By Mark Smith
This is going to sound a little familiar, but humor me again. What’s your favorite cookie because we all know that the hierarchy of desserts goes cookies, pie, lemon bars, cake, ice cream, and the odd hybridization of cake and ice cream? If you said M&M cookies, you’re Albert Pujols (downright excellent). If you said chocolate chips, you’re Chase Utley (fantastic but not quite the best). If you said snickerdoodles, you’re Brian McCann (wildly underrated but really good). If you said macadamia nut, you’re Ryan Braun (underrated though not terribly but marvelous). If you said peanut butter, you’re Lyle Overbay (not that good). If you said oatmeal raisin, you’re David Eckstein (gritty). And if you like no-bake cookies, you’re Yadier Molina (I can’t figure out why everyone likes you so much). Okay, that wasn’t exactly scientific, but I have a point. Cookies, like DHs, are largely left up to taste.
Baseball is a fairly tradition-rich game, and because pitchers have hit since the beginning, it seems fitting that a significant part of the game’s strategy should remain in some form. It’s not like using RBIs as a major point of player analysis. You don’t lose out by not having a DH. It’s not a handicap. You could argue that it hurts come Interleague Play and World Series time, but A) the difference in DHs over 7 games (at most) isn’t that large and B) all NL teams are hurt by not having a DH during Interleague play. Considering NL teams are judged against each other to get into the playoffs, the DH isn’t really an important aspect.
Not having a DH also makes strategy more important. DHs allow the AL manager to set his lineup, keep his starting pitcher in as long as he wants, and use few bench players. NL managers have to worry about the pitcher’s spot in the lineup, the value in keeping in a good pitcher versus getting a key run, double switches, and using relievers with pinch-hitters coming into the game. It makes the game a little more interesting for fans as they try to figure out what will happen next, and it allows them to put themselves into the manager’s shoes more often.
The DH rule also makes baseball unique. All the other major sports have blanket rules, and the MLB is the only one with a major rule difference between leagues. It makes baseball standout. And as a rule that doesn’t really hurt competition, it just makes the game more interesting.
Tradition’s nice, but if something is shown to be bad, you shouldn’t keep doing it simply because you’ve always done it. And watching pitchers hit is bad. Leaving out the out-making disaster of the sacrifice bunts, watching pitchers hit is almost an insult to the game. I can’t say this definitively, but I’m guessing pitchers used to give more of a Hoover Dam about hitting and could at least not make a fool of themselves. The number of pitchers that don’t make a fool of themselves is minimal, though they do exist. Pitchers don’t work on hitting in the minors. Pitcher’s don’t really work on it much in the majors. Pitchers don’t even run out the ones they hit. If they can’t or aren’t allowed to for investment reasons, then there isn’t much point in letting them hit. If you focus their training on only pitching, then just let them pitch.
As for the strategy point, it may make it more enjoyable for some fans, but does it for all? And would you rather see 4 good at-bats or one or two strategic moves in the later innings after 2-3 pathetic at-bats from the starting pitcher? Sure, there are more moves that have to be made, but does the number of moves made make the game better or more enjoyable? What makes matters worse is watching managers make questionable decisions like bringing in Jason Motte to face Ryan Howard late in the game. What’s fun about that? Wouldn’t you rather have the players win and lose the game than having the manager have a significant influence?
As for being a unique rule, it may also keep fans from watching NL games, though I guess instituting the DH may do the same thing. And it also gives older players who can only hit fewer opportunities, and having better hitters would bring up offense a little bit.
The DH debate brings up a lot of strong feelings, but it’s not a debate with an absolute truth at the end. Advanced metrics have more truth than traditional metrics, though they still aren’t “absolute”. DHs aren’t like that. They are a matter of preference as long as the teams using or not-using DHs are being measured against other teams of the same persuasion. It has little to no effect on the game. Essentially, it comes down to how you like to watch a game. Do you like the importance of strategy and knowing what to do? No DH is probably best. Do you want the absolute best talent on the field at each position for as long as possible? The blanket DH is best. But it’s a personal preference. The optimal strategy can be adapted for the particular team, and while pitchers don’t work that hard on hitting right now, that’s a conscious choice by the team, who could let them hit and run (if they worked on it, they probably wouldn’t get hurt that often, especially because they would be more used to doing it) to improve their offensive performance. I don’t like telling you that it’s all relative, but I wouldn’t unless I meant it. You can have an opinion, but you can't act like it's the right one. If you want my personal opinion, I don’t particularly care either way, but I’d probably go all-DH because I like optimum performance and hate watching Fredi butcher more decisions.