The debate about whether or not the MLB should keep the designated hitter has been raging throughout baseball’s long history. It’s about time that we shut down this debate: the designated hitter should stay in the league. Too often fans believe the designated hitter takes away from the purity of the game and gives pitchers a free pass by not having to hit. It gives pitchers an out by incentivizing them to not practice hitting. Ardent critics of the DH point out that it also takes out some of the game’s strategy because managers no longer have to worry about how to use their poor hitting pitchers in crucial situations. The DH gets rid of bunt and pinch hitter strategies that many of the game’s purists enjoy.
Let me throw some statistics at my readers that might change their minds. The average MLB pitcher’s OPS as a hitter has steadily dropped from .446 in 1913 to .333 in 2013. Let me just put it in perspective that the MLB average for OPS sat at .714 for the 2013 regular season. The average MLB hitter has more than double the OPS than his pitcher counterpart. MLB hitters are more than twice as efficient at hitting as the pitchers that are forced to take their lousy at bats. And for good reason. National League pitchers only work on their swing when they’re on deck or occasionally at practice. American League pitchers almost never work on their swing. Needless to say they hit very poorly when facing professional level pitching talent. The league is simply becoming more specialized. There is no need to work on your swing as a pitcher when the demand for good pitching has steadily increased. Some of the best teams in the playoffs right now are successful because of their dominant pitching rotations. The increased demand for pitchers requires that they spend all of their practice time improving their craft and not worrying about hitting. This is common knowledge among baseball fans. It simply doesn’t make sense for pitchers to work on their swing in the modern era of baseball.
So why would we want them to hit in the first place? It doesn’t add any flavor to the game. Designated hitters provide some extra excitement and quality hitting to the game that normally go missed by that ninth man. This excitement isn’t just sensationalized. It’s backed by the fact that the American League out-hits the National League in every major batting statistic (AL OPS: .724, NL OPS: .703, AL Avg: .256, NL Avg: .251, all stats 2013). The designated hitter works, and forces pitchers to face better hitting talent overall. It doesn’t let pitchers get a free pass when they face a very poor hitter in the opposing team’s pitcher. The designated hitter gives the American League better competition at the plate and creates more offensive power for teams.
It also gives managers much more flexibility in their lineups. Unlike David Ortiz, there are very few true designated hitters in the American league that play the position day in and day out. Most players in the designated hitter spot are frequently subbed in and out of the line up. This gives managers more options to replace their poor pitchers. Players that are naturally poor fielders can be used as designated hitters to avoid their liabilities in the field. It even allows managers to use players as designated hitters when they are recovering from minor injuries. The flexibility makes for more interesting American League lineups and allows managers to make much more efficient lineups overall.
I do not want to make the argument that the National League must adopt the designated hitter system of the American League. I would love to see it happen, as I believe it brings a lot more excitement to the game and forces pitchers to face a much more honest and talented lineup. In practicality, it will take a very long time for something this major to be implemented across the MLB. I don’t see something this major coming to fruition in a sport that has such traditionalist values. The current system will most likely remain the same for Major League Baseball. However, I do not see the value in eliminating the designated hitter position in the American League.