June 16, 2008

In Defense of the No-DH Rule

Do pigs get foot-in-mouth disease? Guess so.

In response to the brilliant and ever tactful Hank Steinbrenner and his comments ("I don't like that, and it's about time they address it. That was a rule from the 1800s.") regarding the NL's no Designated Hitter rule, here are 10 reasons why the rule is good and should stay.

1. Managers have to earn their money. Do you let the pitcher hit or pinch-hit for him? Always a tough call after the 5th or 6th inning, the manager must decide how his pitcher's doing, what the chances are of scoring, how good his bench is, etc. The decision is much simpler in the AL, purely a pitching decision.

2. Double switches. Managers can utilize their bench to keep the pitcher's spot from coming up in the lineup, making the position players on the bench critical to an NL team's success, along with the pinch hitting already mentioned. Other than injuries, how often does the bench of an AL team matter?

3. Pitchers can help themselves at the plate. How much happier are you that Carlos Zambrano is pitching when he has a good ERA AND the best average in your lineup? Micah Owings, anyone? This allows the pitcher to contribute in other ways.

4. Squeeze plays. The squeeze is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, but you almost never see it in the AL because the manager doesn't want to take the bat out of the hitter's hands? With a pitcher, it's not a problem. Or just David Eckstein.

Gotta love scoring on a squeeze play in the playoffs.

5. Pitchers take batting practice, allowing them to bond with the position players and improving team chemistry.

6. Quoting one of my favorite movies "Bull Durham" which has been featured recently at ESPN, "It's a simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball." How many of those things does a DH have to do? Should we have a designated fielder who doesn't have to hit?

7. The pitcher's spot in the lineup distinguishes the other slots. The 8th hitter has to be more selective because pitchers are more willing to walk him. The leadoff hitter has more RBI opportunities because the pitcher bunts whenever someone's on first or second with less than 2 outs. An AL lineup doesn't need any structure, but an NL manager has to construct the lineup more carefully. LaRussa and others have even put the pitcher 8th a few times.

8. Extra innings challenge an NL manager's ability to manage his bench, balancing pitching needs with the need to score, trying to save pinch hitters for important situations without giving away too many outs to pitcher ABs.

A game-winning, 10th inning pinch hit single by a pitcher? Never in the AL.

9. Pitchers who can hit can be used as additional pinch hitters. Zambrano and Willis have famously done this, and tonight the Rockies sent Aaron Cook up as a PH in the 5th and he got a hit.

10. Pitchers who can't bunt really damage the team's offensive chances by not advancing runners. Fruitless at-bats prevent the manufacturing of runs, something the NL has always been known for.

Wang after hurting his foot (Photo: Reuters)

Wang's injury, while unfortunate, should not instigate an investigation of a long-standing, well established rule. Pitchers throughout the NL hit and run the bases every game, and very few are injured because of it. Maybe Wang should have stretched or practiced running the bases, or maybe he would have gotten the same injury fielding a bunt later in that game.


Brien said...

I'm with you. Even though I'm an AL fan, I've always hated the DH rule.

Jeremy said...

Amen. Seriously one of the best thing about being a Nats fan is that I get to go to games without the DH. Obviously the Player's Union will never let the DH die. But man, the strategy of NL games is better, the pacing is better, and the level of unexpected excitement (i.e. why we're sports fans) is increased when the pitcher taps a double down the line that caroms around the corners.

"ben" said...

Real baseball is with no DH. I've grown from being indifferent to the DH to hating the DH.

What doesn't make sense about Hank's comments is that he makes it sound like the DH rule was instituted to prevent pitchers from having to run bases. Obviously its only purpose has ever been to insert more offense into the game. These 4-hour marathons are a problem for baseball, and we'd all be better served by having more automatic outs in the lineup. Well, all of us except for the players union.

michael said...

I agree with "ben". As a Dodgers fan and an NL fan, I have long hated the DH, and think it is some kind of ridiculous gimmicik. If any change is made, I think we should go back to permanently having no-DH in both leagues. Then the AL would not longer be like "Arena Baseball".

J-Red said...

I definitely prefer no DH, but I've resigned myself so long ago to the fact that it can never change that I'll just have to enjoy stomping the NL on a regular basis since my favorite AL team carries an extra hitter to use in home games.

Here's a rule change you can implement instantly: In interleague play the DH rules are determined by the ROAD team's league.

Then AL fans get to see their pitchers hit.

J-Red said...

And for the record I very rarely look at my watch during a baseball game (when I'm there at least). I really don't believe the difference between 2:50 and 3:06 is destroying families or something. It just means more Nats Xtra. Is that something ANYONE wants?

J-Red said...

And, also, the title is somewhat inaccurate. There is no such thing as a "No-DH Rule". There is only the default (all players hit) and the modification (the pitcher can substitute a roided-up super slugger who runs a 6.3 90-ft dash).

"ben" said...

No one is complaining about the difference between 2:50 and 3:06. I'm not sure what the average length of an NL games is vs. an AL game, but certainly anecdotally speaking you are far more likely to get a 2:45 NL game and a 4:15 AL game.

I wasn't complaining that the hour difference is killing families. I am complaining that I'd personally like to have the fulfillment of seeing an entire game and still have an extra hour to do something else (like go to bed at 1 a.m. instead of 2 a.m. for west coast games). With AL games, you're watching a lot of pitching changes, which is not particularly exciting.

"ben" said...

There is no such thing as a "No-DH Rule".
How very lawyer of you. While I totally agree with that remark, the title was not misleading in the sense that it changes the meaning of his argument.

J-Red said...

That was true in the early 1990's, but not so much today.

The last time Elias reported on the distinction, it came up with:

"In 2004, the average length of a National League game was 2:47:20, compared to 2:46:55 in the American League."

The pitching change issue is part of the problem for the NL, not one of the positives. Pitching changes can be necessitated by position in the batting lineup, not just pitcher/batter match-ups. Many pitchers are yanked because the manager doesn't want them to hit.

As for longest 9-inning games:

AL 4:45, NY 14 Boston 11 (2006)
NL 4:27, LA 11 SF 10 (2001)

Longest 9-inning night games (since it matters more how late a game goes):
AL 4:22, BAL 13 NY 9 (1997)
NL 4:27, LA 11 SF 10 (2001)

J-Red said...

And I never said it was misleading, just inaccurate.

SJ317 said...

I like the idea that the pitcher must face the music in the NL. In the AL the pitcher doesn't have to. He doesn't have to face his pitching opponent. If he throws inside then he must be prepared to take his own medicine. The shifting of batting responsiblity to a DH just exempts the pitcher from retribution for an high-inside pitch.

Being a Phillies fan, seeing Roberto Colon swing at a Cole Hamels change-up was like watching the Bugs Bunny slow pitch against the Gas House Gorillas cartoon.
1-2-3 strikes your out!

Graeme said...

Rebuttal: In Defense of the DH Rule. In summary, how does working around one player's hitting incompetence and forcing him to do something he sucks at good for the game?

SJ317 said...

Pitchers aren't incompentent hitters. Many are good hitters.
The Phillies pitchers have done very well. Kyle Kendrick had two doubles in one game including one that started a 9 run innning. Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels have had hits and runs. If a pitcher can get a walk he can score. If there is a man on base he sacrifice bunt's. Is a pitcher's sacrfice bunt any less good for the game than a DH hitting a double? A pitcher who throws 95 mph should not be exempt from facing the same pitch. Here is a link that the NL style of play lessens the possibility of being plunked. http://www.aip.org/isns/reports/2004/006.html