clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

It's time to bring the DH to the National League

Pictured above: The thing you're angry about getting rid of

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Pitchers are actually really bad at hitting. This is perhaps a shocking new fact that has shaken the foundation of your baseball fandom to it's very core, so let me give you a minute to collect yourself. We can talk about Star Wars for a minute if you like? Did you see the new one? Pretty good, right? I really liked the part where [Ed. note: bad, late and overdone joke in which someone makes up a fake Star Wars spoiler about like, how it turns out Kylo Ren is really Jar Jar redacted].

Okay so you know that pitchers are bad at hitting. Which is fine! That's not their job. Except in the National League, we've decided it is part of their job, and the reason is that we always have. The starting pitchers only play once every five days, and the relievers have their own extra space called the "bullpen" where they go to do dress rehearsals for their next live performances. But no! Dangit, all the players are the same -- even the ones that super aren't -- so they all have to play by the same rules, and we'll die before we let you sully our great sport with your hedonistic Designated Hitter. Dingers and hits and runs are the pleasures of the flesh, you unwashed sinner! The truly pure baseball fan takes his joy from the sacrifice bunt, and knows it's for Bartolo Colon's own good that he must waddle out to the batter's box to be made to look silly three times a game.

So let's build an argument or two, shall we? Here's a couple of batting lines for four of the Brewers most notable hitters in recent memory -- two of the best, and two of the worst. All numbers are for the players' entire careers, and are courtesy of FanGraphs.

Yovani Gallardo: .198/.223/.333, 12 HR, 36 R, 31.5 K%, 2.6 BB%, 42 wRC+ (470 PA)

Zack Greinke: .220/.261/.337, 6 HR, 28 R, 17.0 K%, 4.7 BB%, 64 wRC+ (341 PA)

Ben Sheets: .076/.113/.082, 0 HR, 12 R, 41.3 K%, 3.7 BB%, -56 wRC+ (513 PA)

Matt Garza: .085/.111/.100, 0 HR, 5 R, 51.2 K%, 1.6 BB%, -54 wRC+ (244 PA)

Over nearly 800 plate appearances, Sheets and Garza have racked up a combined wRC+ of about -55. What does that even mean, you guys? For the uninitiated 100 is, by design, league average for wRC+. According to FanGraphs' chart in their (extremely helpful, if you're new to sabermetrics) glossary entry for the stat, a wRC+ of 60 is "awful". So two of the greatest hitting pitchers in Brewers history are awful and worse than awful, while Sheets and Garza are...I don't even know if there's a word for how truly terrible they were, so let's tell a story:

Garza has been to the plate 244 times in his 10-year major league career, and has scored five times. FIVE. In 2015, six different players scored five times in a single game -- unsurprisingly, all but one of them were in the American League, while the sixth was Yoenis Cespedes in Coors Field. Of those 20 bases required to score five times, Cespedes took 16 himself, going 5-for-5 with 3 home runs, a double and a stolen base. Of course, any game in which a player scores five times is likely to show a pretty flashy box score, but it's much harder to sustain the kind of offensive rallies that are needed to even give players a chance at those stats in the National League.

Is it worth putting up with Sheets and Garza striking out half the time to watch Gallardo and Greinke toe the Mendoza line and crack a home run once every 45 at-bats? Is the purity of the National League worth hoping that the 95 MPH fastball the opposing pitcher just fired off hits the outstretched bat of Jimmy Nelson, and doesn't crack him in the knuckles and end his season?

But these aren't the arguments that are going to sway you if you're anti-DH. You already know that pitchers are bad at hitting, and you don't care. You love the strategy of the Senior Circuit, with it's double-switches, pinch hitters and difficult bullpen decisions. You already know the increased risk of injury to pitchers when hitting and running the bases, and you don't care. That's just a part of the game, like it is for every other position. This is a Brewers blog, and the Brewers are in the National League. Fans tend to think that the way their team and league does things is the best way. And that's fine. I personally don't know what it's like to have incorrect opinions, but I'm told it's not really that big of a deal.

So let's find an argument that might sway you: it's hurting the Brewers chances to win.

It completely boggles my mind that in 2016 we have a major professional sports league in which every day, half of the games are played by completely different rules. A certain level of uniqueness has always been inherent to baseball, and that's great -- in no other sport are the dimensions of the field of play different based on what city you're in. That's a level of uniqueness that adds to the game. But the difference between adopting the DH and making pitchers hit is such a fundamental difference that it's akin to moving the bases back five feet in one league, or deciding whether or not to allow two completely different players to occupy the same position based on whether the teams are on offense or defense no no no that's literally exactly what it is, Travis.

There's a big problem with fairness when teams that are competing against each other for the same championship are playing by different rules. As a fan of a National League team, that should concern you: since 2004, the American League has beaten the National League in Interleague play every year, winning at a .546 clip over that span -- the equivalent of an 89 win team. That's a nearly 3200-game sample size over an 11-year time period; you can shake a stick at it if you'd like, but it better be Teddy Roosevelt-sized.

Before we dive into this, let's make sure we've dispelled the "Well, why can't the American League just get rid of the DH?" argument. That's not happening, ever, and you and I both know it. We're living in the real world here, folks. Get used to it. The American League, knowing that it will need a DH every season, is much better equipped to utilize the position. In 2015, American League DHs recorded a combined OPS of .769, while the National League's DHs had just a .704. Even that number is skewed high for the National League, as teams often use the rare road games in American League parks to give their top hitters off days from the field while keeping their bats in the lineup.

The Brewers have always employed the strategy, giving players like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez a break, and the team's DH numbers an artificial boost. In 37 at-bats in 2015, Milwaukee's DHs actually led the league with a 1.368 OPS, but only four of those at-bats came from players that didn't regularly start: Braun led Milwaukee with 17 DH at-bats, while Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez and Adam Lind gobbled up most of the rest. In reality, the extra bat added to the lineup for Milwaukee was a Logan Schafer, Elian Herrera or Jason Rogers. Teams all around the National League did things the same way: Giancarlo Stanton, Buster Posey, Matt Holliday and Kyle Schwarber each led their respective teams in ABs as a designated hitter in 2015. In reality, the extra plate appearances were given to the players that replaced those stars on the field.

Conversely in National League parks, where AL pitchers are forced to step to the plate, NL teams do not enjoy the same hometown benefits from the rule switch. As we've previously established, all the pitchers are bad at hitting, and while the NL did hold a slight advantage (.330 OPS vs. .307 for the AL), it wasn't as pronounced as the difference between the league's designated hitters. It also had a much smaller impact on the game, as pitchers very rarely see more than three PAs in a game before they're pulled for a pinch hitter; National League designated hitters had nearly twice as many PAs as American League pitchers in 2015.

Since the adoption of the designated hitter rule by the American League in 1973, there have been 42 World Series. The American League has won 23 times, and the National League 19. That's a .548 winning percentage -- an 89 win pace. Do you recognize those numbers? You should. It's hard enough just to get to the World Series -- it hasn't happened in my lifetime, and only once during the Brewers 45 years in the Cream City. When they finally make in back in 2019, I don't want them to be up against those long odds. It's time to give our boys, and the rest of the National League, a fair shot at a championship by playing by the same dang rules.