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It happens every year. A pitcher gets hurt while he is running the bases and the anti-purists come out of the woodwork.
Baseball is full of all sorts of different fans, and none of them like each other very much. There is the fan who has ditched traditional stats and only uses newer, fancy sabrmetric stats. They are often heard talking about WAR, BABIP, and runs created, and run sequencing. These newer-style statistics are largely dismissed by baseball purists.
Then comes the fan of the designated hitter. In 1973, back when the American League and National League operated separately, the owners met with commissioner Bowie Kuhn and voted to instill the designated hitter in the American League to boost the offense and help gain fans.
Of course, the baseball purists hated the idea, but forward thinking fans felt that it was a great move. Now, 42 years later, it seems that the National League is on the precipice of giving in to the temptation to allow the pitcher to simply be a pitcher and not hit.
Fans might think that eliminating the pitcher from having to swing a bat is a great idea, but it really isn’t just about more offense.
The problem is, having the pitcher at the back of the lineup changes the way an opposing team has to go about pitching to a lineup. It also requires the offense to work around a pitcher who is in their own lineup. In the National League, an offense has to put up runs and get creative with a weaker bat in the lineup. Maybe the pitcher has to lay down a bunt to move runners over, or maybe a pitcher has to find a way to hit the ball in the air to score a runner from third base. With a runner on base and an out, a seven-hole hitter knows that for the inning to be productive, he has to get a hit because if he fails, the opposing team can just walk the eight-hole batter and face the pitcher with two outs.
Having the pitcher hit makes a manager have to make more strategic moves. If a starting pitcher is working into the 6th or 7th inning and starts to struggle, an American League manager can simply remove that pitcher. In the National League, a manager must work around the lineup before making that decision. If the pitcher is due up in the next inning, the manager might have to double switch, or try and get his starter to get through the frame and limit the damage.
There are endless scenarios that come into play with the pitcher in the lineup.
Generally, the argument for removing the pitcher’s bat is about keeping a pitcher healthy and on the mound. Earlier in the season St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright tore his achilles tendon coming out of the batter’s box. He is going to miss the entire season recovering.
The reality is, not having the pitcher hit might prevent injuries. However, the vast majority of pitchers injuries are a result of something much more taxing on the body; pitching.
Root Sports pointed out in the broadcast in Arizona that nearly one-quarter of all pitchers in Major League Baseball have undergone Tommy John surgery on their elbow. None of those injuries came from swinging a bat or running the bases.
Absolutely, pitchers are more prone to injury in the batter’s box or on the base paths than they are in the dugout. However, acting like the pitcher can’t run the bases successfully is a gross overstatement about the inherent risk of playing the game. Pitchers aren’t the best baserunners or hitters, but they way the DH crowd makes it sound is that these pitchers are in serious need of direction when they are on the bases. It is quickly forgotten that these are some of the most athletic men in the entire world.
The logic makes no sense. People have no problem sending a pitcher to the mound with no protection besides a glove while the best hitters in the world smash balls back at them. Yet, they believe, they are at far too great of a risk to let them swing a bat and run.
For the designated hitter, why stop with the pitcher? Pitchers are normally bad hitters, but so are catchers. shouldn’t catchers be protected as well? Wouldn’t a catcher be much more effective if he didn’t have to remove the gear, go to the plate and try and hit, then run the bases and have to strap the gear back on and go back out there? Also, somewhere out in the world somewhere there must be people who are phenomenal outfielders but can’t hit to save their live. Maybe baseball should become like football and have a team that plays offense and a team that plays defense.
The other argument that isn’t mentioned for the National League not adopting the DH is that it is makes interleague play interesting. The National League being different from the American League is a good thing for baseball. When the Rockies go to an American League park, the discussion is always sparked about who the designated hitter will be and how it will shift the lineup around. In the World Series a new dynamic always comes into play for both squads in the opposing ball parks.
The NFL, the NBA and the NHL have nothing that differentiates the two leagues. Major League Baseball having a different set of rules makes it fun for the fans.
There is no reason for the National League to adopt the designated hitter. Things are fine just as they are and the argument that pitchers get hurt on the base paths is simply an overreaction to the rare times when that happens.