Why the Padres, National League should have the DH

Padres Jake Cronenworth

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Major League Baseball implemented the DH for the shortened 2020 season, and the Padres would greatly benefit from having it become a permanent rule change.

The initials, DH, represent several innocuous abbreviations.  For one, it’s the dirham, the monetary denomination in UAE currency.  In Snapchat lingo, it’s a dear husband.  Depending on where one works, one may have a department head.  However, in Major League Baseball in 2021, the DH has taken on an oft-debated, and now more lamented, greater significance. The developing standoff over the new collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners becomes more and more ominous. 

Actual statistics exist now for statheads to pour over for National League squads utilizing the universal designated hitter.  Fans have seen what this previously forbidden land of fantasy may look like as Spring Training rosters formulate.  With lessening objections, the people want the universal DH.  This Chicago Sun-Times poll presents just one example of its appeal noted by fans, as this organizational update makes the game better for almost everyone.

As Padres pitchers begin to take Spring Training at-bats today (Blake Snell didn’t swing once in his two at-bats), MLB continues to drag its feet on the issue. As its fandom sits in wait for an official declaration, a clear look at the overwhelming evidence to enact the universal DH is deserved.  Padres fans need to know what’s at stake as their game 1 roster takes shape.  Here are 7 reasons why the DH should be permanent in the National League.

  • Both leagues should operate with the same parameters.

Bottom Line Facts: The NL has won 12 of the 21 World Series titles of the 21st century.  The AL holds a historical .521 winning percentage over the NL since 1997’s institution of interleague play.  Since 1997, the NL has held a winning percentage for a given season over .500 only 6 times. In its only season of balance, 2020, the AL and NL tied in interleague play, going 149-149.  Not surprisingly, both leagues operated with the same rules.

The imbalance simply favors the AL.  How?  In terms of roster construction, non-DH teams and DH-type players do not pursue each other.  For one example, Nelson Cruz, an offensive difference-maker at the highest level, provides an option only for AL clubs.  Imagine him in San Diego.  The fact that an NL team almost cannot sign him creates a competitive disadvantage known only to baseball in professional sport.  It’s un-American, among other adjectives.

Padres Implications: The Padres plan, which I argued for in this article, has given San Diego a potentially deep group of hitters, and though there is no Nelson Cruz (or even a Mitch Moreland) currently, they would not be at a disadvantage with their lineup as currently constructed. A deadline deal could bring an important piece for a stretch run but not if the rules disallow it. 

  • Professionalism: Best Players Using Best Skills

Bottom Line Fact:  According to this 2020 article from NBC Sports, Major League teams spend virtually no resources teaching pitchers to hit.  Why?  The belief across the industry is that they cannot hit this level of pitching.  They, in essence, couldn’t hit themselves even with a great expenditure.  It’s that much of a lost cause.

The few, very best hitting pitchers might sniff the Mendoza Line, might hit an occasional home run.  As noted in the article concerning maybe the most famous pitcher home run, “(Bartolo) Colon has more families than home runs.”  The majority of elite pitchers, as high schoolers, are pulled from hitting drills permanently to focus on pitching.  They, then in general, do not swing a bat in college or the minors.  Then, when it matters most, MLB asks them to try to hit the best pitching on the planet with the greatest risk/reward on the line.  It’s not just ignorant; it’s insulting.  We don’t clamor for the placekicker to have to play third downs at middle linebacker.  We don’t force goalies to play center at the start of a new period.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Padres Implications: Some indicative 2019 hitting stats to whet your appetite for Padre pitcher ABs: Dinelson Lamet (.143), Chris Paddack (.119), Yu Darvish (.089), Blake Snell (no hits in 13 career plate appearances), Joe Musgrove (.149), Drew Pomeranz (.135).  It would be different if players even wanted to hit.  According to “The State of Pitchers Hitting” from 2019 by Howard Megdal, MLB pitcher Matt Moore said, “I liked hitting way more than pitching coming out of high school…It’s a completely different thing than I remembered.  At times, it’s almost not even fun.”  Imagine the ridiculousness and embarrassment these guys labor through with no support from their own organizations.  Essentially, MLB sanctions a type of hazing.

  • Entertainment: Game Quality

Bottom Line Fact: According to this MLBTrade Rumors article, “The primary reason the league would favor the change {to the universal designated hitter}, in the long term, would be to increase the regularity of balls in play.”  The article goes on to say pitchers hit a combined negative-18 wRC+ in 2019, and that was their highest mark in 5 years.  

The almost mockery of the game through inane rule changes (pitching clocks, bullpen substitution rules, pickoff attempt limitations, etc.) all combined will have this little significance to gameplay and game time reduction.  In comparison, some college football games, the kind with both teams throwing 60+ attempts (looking at you, Big XII), last far longer than the average MLB game.  According to Athlon Sports, NCAA records show the average NCAA football game lasts 3 hours and 24 minutes.  According to ESPN, the average MLB game lasts 3 hours and 5 minutes.  Why isn’t college football mindlessly, endlessly broadcasting the need for their own sport to make rules to prevent the length of boring games?  Game quality matters.  Reason to watch should earn the focus, not reason to get it over with faster.  Baseball presents marvelous entertainment when expectations of the ball potentially being put in play exists.  MLB leadership should act like people who’ve played and loved baseball, celebrating and promoting the aspects of the game that are exceptional.

Padres Implications: Padres pitchers present average league hitting capability for their position.  In other words, “I’ve got time to raid the fridge” and “I wonder what else is on” will become in-practice phraseology again in a world where the DH is not universal.  Blake Snell, literally, did not swing today in two at-bats, and I blame him none.  Here’s to hoping the decision has already been made to include the universal DH, so he decided not to try.

  • Strategy

Bottom Line Fact: According to MLB statistics, the starting pitcher hits for himself 93%+ until the fifth inning, so there is a little strategy here unless he falters, putting the team in a hole and ending strategy per se.  They hit for themselves only 48% of the time after the sixth inning.  This is the one-time “strategy” *may* be involved in a non-DH league.

Full disclosure, I pitched once upon a time (and not as a professional in any way…I was not nearly good enough for that).  Until 2020, I long defended the NL game, frequently commenting that I was a “purist.”  I’ve come to realize what that actually meant, for me, was a glorification of nostalgia.  I supported the idea of “strategy,” but I was a terrible hitter in college in the few attempts I may have received in practice or a game. No one should have had to watch me bumble through an at-bat, and the limited opportunity for strategy fails to be a worthy trade-off.

In an era of openers and bullpenning and an era where good teams have an undefined line between starter/bench roles with positional flexibility, 2020 showed there is actually more strategy today with the DH.  Matchups, rest, etc., all present a managerial staff with tremendous decision-making opportunities.  The historical idea of “strategy” says a pinch hitter is more strategic than a DH, but a manager has 3-4 bench players today.  Is there really much decision-making here?  I assure you the opponent already knows who you’re going to pinch-hit.  That doesn’t sound like much of a choice then, and either way, both accomplish the same goal: a substitution for the pitcher at the plate.

Padres Jayce Tingler
(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

Padres Implications: The Padres could conceivably carry 3 catchers as two of them can play effectively around the diamond.  Their depth could give regulars like FTJ, Myers, and Hosmer (all of whom missed significant time in previous seasons) rest and chances to participate while healing up from minor injuries that build up over a season.  The universal DH would only be of benefit to San Diego and in multiple ways.

  • Player health/rest/safety

Bottom Line Fact: The 2020 San Diego Padres were unable to use their full roster in the playoffs due to season-ending injuries of both ace starting pitchers: Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger.  Neither were injured while hitting or running the bases.

The facts above seem to disprove the need for the universal designated hitter based on a plan for good health.  Pitchers get hurt without hitting.  However, the facts simply amplify that losing a pitcher changes the fortunes of a team.  A left fielder or second basemen can be worked around, perhaps.  A front line starter down?  It’s catastrophic.  Anything that puts this highest dollar, highest impact position in harm’s way should be eliminated.  Aside from the obvious injury potential, today rest and health have become training musts.  The universal DH allows players to rotate and contribute better and differently.

Padres Implications: Losing Adam Wainwright was a tough blow to overcome in St. Louis in April of 2015.  Losing two aces changed the narrative in 2020 in Petco.  In fact, we’re actually still paying the piper for those injuries.  It took a farm system of talent to bring in new mound mates, giving San Diego another chance at glory.  We still don’t know to what degree Lamet will contribute in 2021 and beyond, and we know Clevinger won’t participate this season.  No team should face that prospect in a non-pitching scenario.

  1. Fan Experience

Bottom Line Facts: Consider these factors for fans around the nation.  According to The Cost Guys writer, Craig Casazza, Cleveland has the lowest median income of all MLB cities as of 2019, and it will take a Clevelander 6 and half hours of work (on average) to take a family of 4 to the game, park the family truckster, and get concessions.

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Has it happened to you?  You drive (or fly) to your favorite team’s home site, walk the area taking pictures, and grabbing some memorabilia, perhaps.  Your excited talk of the upcoming event blends the standings with player performance stats with the latest hot prospect call-up from the minors.  You enter the stadium and scurry to your seats, only to find that your two favorite players are late scratches.  They are taking a game off to rest.  It only takes one disappointing trip like this to sour thoughts of going to another game.  Players need rest; that’s not this issue.  But, watching players hit is most often what a fan seeks, especially the casual fan.  Players can “rest” with a DH day.  Without it, they are a scratch.  MLB should promote anything that encourages fans to watch, either in person or at home.

Padres Implications: The Padres used the DH masterfully last year to keep people fresh and take advantage of matchups.  No reason to expect anything else this season exists as long as players remain healthy.  Without it, good players sit, and fans miss more moments with the game and their families and friends.

  • Opportunities for Name Players

Bottom Line Fact: Many historically productive offensive players are currently without assignment, and as teams face inevitable upcoming roster reductions, more will flood the market.  

We saw the retirements of Alex Gordon, Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, and Dustin PedroiaEdwin Encarnacion, Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Matt Wieters, and Jedd Gyorko. These are impactful players who maybe only fit the DH role.  To be clear, players need to earn their spot, but for those who follow a specific player, it allows opportunities for these players to still be productive. 

Padres Implications: This element may not matter to the current Padres cadre, but at some point, most will want the careers of a Hosmer, Machado, or Tatis, Jr. to be extended as long as possible.  Or, more likely, a deadline add of someone like Mitch Moreland would be welcomed in many seasons.

Be smart, MLB.  Don’t let posturing ruin what 2020 proved to be best practice.  Virtually no arguments against the universal designated hitter exist anymore aside from some struggle to keep nostalgia nostalgic.  Among other harmless phrases, DH stands for Don’t Hesitate.

1 thought on “Why the Padres, National League should have the DH

  1. I’m still old school and would prefer the NL stay as it is. I get they want more offense and more runs without the black hole of the pitchers spot. I like the strategies necessary with the pitchers’ spot in the lineup. Whether it’s bunting, double switches,, or the frustration of them not hitting, I prefer it.

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