to the point that only the richest teams can afford to have a solid staff, while most teams are forced to make do.
The player's union wants the DH to stay for one very important reason. It provides employment for 14 players. Players who otherwise might have no ability to find a job in the majors. This detracts from the game in many ways and has created records which are artificially inflated due to careers which are extended past a player's fielding days.
What it really effects though is the tradition of the game. Baseball was meant to be played by teams of nine, not ten. Every player was supposed to come to bat and contribute to the team offense and defense.
The DH alters the strategy of the game, and greatly effects how the game is played. It allows teams to play for huge offensive innings as a norm. The game is fundamentally changed by removing or downplaying the bunt, pinch hitter, and the sacrifice. It takes the bat out of the hands of pitchers who can hit, and even those who typically can't, but sometimes can just enough to win their team a ball game in exciting fashion.
National league fans can appreciate all of the great moments that would have been lost by eliminating the pitcher’s at bat. Great hitting pitchers like Mike Hampton would have missed the home runs which showed us what a great athlete they really were. Baseball would also no longer have those exciting moments where a typically lesser-hitting pitcher pulls off a game winning hit, such as when Al Leiter with his game winning triple in 2001.
What the players union should realize is that the National League system actually means that more players get to play in each game. They are not the overpriced high profile bats who crush the ball, but the role players, pinch hitters, substitutes, and relief pitchers who get a chance to prove their talents when a pitcher is removed.
This form of baseball means it's not all about big innings, but sometimes just managing to get a single run. Perhaps that means fewer routs and more closer games. I don’t know if anyone has ever looked at the numbers, but I think it creates many more exciting games which keep the fans involved.
Even if the games are not closer, perhaps it's time for baseball, and particularly the American League, to realize that the balance of power is definitely in the hands of the hitters.
In past eras, pitchers were often the best athletes on the team. Old time pitchers regularly hit as well as any other hitters. As pitching became sparse, teams became more protective of their pitching, and pitchers were discouraged from batting practice and hitting instruction.
Young pitchers who are good hitters are forced to make choices. The amount of money and the length of time a player can hit, as opposed to pitch, has changed the goals of many young athletes. This means a decreasing number of top athletes choose to stay the course and take a shot at being a top pitcher. It's just more risky. The rule, without some change, will continue to skew the game in the direction of the hitters.
Bearing this in mind, itís time for baseball to make some choices. Unless they give something back to the pitchers, the pitching pool will continue to dilute, and big market teams can continue to easily corner the market on "winning" pitchers. This is a situation that is not going to correct itself. It's time for baseball to reconsider the DH, or at the very least, consider raising the mound.