With interleague play expanding all over the baseball calendar instead of being concentrated to before the All-Star break like in year’s past, there’s been a lot of talk about finding a DH solution. The NL wants to stay with it's rules. The AL wants to stay with it's rules. And no one likes switching rules every time there's interleague play. It seems as though the momentum sits squarely with the pro-DH crowd and I’ve heard the sentiment that it’s not a matter of if the DH creeps into the National League, but when. As someone who prefers no DH, I got to thinking about if there’s a solution that doesn’t involve just adopting the AL’s rules.
So, I propose that the DH be adopted across the board, but with an important tweak. All teams can have a DH, but the DH can only stay in the game for as long as the starting pitcher does. Once the starting pitcher leaves the game, current NL rules go into effect.
A couple of thoughts on the idea.
1.) Strategy Would Be More Complicated than Both the Current NL and AL Rules
With this rule, you get to keep the strategy of an NL- game, which the anti-DHers want to preserve. In fact, it incentivizes having pitchers go deeper into games because there’s an offensive tangible benefit to a long SP outing–getting to use your DH for longer. It makes managers have to decide when to bring in a bullpen arm while considering the SPs diminishing effectiveness against downgrading from your DH to a presumably lesser bench bat.
I feel like this is a more interesting decision than current NL managers face. Instead of having two-reasons to go to the pen (1- to improve your pitching by subbing out a tiring pitcher for a fresh one and 2- to improve your offense by subbing a position player for a pitcher), a manager now has conflicting motivations to go to the pen. Because now, yanking your starter may improve your run prevention, but it’ll hurt your offense. Taking Tim Hudson out of the game then might be tantamount to pinch-hitting Jordan Schafer for Evan Gattis, so you better be sure.
Clearly, the AL manager has to think about more as well. Instead of having one variable to weigh–his pitchers’ effectiveness– he has to think how it’ll affect his lineup. Plus, don’t you want to see those Boston writers rake John Farrell over the coals because by taking Buchholz out in the 7th, he effectively pinch hit Daniel Nava for Big Papi? I do.
No more seeing an NL ace taken out in the 6th when he’s rolling because his team had the pitcher spot came up with runners on the corners and one out. He’s more likely to stay in longer now because a Terry Collins would know that taking Harvey out means Justin Turner hits instead of Lucas Duda–ok, bad example but the logic fits. Who knows, maybe this will spell the doom of the robotic "take your pitcher out whenever he’s thrown 100 pitches" strategy that has metastasized throughout MLB. It’d be a great side-effect for those who want more dominating pitching performances.
2) DHs Aren’t Full-Time DHs Anymore.
More AL teams aren’t using the DH as a full-time player anymore. Boston has Ortiz, KC has Butler, but more teams are rotating the DH to give their players a day off from the field. The Yankees can rotate their DH among their high-priced, older veterans. (Last year, the Yankees started 10 guys at DH and could rotate it among Granderson, Jeter, Tex, A-Rod, Swisher, and any of those 30 year-olds who needed a break.) The Astros can rotate the DH among the 1B/LF types that they hope to be the solution. (Who knows who the real hitters will end up being? Brett Wallace? Chris Carter? F!? Ok, probably not F!)
3) The Bench's Increased Importance.
Under this system a DH is liable to only get 2-3 ABs instead of 3-5 ABs in a normal 9-inning game, so someone else has to take those ABs. So pinch-hitter extraordinaires have 15 more jobs available to them as pinch-hitting becomes more important to the AL. Mike Baxter has a better chance of catching on with another team if the Mets cut him.
1) Why Owners Will Want It.
Implementing the DH across the board will likely raise scoring. Higher scoring games means more attendance and better TV deals. This means more money in the owners’ wallets. This study (Economics paper summary hosted on Clemson server here) seems to indicate that the original DH rule had an effect on attendance, regardless of other factors. Apparently that affect was an increase in the owners pockets of 772,921 per AL team. (Remember these are 1970s dollars, so inflation would make it a good deal greater today.)
Interestingly, this PhD thesis (Clemson phD thesis here) concludes that attendance didn’t go up because of the DH. Instead, it finds that attendance is more closely linked with complete games. Since complete games may rise with this tweak in the rules– managers will be less likely to use the bullpen because then their DH is out of the game– maybe the proposed DH rule will increase attendance, just not in the way we thought.
So, despite the fact, that I can’t figure out why Clemson University is so obsessed with the DH (maybe they drive down to Savannah and see too many flyballs die on the warning track in expansive Grayson Stadium,) it seems like a DH implementation would make owners money.
While I can’t profess to know the motivations of 30 billionaires, I think that they’ll accept any change that will put more portholes on their yachts. (You know, because everyone likes more money and they already have yachts.)
2. Why Players Will Want It.
It increases the amount of good-paying jobs for veterans (i.e. members of the MLB Players’ Association who would have to vote on it.) DH has the highest average salary of all other positions, simply because it has been populated by aging sluggers who have already hit free agency. I heard this on the BP Podcast the other day, but it was confirmed by this SI survey from 2007 also.
More highly paid jobs (the kind that pay 6 million and not the $500,000 minimum) means the players will get more money in aggregate, which is something the Union would likely favor.
Furthermore, they may argue that this could necessitate an expansion to 26 players. From the NL’s perspective, you can argue for a new player, because now you have a DH that wasn’t a position before. From the AL perspective, you need 1 more bench player because you’re guaranteeing more pinch-hitting. And the MLBPA might be able to get the owners to accept it if they can sell it as something that will make more than $500k for the owners. "The 26th player will pay for itself," they’ll say.
3. Why NL Teams will want it.
It will erase the competitive advantage the AL teams hold during interleague play. Mainly AL DHs outhit NL DHs by a greater margin than NL Pitchers outhit AL Pitchers. (This was hinted at here, especially in the graph at the bottom involving runs scored per game.)
But the thrust of why NL teams will like it is that it preserves some of their tradition and it’ll put a stop to the practice of merely using a utility player as the DH. We can all pretend that Keith Lockhart, World Series DH never happened.
4. Why AL Teams will want it.
Their pitchers never have to hit. We just show them a loop of the clip when Chien Ming Wang injured himself running the bases. Heck, they even blamed his injury not on Wang’s clumsiness, but on NL rules. I couldn't get a clip of Wang hurting himself on the bases, but here's a clip of him hurting himself fielding his position. Maybe, he was just made to pitch. Also, did I mention that their pitchers will never have to hit?
So, maybe no one will like this idea. But I ask pro-DHers, would you accept it as a way of cementing the DH once and for all? Ant- DHers,would you accept it as a way to stop the DH from sweeping away all strategy and preserving at least a little of the NL tradition? And if you truly hate it, don’t they always say that a fair deal is one that leaves both sides wanting more?