Chris Carter

Baseball’s Next Evolution: The National League DH

Back in October Ben Lindbergh looked at Kyle Schwarber and his squeamish defense. He talked to a few talent evaluators who weren’t high on his ability to play the outfield. One evaluator even described him as “unplayable.” Schwarber’s defensive struggles have been well-documented, but the early returns suggest that they have also been a bit overblown. While he’s not exactly the ideal outfielder, the 22-year-old should be able to play left field at a rate which won’t kill the Cubs. His mistakes seemed to have been magnified by the few balls he goofed in the postseason. While I make this point, it would be a lot easier if Schwarber could just be the designated hitter.

The Brewers are in some ways in the same situation. Chris Carter, while not being the same caliber of hitter as Schwarber, would probably be best suited if he could play the DH position. Throughout his career, he’s never posted a year in which he had positive runs saved. It didn’t matter whether Carter played first base or in the outfield, he has always been a subpar defensive player. He also matches the profile of a DH — a slow, lumbering first baseman who primarily relies on his power. Alas, the National League is deprived of this option, unlike the American League.

One of the hottest points of debate this offseason has been the state of the DH in the National League. Mainly the lack thereof.

The increase in interleague play has played a factor in propelling the discussion and seems to have caused more debate over the past few years. With that being said, the subject became particularly heated when Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak made these comments in a Derrick Goold article: “‘I do feel like there were times I could look all of you in the face and say it’s a non-starter, it’s not being discussed at the owner level or GM,’ Mozeliak said Saturday during an expansive discussion with the media at the team’s 20th annual fanfest. ‘But over the past year it has. I’m not suggesting you’re going to see a change but I definitely think the momentum (has changed).'”

These rumors were then squashed rather quickly by comments from the commissioner, “The most likely result on the designated hitter for the foreseeable future is the status quo,” Manfred said in a Jerry Crasnick article. “I think the vast majority of clubs in the National League want to stay where they are.”

There are two main arguments against the DH in the National League, although I’ll be focusing more on the latter since it’s more problematic (these are not the only arguments, but the one’s that are most often made). The first is that the pitcher hitting creates more strategy. The second is that people don’t want to disrupt the purity of the game.

When it comes to the first point, that notion isn’t exactly true. Most pitchers bunt when it’s their time to hit; therefore, there isn’t necessarily more strategy involved. Actually, there’s probably less strategy since most times a pitcher comes up, you basically know what he’s going to do. At least, if there were a DH, you’d have the suspense of an at-bat.

The other argument shows a misunderstanding of what sports are and how they evolve. The way we see sports, as a society, is primarily based on the corporations that run them. Major League Baseball, for example, has the biggest impact on how society views baseball because they are the biggest baseball organization. There are other baseball organizations with different rules, but they don’t have the same impact as MLB.

The important element to understand here is that sports are a societal and cultural construct. They are created based on social values, and social values change over time due to a shifting balance of power, among other factors. They are not static.

Baseball is like an ocean. The ocean’s shape is never still, it is constantly moving and changing through waves. Some waves are small while others are big. And some waves are so powerful, they go beyond the realm of the ocean and affect society. Every change in baseball is like a wave. Some are small and have very little impact. Some are big and have a drastic impact on the game. While others don’t simply have an effect on baseball but on society.

When one wishes for things to stay the way they are, they are wishing against the evolution of a sport. But, the problem with this is that baseball is a constantly evolving being. Every year there is debate about how the game can be changed, how the game can be improved. The fact of the matter is that baseball has never been a “pure” game. It has never been a stagnant game, and can never be defined by one thing. In fact, in it’s early years, if a fielder threw a baseball at a runner and hit him, that runner would be out. The game has obviously evolved from this form of play.

The game is in a continuous evolutionary process with, for example, the inception of the minor leagues, in the 1930s by Branch Rickey and when Jackie Robinson re-broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947 (This would be one of the waves who’s effects go beyond the realm of baseball). In 1969 the mound was reduced to give the batters a better chance to hit. Then there’s adoption of the designated hitter rule by the American League in 1973.

New strategies have also changed the game, such as the expanded use of the bullpen, PITCHfx, and catcher framing. There’s also the whole television and social media thing.

The game has always evolved and pretending that it was once this pure entity is a fool’s errand. Those arguments are hypocritical, as they are made with the lens of the current game, but do not take into account how the game became to be and how the game can improve and grow.

Pitchers are getting worse and worse at hitting, and while it might be entertaining to watch Bartolo Colon hit every now and then, it’s not why people come to the ballpark. And if it is for some, does it really make sense to keep the DH just to watch one pitcher hit? Not really.

The point is not that having pitchers hit increases their chances of injury either. If the pitchers were hitting well, or adequately, then it would still be an enjoyable product and people wouldn’t be talking about the injuries.

The point is rather that pitcher hitting is trending downward drastically. It is, therefore, no longer an enjoyable product to watch. Plus, it would create more balance between the National and American League to have the DH.

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1 comment on “Baseball’s Next Evolution: The National League DH”

Schwarber has some experience playing outfield at lower levels of baseball, though the overwhelming majority of his playing time has come at catcher. He showed his best and worst sides during the Mets’ NLCS sweep. He was at ease in the batter’s box, but unpolished left fielder.

I think he isn’t as bad as some critic think. He has potential. Schwarber has been working hard on his conditioning this off-season to help with his defense in the outfield. Schwarber is expected to spend a majority of his time in left field during the upcoming season. The Cubs still consider Schwarber a catcher. Let see how he does in the nest season.

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