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Friday Feuds Vol. 2: Should Pitchers Still Hit?

Welcome to the second round of Friday Feuds! This week, I talk to BBB Podcast co-host and House Enterprise CEO Will Tondo to finally answer the question;

Is it time to enact a permanent universal DH?

Will Opening Statement: Baseball used to be America’s pastime. It’s slowly losing its ground to other sports. Everyone loves seeing home runs, the excitement of batting. Given the way rosters have evolved, the gap between teams is closing, and the league is growing more competitive as a whole. You’d love to see 1-9 pop the ball. As a Yankees fan, for example, it’s great to see power in the 7-9 spot on your rotation, instead of getting to the bottom of your rotation and being like “oh these guys suck.”

Why have a pitcher, who’s essentially an automatic out, come up to bat? You’re not always going to have guys like Jake Arrieta or Madison Bumgarner hitting bombs. They’re a rare exception, and they’re getting older. In 2019, pitchers combined to have a -13 OPS. That’s just painful to watch. I think the universal DH helps the game, fuels the excitement, and overall just makes the game more entertaining.

Sam Opening Statement: While I agree that baseball is losing its place as America’s sport, if it hasn’t lost it already, I think that an unbalanced DH, meaning a DH in the AL but not the NL is important in preserving the unique identity of baseball as both an American sport, and as a sport unique compared to sports within the United States. I think most, if not every move made by MLB to help speed up the game and to make it more accessible has actively worked against the components of the game that make it so great.

Will: Which makes sense, I understand where you’re coming from with the uniqueness, but I’ll turn my argument to this; the DH gives opportunities for more spots for young players. With the Minor Leagues cutting a ton of teams, you have a lot of young, talented players whose only opportunity on a roster might be that DH position. When you have a solidified NL team like the Dodgers or the Padres, those teams are crowded in every position. With an NL DH, you can have a hot prospect get an opportunity to bat and make a name for themselves, whether it’s on that team or another team that can acquire them.

Sam: You bring up a good point there. Another one of my biggest problems is, however, that while a pitcher has been designated as an automatic out, is having a guy bat for that spot really improving these players as athletes? If I can take this debate onto a wider lens, out of baseball and into sports in general, I think we’re seeing more of a push to de-specialization, where in baseball, everyone’s skill set is becoming so narrowed down. We see it talked about a lot in football.

Look at Patrick Mahomes. A lot of people this season were saying that a testament to his abilities as an athlete came from being pushed to play baseball as well. He didn’t spend his entire athletic upbringing throwing a football around. Is training these pitchers strictly to be on the mound creating a more entertaining environment for baseball? Or is it giving up and curtailing athletic development to appease the masses?

Will: Well, when talking about athletic development, let’s just look at pitchers in general. They probably take on the most strain out of any player besides catchers. This is due to things like high velocity throwing motions, having to pitch a certain amount of pitches; there’s a reason why they only play every four to five days. You’re not going to be able to have these pitchers get consistent reps batting compared to guys that are playing the infield or the outfield.

The strategy that used to come in the National League, like the double switch, to take out your pitcher and move your batters around while the pitcher is already changing, was effective. Now, starting pitchers are only pitching 6 or 7 innings, so we’re talking maybe two plate appearances? By that point, you’re playing chess with your bullpen and pinch hitters anyway. The strategy isn’t there anymore where it’s beneficial for each team to have an easy out.

Sam: Well, let me then throw this at you; regardless of whether or not the DH should be universal or not, don’t you think it adds a certain level of interleague competition? I think one thing that’s unique about baseball is its relationship to the concept of home field advantage. In sports like hockey, soccer, or basketball, home field advantage is created by the crowd excitement. No matter what arena you’re playing in, every court in the NBA is the same size. In baseball, home field advantage is a concrete variable with unique field dimensions, and currently, with or without the DH in interleague play. Don’t you think it adds a certain level of strategy when you’re in the World Series when you have to switch up your strategy by playing in the stadium of another league?

Will: I would say so, but if we’re talking about overall production from pitchers, I don’t know. Last year we saw the NL DH. Prior to that, pitchers are set in stone in the National League, and they’ve never really produced or prepared for it. Let’s bring up Zack Greinke again. He’s known as one of the best hitting pitchers throughout his career, he’s hit .225. Bumgarner has had some pop in his bat, but he’s rarely hit above a .170 in his career. You’d assume these guys in the NL would have preparation to bat, but they don’t.

In a way, you could even argue they’re hurting their team more than they’re helping. Yeah, the strategy between the AL and the NL is fun, but you’re probably going to have six outs, or turn over a double play if your pitcher is coming up. Most teams would prefer to have their best 9 guys go up to bat every game. That’s how guys like Nelson Cruz still have a career. He can hit, but he’s not seeing field time. Could Stanton play the outfield? Sure, but why not just keep him healthy and focus on his power at the plate?

Sam: Well, let me bring up one final point. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, my argument for preserving the DH status quo is a lot more emotion and tradition based. To maybe get you onto the emotional side of the debate, I’ll give you one of my favorite moments of a pitcher hitting ever. May 7, 2016. New York Mets vs. the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. At 42 years old and 349 days, Bartolo Colon became the oldest Major League Baseball player to hit his first home run. Call me crazy, but I think that was a highlight for the Mets, not only for that season, but for maybe that stretch of five or six seasons. How can we have moments like Big Sexy knocking it out of the park if we don’t let pitchers hit.

Will: Was it a great moment? Yes. Was it entertaining? Sure. However, how did the Mets season end that year?

Sam: They lost the Wild Card Game to San Francisco.

Will: They lost in the Wild Card. What if, in that Wild Card Game, they had a DH to get them over that hump?

Sam: Well it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s a National League game. San Francisco didn’t have the DH either so they were at the same disadvantage.

Will: True, but what if both teams had that DH? I would love to see the record of that Wild Card Game in terms of how Mets players batted. No Mets pitcher batted above a .190 that season. Replace that with a Jay Bruce, a healthy David Wright, a young Brandon Nimmo, and they might have had more run production in that Wild Card Game.

Sam: Ok. I get what you’re saying, but again; do any of those at bats carry the meme potential that a potential Colon dinge could produce?

Will: ...No?

Sam: No. Of course not.

Will: Is it a meme? Sure it has the meme potential, but it didn’t win them the game.

Will Closing Argument: A universal DH means more offense. More offense means more viewership, more players making an impact, more players making a name for themselves, and more money. That bench bat is way more important than a pitcher that can bat. Pitchers focusing on pitching helps both sides of the game, and fans would rather see 3 at bats of 9 guys than 1 at bat of 1 pitcher.

Sam Closing Argument: I don’t expect any casual baseball fan to have an advanced understanding of the inner workings of what makes baseball great. I don’t even think I have that understanding. We need to shake off the notion that good baseball equals good hitting and only good hitting. Baseball is weird. It’s got weird rules, it’s got quirky outcomes, and I think the best way to preserve it, and bring it back to being America’s pastime, is to keep it weird, and to keep letting pitchers hit.


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