If you’ve watched the Pirates in the past couple of years, you’ve heard ROOT Sports announcer Bob Walk utter the phrase, “Ban the DH.” He’s of course referring to the designated hitter position that is so prevalent in the American League. Since 1973, pitchers don’t bat in the game played at an American League park, but there is a player that is, well, designated to hit.
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different opinions on the topic. Some, like myself, prefer the traditional style of baseball that the National League brings. It allows for a more small-ball style of baseball and the strategy of having the double-switch, hit-and-runs and sacrifice hits. The purists look at the American League as being the “beer league.” In fact, there isn’t one designated hitter in the baseball Hall of Fame.
On the other side of the fence, you have those that are for the designated hitter. They want to see exciting baseball and not a pitcher standing there swinging. With another hitter in the lineup, you’re not giving the other team an “automatic out.” Another argument is that having a DH allows the pitchers to avoid injuries that come as a result of running the bases or swinging a bat.
That’s how the fans feel, but how about the players? They are, after all, the ones that are impacted directly.
“I think it’s fair the way it is with us hitting. It’s been part of the game for so long to have the pitchers go up there and defend themselves,” Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke said. “The American League kind of has that out where you have a guy that can sit full-time and just hit. I’d like to see it be universal to have the pitcher hit.”
Speaking to a National League pitcher, I thought I’d get another response. It’s well known that pitchers aren’t the greatest hitters, so you would think that they’d prefer a night off. As of print, there were only 11 pitchers with more than five hits on the season.
Locke’s response, however, opened my eyes a bit. It isn’t about hitting, it’s about pitching. For instance, Locke has given up just three hits in 26 at-bats (.115 avg). When looking at it that way, it makes sense.
“When you’re out there on the mound, that’s another guy on the mound that’s giving you an out,” Locke said. “He’s either a weak hitter or he’s bunting, so you take the out when he’s up. I don’t really have too much of a preference, but I’d like to see it that way.”
One of Locke’s teammates, Francisco Liriano, has spent all but this year in the American League. Liriano said while he didn’t mind pitching in the American League, he likes the way the National League is set up better.
“I like the way the National League does it. Facing the pitcher is much easier. You have to approach them like they are a regular hitter, though and you can’t underestimate them,” said Liriano, who has held opposing pitchers to a lifetime .208 avg. “You do have to figure that the pitcher is going to make it a little bit easier on you, though.”
From the hitting aspect, both Liriano and Locke agree. They’d like to keep it the same throughout, but both did admit they don’t mind the break at the plate.
“I think it’s a nice break for anyone coming from the National League and getting in there two or three times a day. As a National League pitcher, though, you want to get as many at bats as you can because it means the game is going all right for you. It is a nice little break and it reminds me of Spring Training a bit,” Locke explained. “It’s nice to have that extra guy in the offense that can hit and can help the team a little bit. All in all, it’s nice to get the break, but I’d still like to keep it where the pitchers bat.”
Another guy that has spent his entire career in the American League prior to this season is Brandon Inge. Inge enjoyed his best years in Detroit before playing for Oakland last year. As a position player, Inge said he hopes things stay the way they are.
“Actually, I kind of like the way things are now. I like the two leagues and I like the differences. I don’t think they should do anything with and should leave it the way it is. It’s just me, I like the dynamic,” Inge said.”Everyone always wants to change something for some reason and I’m more of a traditionalist and love the history of the game. I know it wasn’t always like that, but it’s been this way for so long now. I don’t see any reason to change it.”
With the Astros move to the American League this year, baseball is divided into two 15-team leagues. That, of course, introduced the need for at least one interleague series every day. To some, myself included, it’s going to usher in the use of the designated hitter universally over the next five to 10 years. Right now, it’s hard to say who had the advantage, if any, as there have been seven National League teams to win the World Series since 2000, compared to six American League teams.
The one advantage that the American League teams do have is the ability to sign a guy or a grow a guy with the purpose of filling that designated hitter role. From the draft, to free agency, to spring training, teams will approach differently depending on what league they are in. A National League team is more inclined to look at depth and bench players with a track record of pinch-hitting. American League teams can focus more on backup players to plug in on days off and not so much with in-game substitutions.
Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle looks at it with from the perspective that the home team has the advantage in that given series.
“I think when you’re home, you have the advantage. Right now, the Mariners have the advantage over us. That’s predicated on the fact that American League teams, most of them, go out and buy or have developed their own designated hitter,” Hurdle said. “We’re taking a position player or a catcher like Tony Sanchez, out hottest hitter in Triple-A, and giving them the chance to get off the field.”
“It’s a definite advantage for the American League when you’re in their park and it’s a definite advantage for us when they’re in our park. You take one of their players off their field. They have to re-manufacture their lineup. How that plays out, it plays out. To me, the home field team has the advantage.”
Inge echoes his manager and says that no matter what league you’re in, you have the advantage when you play by your rules.
“I don’t think one outweighs the other. When you’re playing at their ballpark, you have to play by their rules. Same when they come here,” Inge said. “Pitchers don’t hit all year and have to hit here. It’s fair. People make a lot of nothing sometimes and a big deal of something that isn’t a big deal.”