Uniformity in Baseball: The Designated Hitter Should Be In Both Leagues
This weekend was the start of a few interleague series around Major League Baseball and that means that people from all over the nation will be debating their local team’s superiority: the Yankees versus the Mets, the Angels versus the Dodgers, the White Sox versus the Cubs to name a few. This is a special time of the MLB season whose enchantment will begin to fade due to the Astros moving to the American League and making interleague play a weekly event. At one point in time, AL and NL teams only played games against each other during the World Series and other special games (yes, spring training is special), but with the lines between the once disjointed leagues fading, the uniqueness of each league will fade as well. While the proposed uniformity of MLB on the verge of happening sooner rather than later, it will be a bitter-sweet transition for certain baseball fans. Nevertheless, the uniformity of the league will make Major League Baseball better as a whole.
The largest difference between the two leagues is the obvious one: the designated hitter. The designated hitter, while only one position in the batting lineup, leads to drastically different play in both the American and National Leagues. The American League tends to be more power oriented and focused on homeruns, while the National League tends to focus more on precise pitching and running abilities. While this is the only difference between the two leagues, this contributes to the perception that the two leagues are inherently different and independent of each other. This leads to the fascination of fans with the two weeks of interleague play that occurs in June: we get to see all of our favorite NL team’s best hitters in the batting lineup and we get to see the gimmicky comedy of seeing our favorite AL team’s pitchers trying to hit the ball. This leads to the strange and dirty-feeling satisfaction that we feel seeing a DH in an NL team’s line up and seeing Weaver draw a walk, hit a single up the middle, and scoring a run from first.
Uniformity is something that must occur in Major League Baseball. It seems that the MLB is about 25 years behind the other three major sports leagues in North America: the NFL, NBA, and NHL. Major League Baseball has not even instituted an instant replay for the sake of making correct calls in games, instead relying on the umpires. When these umpires make mistakes, as humans do, purists of the game say that the human element is a part of the tradition of the sport. The issue here is that the sake of tradition should not inhibit with the establishment of the integrity of the game.
The idea that tradition should not inhibit with the integrity of the game is also the reason why there needs to be uniformity in both the AL and the NL. But where should we start to make these leagues the same? Well obviously, we should tackle the largest difference between the two leagues: the designated hitter. Now, once we have decided where uniformity should be emphasized, the question becomes: how do we go about making the leagues even? Should the AL drop the designated hitter, or should the NL adopt it?
Simply put, the NL should adopt the designated hitter making it a universal position for all teams in Major League Baseball. There are multiple reasons why this should happen. Firstly, it creates another position for the NL teams to fill creating more opportunities for players. The designated hitter also creates a more exciting game for fans to watch. This is a bit subjective, but to the average baseball fan the homerun is a more exciting aspect of a game to watch than any other portion of the game including other arguably exciting plays, including the double play. Fans will get to see better hitting because of the institution of the DH in the NL.
Secondly, under the normal course of gameplay in the NL, the pitcher is almost always taken out and replaced with a pinch hitter during later innings of the game. Why not just institute the designated hitter rule throughout Major League Baseball? This would make the game all the more smoother as there will be no need to figure out pinch hitting situations and lead to an all around more streamlined and efficient use of resources on the part of the manager as they will not have to worry to find the proper hitters to replace their pitchers during the game, they will already be set by their designated hitter
Thirdly, the institution of the designated hitter also leads to overall better quality pitching. Statistically speaking, the figures on NL and AL pitchers appear to be, for the most part, even. In 2011, the AL had better numbers in some areas while the NL had better numbers in others. Nonetheless, it is still plausible to believe that the American League had better pitching due to the pitching staff being rested during all offensive half of innings rather than having to bat. In 2011 for the top ten pitchers in each statistical category, the National League on average did have a better earned run average, .272 versus .282, and slight edge in opponents on base percentage, .281 versus .283. These stats do look promising in being evidence that the National League has better pitching than the American League, but they are misleading for one simple reason: there is no designated hitter in the NL. The NL pitchers do not have to deal with a batter in the lineup who specializes in getting on base by drawing walks and hitting the ball, and increases the opposing pitcher ERA by driving in runs. Pitchers in the AL have to deal with nine valid threats at home plate, while pitchers in the NL have to deal with only eight. This extra potent batter gives a statistical disadvantage to AL pitchers because they have to deal with a designated hitter.
The American League pitchers do have an advantage in two other very important categories. Again, in 2011 the top ten pitchers in each statistical category on average had better walks and hits per innings pitched, .100 versus .110, and opponent’s batting average against, .221 versus .230. These two stats are arguably the most important in baseball and allude to the notion that American League pitching is better than National League pitching. The AL’s top ten in both WHIP and BAA were on average better than NL pitchers. The most likely reason for this discrepancy is the fact that the pitchers in the AL are able to rest in between innings and not have to waste effort on bats. This discrepancy is all the more impressive when you take into account that these AL pitchers have to deal with the designated hitter, which specializes in hitting homeruns out of the park.
Baseball is a game of tradition and any change that is made to it is instantly met with criticism because of said tradition which makes the game great. It is bitter-sweet for fans of baseball to absorb changes to America’s Pastime, but overall it does good for Major League Baseball to have uniformity throughout the league. The potential sameness of the leagues would make events such as interleague play less exciting and less fascinating, but the institution of a universal rule about the use of the designated hitter will make the game of baseball better than it is now. The overall quality of the game will improve by giving fans more to look forward to on the offensive side of the ball with the designated hitter making spectacular hits and the quality of the pitchers will improve due to them being rested. This seems like a paradox at first. How can hitting improve while the quality of pitcher improves as well? The institution of the universal designated hitter will lead to a further emphasis on the most important aspect of the game: can the powerful hitter successfully bat against the unhittable pitcher?