Some pitchers can hit. Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke are actually decent No. 9 hitters. Most pitchers, however, should not even touch a bat, ever. Bartolo Colon and his prowess as a hitter make for constant internet memes and blooper reels, and Jon Lester just set the record for the longest hitless drought to begin a career (0-58). While it is shocking that Lester hasn’t lucked his way into a gap with a weak ground ball or blooped a single, I don’t blame Lester for his record; after all, he’s a pitcher. Jon Lester and Bartolo Colon are paid to get hitters out, not to step into a batter’s box and sit back down after 3 pitches. No. 9 hitters, where the pitcher usually hits in the NL unless your coach is Joe Madden, hit .166 last season. In contrast, no. 9 hitters in the AL hit .232. Not very impressive, but still .66 points higher than their NL counterparts.
Time For The DH In Both Leagues
The designated hitter was adopted by the American League in 1973, and it is time for the National League to follow suit. If you were to go around the country and ask who the biggest name in baseball currently is, many people would tell you it is David Ortiz, the Boston Red Sox’ designated hitter. Who would you rather see at the plate: David Ortiz or Jon Lester? If you picked Lester, baseball may not be the sport for you. By not having the DH in their league, the NL takes a spot in the lineup away from a professional hitter and gives it to someone who usually either bunts or strikes out. Furthermore, the DH offers a spot on a team to players who may not have another path onto a big league roster, and or it extends the careers of older players. Having the DH usually doesn’t hurt the chances of a young pitcher cracking the roster or cost an older pitcher a roster spot. But not having the DH does hurt the advancement of young hitters and hurts older hitters looking to add a few more seasons to their career.
Some fans prefer the rules the way they are because it makes the two leagues different and it adds another element of strategy for NL managers. Games in the AL are usually feature more offense than NL games. There is less small ball, but a lot of fans, and people in baseball, appreciate what a bunt or a hit-and-run can do over the course of a game and prefer the NL style of play. Managers and baseball people in the NL especially like how the NL game provides the managers with more opportunities to mull over pinch hitting decisions, how to move runners over, and ways to use the bullpen effectively. However, arguments based on maintaining ‘different’ leagues and increased strategy are watered down by the fact that interleague play occurs throughout the season, as opposed to being limited to a two-week period around the All-Star break, as it used to be. The leagues are more similar than ever before.
On any given day, the Washington Nationals could be playing the Oakland A’s in California, and the DH will be used because Oakland is the home team. Pitchers hit less than ever before, at every level, and it is clearly time uniformity on this matter. I love strategy as much as the next guy, but if you’re asking me whether I’d rather see a double switch or sac-bunt, or Victor Martinez hitting, I would go with V-Mart. I enjoy the NL style; I just like the AL style even more.
Better baseball, and more entertaining baseball, happens when there are more players in the lineup who actually know how to hit and want to hit. I doubt Jon Lester steps up to the plate thinking about putting a good swing on a ball and squaring up a 1-2 fastball; no, he is thinking about the guys coming up to face him in the next half inning. Pitchers are paid to pitch, hitters are paid to hit, and MLB should let pitchers focus on what they are supposed to do and add a better, more capable, hitters to the NL game. It makes more sense than keeping things the way they are just for the sake of tradition and novelty.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images