A Better DH Plan for the National League

As a general rule, pitchers are good at pitching and bad at hitting. Exceptions exist but are few and far between. Nearly 100 years passed between Babe Ruth and Shohei Ohtani.

The idea of having another player bat for the pitcher has been around since the early 1900s, and has been proposed several times throughout baseball's history. In 1973 the American League finally made the Designated Hitter a part of major league baseball by implementing Rule 5.11. As a result, the overall batting average of the American League was higher than that of the National League that year, and has been higher than the NL every year since.

Prior to the use of a DH, baseball was called "a thinking man’s game". When people complain that baseball is "too slow", it is because they do not fully appreciate the mental aspect of the game that is unique to baseball. The pace of the game allows managers to fully analyze options. And it allows fans who understand the game to do the same.

When the AL implemented Rule 5.11 it sacrificed much of the mental game that remained in the DH-less NL. Managers in the NL still had strategic issues to consider that AL mangers no longer had to deal with. Balancing pitching, defense, and hitting is much more difficult for NL managers without having a DH to maintain the strength of the offense. It could be argued that without the DH, National League managers played chess, while AL managers played checkers.

The National League has now adopted Rule 5.11, and much of the "thinking" that has been appreciated and loved by NL fans is gone. A big part of the game is missing and for NL fans there is a "hole" in baseball.

What to do about it? I propose the adoption of Rule 5.11.2.

(a) A pitcher may have a Designated Batter to take the Pitcher’s place in the batting order without affecting the status of the Pitcher. A Designated Batter must be selected prior to the game, and must be included in the lineup cards presented to the Umpire-in-Chief.

(b) In the event the Pitcher is removed, or replaced for any reason, including injury, the Designated Batter must also be removed or replaced with a player who has not yet appeared in the game.

(c) If a manager elects to remove or replace a Designated Batter, for whatever reason, including injury, the Pitcher must also be removed or replaced with a player who has not yet appeared in the game.

Rule 5.11.2 creates one position, the Pitcher/Designated Batter (P/DB), manned by two players. It will keep a greater degree of game management analysis in baseball while allowing pitchers to not have to try to hit. The Pitcher pitches; the Designated Batter bats. If the manager wants to replace either, he must also replace the other.

Craig Counsel’s lineup card might look like this, for example:

2b Kolton Wong
SS Willy Adames
P/DB Brandon Woodruff/Christian Yellich
1b Rowdy Tellez
RF Hunter Renfroe
3b Luis Urias
LF Tyrone Taylor
C Omar Narvaez
CF Lorenzo Cain

Let’s say the Brewers are leading the Cardinals 2-1 in the top of the 6th, and Woody has retired the first two Baby Eaters. He then gets into a spot of bother when he gets Cardinal'd by back-to-back singles, with the top of the order coming up. He has thrown 98 pitches and appears to be tiring in the heat.

Does Craig take Woody out if he also has to replace Yelli in the batting order? What if Yelli is scheduled to lead off in the bottom of the inning? Who is even available on the bench to replace the Designated Batter?

Or maybe Woody’s got a one-hitter going through the 6th inning. The score is 0-0 and the Brewers have runners at the corners with one out. The Designated Batter is due up. Unfortunately Yellie is 0 for 2, and has been hitting nothing but ground balls during a current 3 for 29 slump. Does Craig play the match-up and send the right handed bat of Andrew McCutchen to the plate to face the Cardinal lefty, knowing that if he does, he will also have to replace Woodruff?

The bench could be depleted quickly in the event of multiple pitching changes or pinch hitters for the Designated Batter. To offset this, roster limits would be increased (by maybe 3 players?) which would also assure buy-in by the Players Association.

I don’t know, maybe the "Pitcher/Batter" position is not the best solution to restoring the strategic aspect to our National Pastime. I haven’t thought about it long enough to slot it into very many situations, but I do not like what the universal DH has done to my favorite game.

I lived in Colorado for ten years and discovered that I really didn’t enjoy games that ended 12-9. The value of each run is diluted in a high scoring game. Strategy becomes more important when each run has more value. And runs are at a premium in a 4-2 game. Every scoring opportunity could be the game winner, creating tension for fans. Tension builds excitement. And at the heart of it, an exciting game is what fans want.

There has to be a better way than the universal DH, doesn’t there? What’s your opinion?