Rumors are going around that the designated hitter will soon be implemented into the National League, and it could benefit the Padres.
The designated hitter (DH) is one of the most hotly debated subjects in baseball today. It has been part of Major League Baseball since the American League adopted it in 1973. There are rumors that the DH will be coming to the National League as early as next season, in 2021.
There is a growing belief amongst NL GM’s that the DH will be instituted for NL as early as 2021. FWIW.
— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) January 27, 2020
For nearly 50 years, the DH has helped talented, yet limited or aging hitters prolong their careers and bless fans with their wondrous abilities with the bat longer than they would have had the DH not been introduced.
What would baseball be without hitters like Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz, Frank Thomas or Jim Thome? All of whom extended their careers by at least four seasons by being able to hang up the glove and be a DH. Most, if not all, of these players, are likely not in the Hall of Fame without their years as a DH.
Thome began DHing primarily in 2006 after 15 seasons and 430 home runs. Thome was able to hit an extra 182 home runs in his seasons as a DH, thus pushing him up to over 600 and a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
“The Big Hurt” himself, Frank Thomas, played the first seven years of his career at first base, hitting 257 home runs with a total WAR of 47.0. From 1998 to his retirement after 2008, as mainly a DH, he hit another 264 bombs with 16.9 WAR and a 134 OPS+. He was able to continue to have 25-plus home run, 125-plus OPS+ seasons well into his late 30s thanks to the DH.
The Padres, and their fans, should welcome the DH.
First off, there are several players either on the projected Opening Day roster or high up in the minor leagues that are basically designated hitters trying to play defense because they have to. Josh Naylor is a prime example. The former first-round pick posted -3 Defensive Runs Saved in 62 games in the outfield last season. With Eric Hosmer entrenched at first base for the foreseeable future, Naylor’s only path to a roster spot in San Diego is as an outfielder. His bat skills are worth keeping, with a .853 OPS and 117 OPS+ in August and also hit 27 home runs with an OPS near .900 in his last two seasons in the minor leagues.
With the DH, Naylor could be a menace in the lineup, at least against right-handed pitching. He has not put up sexy numbers in the big leagues yet, but the 22-year-old Canadian has less than 300 plate appearances to his name. By all indications, Naylor should at least be a respectable lefty bat, which is needed in San Diego’s righty-heavy lineup.
The DH would solve the Padres’ outfield logjam, especially if Wil Myers is still a Friar by then. Perhaps the former Rookie of the Year will be a better hitter without the pressures of playing in the field. He has been a “fish out of water” since Hosmer came to town and took over first base.
Franchy Cordero is still very much a question mark due to constant injuries but continues to show elite tools in flashes. The 25-year-old Dominican’s fielding has been suspect at times, but having him as an option to mash against right-handed pitching is a plus, as he has a .782 OPS and 113 OPS+ against righties.
The DH could also be a way for the Padres to have Austin Hedges’ elite defensive skills behind the plate while also still putting Francisco Mejia’s developing bat in the lineup. Hedges’ offensive struggles are as well documented as his defensive prowess while Mejia’s glove is still a work-in-progress, his bat is looking to be above-average. He hit .348 with a 1.000 OPS in 22 games in August last season. Giving Mejia more plate appearances should produce more positive results, and the DH would allow the Friars to have the best of both worlds with their catchers.
Hudson Potts is turning into a solid power prospect at third base. Of course, he is blocked by Manny Machado on the big league roster, and the four-time All-Star is not going anywhere. There would be a place for Potts, and his 57 home runs in four minor league seasons, with a DH in the NL.
A DH, in addition to the new 26-man roster, would allow the Padres to experiment and allow prospects to bloom at their own pace.
How many more free agents and trades would the Padres have available if they could acquire a true slugger at DH? How many times have the Padres passed on a free agent or vice versa because they did not have that option?
The supporters of the “Pitchers Who Rake” campaign, as well as those who want to stick to tradition and strategy, will oppose the DH coming to the National League. It’s not a stretch to say that a pitcher who rakes is undoubtedly the exception, not the norm.
Most agree that the worst hitting position in the game is at catcher. This is due to their demanding duties of handling a pitching staff and leading the defense. Here is a look at the position by position breakdown of all the hitters in the league in 2019. Also, a look at just how much worse a pitcher is at hitting than even catchers.
Interestingly, the collective DH hitters were the best group, while the pitchers were far and away the worst. Is a pitcher striking out over 40 percent of the time really that exciting? How many rallies does that kill? How many exciting plays have been prevented because the next hitter up to bat is the pitcher, struggling to hit above .150?
Eliminating the pitchers hitting while increasing the number of designated hitters will increase the amount of exciting offensive plays in baseball, which is a better way to grow the game than having a pitch clock.
Plus, the DH in the National League means at least 15 more players will have everyday jobs, thus making more money and extending their careers. Is that such a bad thing?
Some people will shake their fists and say, “Everyone hits and everyone fields! That’s baseball!” Do pitchers really “field,” though? When they try to field, it usually isn’t pretty.
For those who like “tradition,” the designated hitter has been part of baseball since the early 70s. This is not unique to American baseball, nor is it a new concept. It’s about as old as the Watergate scandal. In fact, not having the designated hitter is outside the norm of international baseball. Most Asian and Latin American baseball leagues also have a designated hitter. High schools and colleges also have the option. Minor League Baseball has the designated hitter as well; this is nothing new. In some leagues, it is the designated hitter that is the “tradition.”
It’s time for the National League to get out of the Stone Age, get with the times and let the DH in. The Padres will benefit from it.