St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has recorded more wins than any other pitcher in Major League Baseball since 2013. He has finished among the top three pitchers in voting for the National League’s Cy Young Award in both of the past two seasons. On Saturday, he blew out his Achilles tendon while batting, and his season appears to be over.
Wainwright isn't the only pitcher suffering from a hitting-related injury. Former Tigers pitcher and Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is out of action because of a jammed wrist and thumb. Scherzer told ESPN:
"...who'd people rather see hit: Big Papi or me?" Scherzer told the website. "Who would people rather see, a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper? Both leagues need to be on the same set of rules."
Earlier this season, when the Detroit Tigers played a three game series in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, fans were treated to the spectacle of Shane Greene, Alfredo Simon, and Anibal Sanchez stepping into the batter’s box to take their cuts. They were a combined 0 for 8. The only thing interesting about their plate appearances was the decision made by manager Brad Ausmus to let the pitchers bat, even though they were pitching very well at the time.
Injuries to pitchers are not the primary argument for implementing the designated hitter universally. The fact that pitchers batting provides no redeeming quality to the game is the strongest reason.
The American League first implemented the designated hitter rule in the 1973 baseball season. Richard Nixon was President of the United States, and Mickey Lolich was the Tigers' star pitcher. For over 40 seasons, the DH has been as much a part of baseball as the home run or a stolen base. The DH has been a part of Major League Baseball longer than several franchises.
The DH is used in minor leagues, colleges, and high schools across America. Virtually every baseball league has figured out the fact that requiring pitchers to bat is a bad idea. Every league, that is, except the National league. As pitchers approach readiness for major league action, most of them have not even practiced swinging a bat for years.
When National League pitchers went to the plate during the 2014 season, they hit for a combined .124 batting average, .156 on-base percentage, .155 slugging percentage -- yes, actually lower than their OBP -- and an OPS of .311. They pooled an average of one home run and twelve RBI per team for the entire season. Not a single National League team had pitchers hit better than .163, nor post an OPS above .425.
American League pitchers batting in National League parks combined for an .089 batting average, a .110 on-base percentage, and a .109 slugging average, for an OPS of .219. In comparison, the very worst batter in either league with at least 400 plate appearances hit .196, and the lowest OPS was .536. I would argue that the lack of the designated hitter in National League parks is the worst thing -- and the only bad thing -- about interleague play.
Opponents of the designated hitter rule will argue that forcing pitchers to bat adds an element of strategy to the game. It brings pinch hitters, double switches and more managers’ trips to the mound. National League pinch hitters combined for an average of 255 plate appearances with a .603 OPS, five home runs, and 26 RBI in 2014. American League designated hitters averaged 588 plate appearances with a .743 OPS, 23 home runs, and 83 RBI.
There is a proposal to make the difference in rules more interesting by using the designated hitter in interleague games played in National league parks, making pitchers bat in American League parks. While this would provide fans with a different type of show, after four decades of watching a better product on the field, this won’t play well among American League fans. A better proposal is to let teams use the DH in all interleague games, including the World Series.
The reality is that pitchers are not good hitters, and forcing them to bat provides both poor entertainment and forces decisions that should not have to be made. The "strategy" forces a manager to decide whether to replace an effective pitcher with a hitter who isn’t good enough to be in the starting lineup. Figuring out how to pitch to a Victor Martinez or David Ortiz would be more interesting strategy.
The designated hitter has proven to be a success, bringing offense to the game. It often allowing some of the game’s best hitters, who are no longer adept at playing in the field due to injuries or declining skills, to continue to play an important role for their team. It is time for the National League to adopt the designated hitter, and stop forcing pitchers to bat. It’s a debacle that is not enjoyable to watch, and makes for a lesser game on the field.