Whenever you get all of the baseball media in one place, and all the baseball people in one place, you’re going to get some noise and some surprises. Rob Manfred made it clear that he thinks MLB should expand to 32 teams, and perhaps thinning out some pitching staffs and bullpens especially would allow for a little more action. Not that that’s what he and MLB owners care about so much as two expansion fees flowing into the coiffures. And I’m not even sure I know what a coiffure is, but here we are. More rules changes and whatever also came up, because hey, there were two days of no baseball during the All-Star break, so we gotta fill the air with something, and everyone’s pretty convinced the game needs some tweaking.
One of the other stories or ideas to slither out from under the rocks was MLBPA President Tony Clark saying that there was a push among the players to add the DH to the National League. Don’t believe me? Well, I’ll just give you a link because I’m good like that.
Now, let’s get the cynical angle of this out of the way right now. Of course the players should be for this, because it would create 15 more jobs (soon to be 16) that pay eight figures a year or more instead of just a bench guy or another reliever who is going to shuttle from the major league team to whatever Cracker Barrel-infested Triple-A town that’s affiliated. If every team had a DH, we wouldn’t see as many eight-man pens, though they would still be around. This is clearly the motivation. It certainly provides more outlets for aging players, and as there is now concern that players should be sent to the glue factory as early as 32 or 33 thanks to the rising velocity in the game, they need all the soft landing spots they can get.
Locally, the Cubs have been pushing for the DH in the NL because quite simply they have too many good players (yes, stick your world’s smallest violin somewhere uncomfortable because I know that’s what would go here). While they’ve managed to get Zobrist, Schwarber, Almora, Happ enough PAs through rotation and injuries here and there, they would love nothing better than to open up a ninth lineup spot that they could rotate those guys through. Or give Rizzo or Bryant “half” off-days here and there. I’m sure they Dodgers wouldn’t mind either, and when the Braves and Phils finish off their rebuilds they’d probably be in the same category. Hell, the Brewers for years have wanted to keep Ryan Braun’s bat while not subjecting bystanders to injury or sickness by watching him thrash about anywhere between the lines.
Now I know the arguments. “Tradition.” And balancing tradition and evolution is always a tricky task. You don’t want baseball to lose the things that make it unique and quirky, and yet you don’t want the game to adhere to things that no longer are important, or downright don’t make any sense. And quite frankly, the pitcher batting in only half the league is getting much closer to the latter than it is the former.
Given how the game has evolved and is now played, we’re barely talking about two plate-appearances per game. With pitchers and the seventh inning basically being the same relationship as an explorer and Shangri-la, that’s it. Two times per game. Even if MLB were to adopt Buster Olney’s proposal of limits on numbers of pitchers per game, it would still be only three ABs at most. There would be pinch-hitters still for those changes.
I guess you could argue that it would cause managers to have the wheels turn a bit more if that pitcher-limit was introduced, but A) no one’s actually suggested that’s going to happen and B) the idea that people really enjoy watching managers manage is quite simply asinine. Hell, just last night my eye twitched when Maddon went out to get Carl Edwards Jr. with two outs in the ninth for Pedro Strop. If anything, we need less managing. And if the sight of an older gentleman sauntering out to the mound, clapping his hands, and taking a baseball from a younger man in the same uniform is something you need in your experience, you really need to start listening to better music or drinking better scotch or something.
It’s two ABs. Maybe three. And if anyone out there honestly would rather watch a pitcher stand there in a half-smile half-grimace like if you were asked to sing in front of your coworkers in the break room than Kyle Schwarber possibly launch one into someone’s overpriced and watered-down beer on a rooftop, you’re beyond reach.
Yeah, I know, “9v9.” “Players should have to play the whole game.” But pitchers don’t. I mean, they play-act through one half of it, but they focus on pitching and only pitching. And sure, pitching’s value is outsized compared to fielding a position, but they’re still really only important for what’s on the field and not at the plate. In essence, you already have one player not playing the whole game, but being forced to act like he is twice a game.
In order for pitcher’s ABs to be meaningful and to have them have a chance at actually being decent at it, you’d have to scrap the DH entirely, and have them bat throughout the minors. And teams aren’t going to do that because those are ABs that can go to actual hitters they’re trying to develop. It would simply be inefficient to do it any other way in the minors.
Again, we’re talking about two ABs per game. Out of what? 35? 40? 3-5 percent? Are we really going to go to the mat on this? Are we really going to get weepy over a handful of well-placed bunts per season? I think we can aim a little higher.
I know it’s all we’ve known, and there is something fascinating (to a point) of a situation in the fourth-sixth innings when a trailing team is putting together a rally but has the pitcher coming up. Do you pull for a pinch-hitter? Do you stay with your starter and kill the rally? But that decision getting made less and less these days, because pulling a pitcher in the fifth or sixth is just the norm now. And what’s more exciting; seeing if that decision is getting made for just having that AB where something might legitimately happen with a real hitter there? I think we all know the answer.
Lead photo courtesy Matt Marton—USA Today Sports