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Surrounded on the designated hitter

As I went through my final edit of my previous article about Matt Adams’ playing time blockage with the St. Louis Cardinals, I expanded the section at the end just before posting.

To be honest, my motive was to address several other articles I had read recently that offered up hope that the arrival of the designated hitter in the National League would occur soon enough to provide a solution for Adams’ playing time need with the Cardinals. Simply put, that does not seem to be the case.

A by-product of my extra writing was a re-opening of the long-festering wounds caused by the DH.

In the comments section of the earlier post, Lou Schuler posed a number of related thoughts. As my response grew in length, I decided to turn it into its own post.

My summary of Lou’s key points:

  • Despite being a traditionalist, he wishes the NL would adopt the DH.
  • Because baseball uses the DH at all levels, MLB pitchers are unprepared to hit.
  • Precious MLB outs are wasted on unproductive hitters.
  • Having no DH forces older players out of the game sooner than if there was a universal DH.

These are each solid points, worthy of discussion. I will address them all, though in a slightly different sequence.


I agree with a comment that blingboy made following the initial article. The strategies inherent with the pitcher hitting make for a better, more interesting game. Tony La Russa, who has World Championships in both leagues, has often made this point. Of course, this is a matter of preference, of opinion.

Like Lou, I am a traditionalist at heart and have been against the DH since before it was first implemented in 1973. Unlike him, I have not softened my fundamental opposition – or have I?

Despite what Commissioner Selig said in his quote included in the first article, I think the difference in rules between leagues does hurt the game – and it is only going to get worse. As the number of interleague games increase, I believe the inherent differences in roster construction favor the AL.

In fact, my concern over the AL-NL difference has led me to modify my long-standing point of view. My stance has evolved to the point that would I rather see both leagues use consistent rules, even if that means the NL adopting the DH.

Of course, that is exactly what it means.

As many others have noted, there is only one direction to get the leagues back together. The AL is never going back to pitchers hitting and the Players Union would not agree, even if the owners did.

How many less unproductive outs might there be?

I had some fun with the unproductive outs point. Last season, NL pitchers logged a collective .129 batting average. Quite mediocre, indeed. In the AL, the DHs were a collective .256, almost double.

In the following quick-and-dirty analysis, I looked at how many more hits those batting in the place of the NL pitchers over the same number of at-bats would have needed to average .256, like the AL DHs.

(I purposely held the number of pitcher/NL DH at-bats constant at 298, since the other at-bats in the pitchers’ spot in the NL were already taken by more accomplished hitters.)

2012 team average Average At-bats Hits Hit increase
NL pitchers 0.129 298 39
AL designated hitters 0.256 581 149
NL DH incremental 0.256 298 76 37

As the data indicates, at this most basic of levels, the incremental increase per team over the course of the season would be just 37 hits in total, or about one more hit every 39 innings or 4 1/3 games!

Is the DH really worth that?

I readily admit that I did not look at on-base, slugging, RBI, runs scored or any additional stats that would accentuate the difference.

Keeping older players in the game

I don’t think older men leaving the game because they are no longer able to function as complete players at a major league level of performance is necessarily a bad thing.

As crdswmn touched on, pushing the game more in favor of hitting may interest the casual fan, but I am among those who prefer a better balance.

MLB pitchers are ill-prepared to hit

The observation that all levels from youth baseball on up deploy the DH is a compelling argument – but only to a point. Usually the players that eventually reach the majors were the best athletes at whatever the level of amateur play at which they competed. If anything, they were probably the best hitters, as well as best at throwing and defense and everything else. They probably played in the field and hit on the days they were not pitching.

I have not researched the contention that elite college pitchers do not hit, so will not dispute it. We should note that some players are drafted directly out of high school, though.

Certainly, professional pitchers do not get as thorough hitting training as back in the pre-DH days. Unless both leagues standardize, this would not change.

In closing

I believe that what I call “the surround factor” will eventually contribute to universal implementation of the designated hitter. After four decades, the DH has become too ingrained to be phased out. It may take years more, as Selig has tied it to geographic realignment, but MLB will eventually get there, I predict.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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41 Responses to “Surrounded on the designated hitter”

  1. crdswmn says:

    I want pitchers to hit. Want to know why?

    Because for me, baseball is about joy and awe. It is about the lure of the unexpected. Almost anything can happen in baseball, and that is what makes it exciting for me. One of the most exhilarating moments for me in the last several seasons (excluding the WS run of 2011), was a game against the Brewers in 2011 in Milwaukee. Jake Westbrook came up to bat with the bases loaded. I bet you know what game I am talking about. Having a pitcher come up to bat in that situation makes most fans I know groan. For me, such situations almost always evoke a tiny thrill of expectation. Can the pitcher beat the odds? Will he do something remarkable? And on that day, Jake Westbrook, probably the worst hitting pitcher on the Cardinals, turned on a pitch and sent it over the left field wall for a grand slam. It was awe inspiring.

    Those are the rare moments I live for. Those are the moments that make my spine tingle. I want to keep the lure of those moments. For God’s sake, don’t take those moments away from me for a measly 37 extra hits.

    I am not a Bud Selig fan, but I would be in favor of keeping him in the commissioner’s office until he rots, if he does nothing else but keep the DH out of the NL.

    • Brian Walton says:

      crdswmn, you are not the first person I have heard to express that sentiment. It is sort of along the lines of the “rooting for the underdog” theme.

      I am not sure Selig is against the DH as much as he knows the majority of the NL owners must be against it. My guess is that of all the fights to fight, this one is way down the list. Much of Selig’s longevity in the job can be attributed to not angering those who would fire him if he steps very far out of line. Hardly revolutionary, but I think some forget that.

  2. Lou Schuler says:

    Brain, excellent roundup of pro- and anti-DH arguments.

    I particularly agree with your big point that pitchers — like all MLB players — are often the best athletes from their high school teams. I’ve heard many laments from friends in the strength and conditioning world who train young ballplayers. They say that parents and kids don’t put enough emphasis on athleticism. The kids practice baseball year-round, focusing too much on the mechanics of hitting and throwing and not enough on speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, and reaction time — things they would pick up more easily if they played more than one sport.

    And yet the ones who make it are typically multisport athletes. (All three guys I interviewed for that MH story — Posey, Trout, and Harper — were multisport athletes in high school, although Harper only played football his freshman year.)

    I just have to push back on one point: I’m hardly a casual fan, and yet I don’t find the strategy argument all that compelling. I wouldn’t miss the double-switch if it disappeared tomorrow. With the DH we’d still see managers using pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, and defensive substitutions.

    Low-payroll teams like the Rays make great use of multi-position players to gain advantages on a game by game basis. So there’s plenty of strategy to go around, in my view.

  3. blingboy says:

    Lou, I have a question for you, if you have the time and inclination to respond.

    If allowing a DH for the pitcher makes the game better, would also allowing a DH for the shortstop, say, make it even better?

    • Brian Walton says:

      In other words, how slippery is that slope?

      Platoon baseball! Catch it!

      • blingboy says:

        I’ve often asked that queston of DH supporters who have tried to prop up the DH in any way other than ‘I like more offense’. I’ve yet to get a ‘No’ response that is rationally sound. Not that Lou wouldn’t come up with one. But it seems to be the case that any other arguement for allowing a DH for the pitcher, but for no one else, tends to have logic issues. People will keep trying to sanctify it though, I’m convinced of that.

        • Lou Schuler says:

          I don’t have a rationally sound response because the DH itself was never rational.

          Really, it’s a historical fluke that someone decided to try to juice attendance by juicing offense by replacing the least-effective hitter with someone more competent. But it was a gimmick that caught on, and now we have a generation of ballplayers who grew up with the DH.

          I don’t know who originated the DH idea, but I would guess that he or she would laugh at the idea of having more than one per team per game. The gimmick worked once, against all odds, in a game that’s more focused on history and tradition than just about any other. I don’t think anyone would try it a second time.

          • blingboy says:

            Good answer, Lou. Probably the best I’ve heard. Thanks.

            My dad is an old timer, a traditionalist. One proviso he’d insist on, if he could, is if one of those creaky relics gets thrown out on a grounder to right field more than once in a year, he’s done. I’d have to agree with that.

            • Lou Schuler says:

              I’d love to see someone like Bryce Harper in right field — a combination of Ty Cobb’s competitiveness with Roberto Clemente’s arm. I wonder how many guys he’d throw out at first in a 162-game season?

              • blingboy says:

                A great outfield arm on display is one of my favorite things. I often mention Ankiel’s two throw game.

                There must be some sort of unwritten rule against trying to throw out guys at first from RF. Professional curtesy maybe.

    • Oquendo11 says:

      How about a designated runner for the catcher? It would certainly make the game more exciting that a station-to-station runner.

  4. CariocaCardinal says:

    I actually like the softball compromise. Let (make) the pitcher hit but also have a DH who doesn’t play in the field.

  5. CariocaCardinal says:

    continuing the Cedeno/Adams roster discussion from the other thread – I also posted this on the other board.

    Here’s my recommendation (which almost surely won’t happen). Keep Cedeno on the opening day roster and send Descalso down for the first month of the season. If Cedeno is not performing well at that point we release him. We would owe him a full season’s salary. The upside is that with a month in the minors. we will push Descalso’s FA back a year. That might be worth the million dollars we have to pay Cedeno. And, he might actually get it together by then.

    • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

      Push Danny back a year…………………….. what an AH………………….. save a million???????????
      The fantasy kings……………………….. maybe I will make this GZ……………. after all………..

      • CariocaCardinal says:

        coded profanity. quite mature. maybe you’ll make this good bye – and actually stick to your word this time. though i doubt we will be so lucky.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        Matt Holiday’s contract…….was embellished so that it might serve a function……… Scott Boras doesn’t do deferred unless someone is throwing money out there……..many aspects of that contract are “uncharacteristic” of a SB negotiation……………. the point????????? BD signs players for appearances and control………….control what?…………. take a close look at your own rationalizations………. the only logic and point of inference for either of you is based on the money committed……….it has nothing to do with baseball……………………….. using these devises as a tool…….he is grooming his 5yr plan…….and over a period of time will save 10’s of million of dollars by writing these “screen plays” for a loser…… the hero’s will all be gone soon……… Kalil Green……. one of the most calculated and incredible signing for only one reason……..control and appeasement of TLR/Dave D………..Lohse was signed for that very reason also………… Some if these kid look pretty good…………. but they are just entertainments… be brought on the appease the faithful………you all know their stories………. Kozma turn things around?………. he just shows up ………. he can’t figure out what is happening to him………….. as many of the vets might attest……… saber metrics are very old…..thats BD’s business.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Two interesting assumptions made.

      1) The Cards will need more time beyond spring training to assess Cedeno, an eight-year NL player.
      2) It is worth taking action now based on the possibility of Descalso having an MLB career longer than six years.

      • CariocaCardinal says:

        Agree that those assumptions exists.

        1) the team obviously thinks Wiggington deserves more time to show his worth or they would go ahead and cut their losses.

        2) I think DD will have a long career and not only does this idea make him cheaper if the Cards keep him, it also makes him more tradeable in a couple of years.

    • blingboy says:

      I think it would be un-Cardinal-like to send DD to the minors for a month at this point. More likely, the Cards will release Ronny soon so he can find another job. Sometimes being a class act gets in the way, but it pays off in the end.

      • Brian Walton says:

        Very practical assessment, IMO. Perhaps that was at least part of what was behind CC’s initial admission that his idea most likely will not happen.

        • CariocaCardinal says:

          Regardless of Cedeno and service time it has crossed my mind for some time that if DD doesn’t step it up that he could see some minor league time this year.

          • blingboy says:

            Perhaps Greg Garcia is the next IF UT. He has had at least a cameo at all 4 IF positions this spring.

          • Brian Walton says:

            Tough audience and a tough conversation to have with Descalso. How much more does he have to do to “step up”? He is batting .323 with an.860 OPS this spring. 2 HR/5 RBI and you want to send him down?

            • blingboy says:

              Hard to argue with .323. I’ve read were he’s re-made himself at the plate working with Mabry. We’ll have to see how it goes vs regular season pitching. Doesn’t hurt to have someone hot on his heals, though.

              I guess reprising his 2011 hot streak would be too much to ask.

            • CariocaCardinal says:

              Do you really put that much faith in Spring performances?

              • blingboy says:

                You mean Robinson won’t hit .500 this year?

              • Brian Walton says:

                You sure as heck better have a good reason to send down a guy who was on the MLB roster all last season and started much of the time. I was responding directly to your apparent public justification/challenge that he needs to “step up”. Looks to me like Descalso IS stepping up.

                So what would you tell him when you are sending him down?

                • CariocaCardinal says:

                  Given that I had the qualifier that “if DD doesn’t step it up” and I also said “sometime this year” I’m not sure why we are having this discussion.

                  But if I wanted to send a player down, I’d have no trouble telling him that I thought it was best for the team. People doing a good job get laid off all the time. Are baseball players so fragile and special they can’t take adversity that it out of their control as well?

                  • Brian Walton says:

                    Your initial idea was to keep Cedeno on the MLB roster to open the season and send Descalso down to Memphis at the same time, not sometime this year. That was what I was responding to.

                    Sending down a good performing major leaguer with his time already accrued in the majors to try to save later just did not seem realistic to me.

                    I see in a later post, you suggested Descalso could be sent down later instead. As you noted, that would disconnect him from Cedeno.

                    If Descalso tanks during the regular season and needs to go to Memphis to get his game straightened out, ok. But you seem to have an overall positive outlook for the player (based on the view that the Cards would want to delay his free agency by a year), so a performance-related demotion seems unlikely (which I agree with). Certainly not impossible, though.

                    • CariocaCardinal says:

                      Hmmmm….. Yet no hesitation to release a player who this Spring has pretty much performed as he has his whole career? Who has much more experience than DD. What do you tell him? “You performed as you have your whole career but we expected superman this SPring and you didn’t reach that level so we are releasing you” ??? I am sure if Robinson was only OPSing ,800 instead of 1.400 many would be saying he should be sent down . What would you tell him? Or Adams? These are tough choice in a tough game. None are easy.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      What to tell Cedeno? How about “You suck now just as you have sucked your whole career, and we don’t know what we were thinking when we signed you, so sayonara?

                      And yes, that is just my opinion.

                    • blingboy says:

                      How about “Garcia has passed you on the depth chart”.

  6. Nutlaw says:

    I think that we’re missing the most important piece of information from the article above. AL DHs only hit .256 last year!? If you’re going to have a guy whose only job is to hit, he should probably be able to hit. I say no DHs allowed if there aren’t real people to fill the role! 😀

  7. blingboy says:

    Some, including Bernie, have said the Cards shoud have considered Hiroyuki Nakajima among others this winter. The A’s signed him up for 2/$6.5 and here’s what they think about him now.

    “A’s people say Japanese free-agent Hiroyuki Nakajima has been so unimpressive at shortstop that they now describe the position as “open.” ”

  8. blingboy says:

    Here’s a few comments from Colby. Nothing earth-shaking. I didn’t see anything about him being in the best shape of his life. Talks about being laid back.

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