Don’t Dumb Down The National League

Opening day for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013 was the beginning of a season that brought about many great moments, none more so than what happened to the Dodgers’ star pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. I remember sitting on the couch in complete rapture as I watched him pitch against the division rival San Francisco Giants on the television for eight innings in a scoreless game. In the bottom of the eighth, when Kershaw stepped up to the plate against Giant George Kontos, a single pitch was thrown and the crack of Kershaw’s bat echoed from the speakers.

I screamed in excitement, the roar of cheers from the crowd in the background, as my favorite player, a pitcher, put his team on the scoreboard. The Dodgers would go on to score three more runs that inning and Kershaw would pitch a complete-game shutout for the victory.

That game, that moment is one of the many examples why the Designated Hitter (DH) should not be brought into the National League. While watching Kershaw pitch is exciting in-of-itself—the guy has three Cy Young awards and an NL MVP award at the age of 27—it’s seeing what he can do at the plate that ups the excitement factor.

Between the American League and the National League, there is only one difference that separates them: the DH spot in the lineup. A position where the player is only called upon to hit and never to play in the field—unless during an interleague game in a National League park, which means that the teams play by National League rules. The National League rules are simple: there is no DH position in the lineup, the pitcher is designated to hit in the ninth and final spot in the order.

After being highly debated over the course of the last few years between Major League Baseball and the Players Association, the decision of bringing the DH position to the National League could be determined within the next year. And if the decision is made to bring that position to the National League, the league would lose some of its excitement factor, the strategic thinking on the part of the managers, and also the ability to turn a pitcher into a hero.

If the DH position is allowed in the National League, it would take the place of the pitcher batting in the ninth position. And while that may bring an offensive edge to the league, it would also mean harder work for the pitcher, which is something that you don’t want to see as a manager. The harder a pitcher has to work, the higher the chance of him getting injured and possibly being out for the remainder of the season.

The strategy that most managers within the National League employ is that the eighth and ninth positions in the line-ups are generally left for the weaker hitters. The eighth position in the lineup usually holds a player that is more known for his defensive capabilities rather than his offensive ones. The ninth position is generally reserved for the pitcher. This strategy allows the pitchers to use less pitches during those at-bats, which usually come around twice during a pitcher’s normal start—assuming the pitcher is going to stay in the game for six or seven innings. Keeping the pitch count low is important in today’s baseball world. Overuse the arm and the chances of having a season ending injury increase. Most pitchers get taken out of the game around the 100 pitch mark, unless extenuating circumstances apply.

For example, say the pitcher has a no-hitter going but is over the 100 pitch mark. The manager isn’t going to remove him from the game and ruin the chance for him to make history or lose the game by letting the bullpen take over. Instances like these would be one of the few reasons pitchers are kept in the game after reaching 100 pitches.

Allowing the DH into the league would mean removing that break and force the pitchers to use more pitches in order to get the specialist hitter out. This could explain why the American League currently has more arm injuries to pitchers than the National League does.

But it’s also no secret in the baseball world that some pitchers like to hit and implementing the DH position would take away from the pitchers who can actually connect with the ball. Zack Greinke, a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, began his career in the American League and bounced between leagues before signing with the National League Dodgers in 2013. Greinke currently is the best active hitting pitcher, with career averages of .216/.266/.329 in the areas of overall batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage respectively. That’s pretty good for a guy who’s only had 231 at-bats in his eleven seasons in the big leagues.

Madison Bumgarner, the San Francisco Giants’ star pitcher, is ranked fifth on the list of active hitting pitchers. During the 2014 season, Bumgarner led all pitchers in home runs with a total of four, two of them being grand slams for which he holds the all-time MLB records for most grand slams in a career and in a single season by a pitcher. Those four home runs allowed for Bumgarner to contribute to his team in a way that wasn’t limited to pitching. It allowed for him to take to the offensive and help his own cause by collecting run support for himself.

The American League is essentially a dumbed down version of baseball because of the DH position. There is less strategy being used by the manager and all of the moves are predictable and boring. Seeing the pitcher hit is an exciting thing, especially when one is expecting them to strike out and they end up hitting a home run. By having the pitcher in a batting position, the manager has to think about just how he wants to play this. If there’s a guy on base, does the pitcher lay down the bunt in order to advance the runner? Does the pitcher swing freely if there’s a guy on but two outs? Does the pitcher fake the bunt and let the runner steal the base? The options that the manager can use are limitless and unpredictable if played right. It’s situations like these that win ballgames and create an excitement factor within the game. It also provides a chance for the pitcher to help their ball club win in more ways than just being on the mound that day.

The American League doesn’t have that. Sure there are pinch runners that can come in if the DH gets on base—generally, players in the DH position can’t run the bases very well and are merely kept for their power hitting—but other than that, that’s really the only change you see in the lineup during a game. Not much strategy is implemented there.

While the Designated Hitter may work well in the American League, where it’s been in use since 1973, it’s the difference between the two leagues that has kept the debate going over whether or not to institute the DH position in both leagues. This competition has been a fun factor that is exposed during the All-Star Game and the World Series each year. It also keeps the interest of the fans by allowing them to have these types of friendly debates on their own, pitting fan against fan.

Initiating the DH in both leagues would make them too similar, and it would dull the game of baseball for good. It would take away the chance for a pitcher to be a hero, as well as providing more chances of injuries. The position would suck the strategy from the National League and leave it just as dull and boring as the American. The idea of putting the Designated Hitter in the National League is an awful one, but it’s a debate that will never stop. And that’s what keeps it interesting.

For me, I know that every time I see Clayton Kershaw stepping up to the plate, I feel just as excited to see him up there swinging a bat as I would any other hitter. More so, in fact, just because he might be able to get a hit up the middle or maybe even hit that second career home run and surprise everyone. I say let the pitchers hit.

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