As Spring Training gets underway, it’s time to open up a debate on one of the MLB’s most nonsensical and antiquated policies: pitchers batting in the National League.
It was bad enough when American League teams had to either bench or find a position for crucial bats in their lineups when playing on the road in the World Series. Even worse when they had to do it for an additional 18 games following the advent of Interleague play and is completely ridiculous now that the MLB will be following a balanced schedule, including season-round interleague matchups in 2013.
With the shifting of the Houston Astros from the NL Central to the AL West, there is now 15 teams in each league. Given these numbers, the MLB has no choice but to have at least one interleague series occurring at all times. This is mostly good news. Well it’s bad news for the Astros, given that they will now be consistently pummeled by their new division “rivals,” the Texas Rangers, Angels and A’s. But it’s good news in that it will provide more intriguing traditional matchups, like the Dodgers traveling to Yankee Stadium for the first time (new stadium or old) or rarely seen games like the Red Sox traveling to San Francisco to take on the Giants.
The problem is that, due to the differing designated hitter policies, one team will constantly be playing by a different set of rules then they are built for and accustomed to. When National League teams are on the road, they will have to scramble to fill a position they don’t have in a majority of their games. When American League teams play on the road in interleague games, they face the decision to either bench someone who may be one of their better hitters or sacrifice defense by pushing them out into the field.
Take this scenario; the Tigers close out their season in Miami against the Marlins. These three games are highly likely to decide a playoff spot for the Tigers, or at least decide home field advantage. For these games, the Tigers may have to play without one of their best hitters, Victor Martinez. This will lead to a gaping void in their lineup during a crucial period, left to be replaced by, well, a pitcher.
Which leads to the next point; the senselessness of sending pitchers to the plate to begin with. Due to advances in statistics and training, baseball has become a game of specialization. There are pitchers whose sole purpose on the roster is to get out a single left-handed or right-handed batter in a game. There are hitters who are only sent out to bat against either left or right-handed pitchers. So in what world does it make sense to force pitchers to allocate time, and risk injury, to have to hit? Fans don’t want to see pitchers hit, pitchers don’t want to take time away from focusing on pitching and their teams don’t want to risk an injury to a potentially important starting pitcher.
The fact that the DH hasn’t been adopted in the National League exemplifies a huge flaw in the logic of baseball culture. Baseball clings to the same ideals for the game as the players who removed their spikes almost centuries earlier, all out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia and clichéd sentiment that the game was somehow more pure in the generations before us.
This is the same sport that still allows blown calls in playoff games be left uncorrected because instant replay would go against tradition, and we, of course, can‘t have that. So there is certainly little hope for change in the DH policy any time soon. This kind of stubbornness is truly a shame though, because it does neither the fans nor MLB any good not to have the best nine hitters in the lineup at all times. When the Tigers are playing for a chance in the playoffs and it’s Justin Verlander who comes up with runners on second and third with two out, nobody wins.