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The DH debate

The debate over whether or not the National League should adopt the designated hitter hit the field yesterday where Max Scherzer and Madison Bumgarner traded barbs.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Since the designated hitter rule was adopted by the American League in 1973 there has been debate over the two leagues becoming uniform on the issue. Take, for instance, this picture of an old installment of now-defunct SPORT magazine that I tweeted out last night for the purposes of embedding in this article:

Debate has since changed from those simple times of short, high-scoring games to a full-on assault against pitchers swinging wet newspapers around. And who can blame Max Scherzer for insulting his own people for the way they swing the bat? As discussed by Ryan Romano a mere week and a half ago, they're seriously terrible at it. In fact, only one pitcher had a wRC+ that indicated he was above average in 2014. And Madison Bumgarner had some choice words for those who would remove the bat from his hands:

"[Scherzer] knew the rules. Whatever much he signed for -- what did he get again? -- he didn't have a problem signing his name. He didn't have a problem hitting then."

While Bumgarner is well within his right to discuss this topic with the media, I'm not sure what he has said is cogent. To his credit though, I want to make it clear that Scherzer's comments could have easily been taken out of context to elicit a  'more printable' quote from Bumgarner. All Scherzer insinuated was that it is more entertaining to watch David Ortiz try to hit a baseball than himself, who just so happens to be a pitcher. And he's right, there is nobody that wants to see Max Scherzer grab a bat off the bench as opposed to the DH-personified himself, Big Papi.

So, when Bumgarner addresses Scherzer's comments, while they start in a rational place, they don't necessarily follow logic. Of course, pitchers like to sign their free agent deals in the National League -- like Scherzer did -- because it is an easier league to pitch in. We've seen this with Zack Greinke as well. However, whether Scherzer valued pitching in the National League as part of his decision making is unclear. In fact, only Scherzer and possibly his agent know the answer to that. Honestly, I find it to be a crude view that athletes would be so vainly concerned about their own statistics being fractions lower to move their family to another city, but that's just my opinion. To me, Greinke didn't sign with the Dodgers to face lowlier competition; he did so to play for a better team (no offense Kansas City). The same can be said for Scherzer.

Bumgarner's argument then turns to assuming Scherzer's argument was in direct response to Adam Wainwright's season-ending achilles injury. Another fair assumption. In no way do I mean to imply Bumgarner was uneducated, but more likely cleverly misinformed.

"What if [Wainwright] got hurt pitching? Should we say he can't pitch anymore? I hate what happened to him. He works his butt off out there. But I don't think it was because he was hitting. What if he gets hurt getting out of his truck? You tell him not to drive anymore?"

This argument does make sense to me. What happened to Wainwright was a freak accident and could have happened in a host of different scenarios. In fact, Wainwright took this same angle himself when probed regarding the DH dilemma:

"I don't think I can remember another pitcher injuring his achilles at bat. It could've happened doing anything. It could've happened carrying my daughter up the steps. Baseball has to stay doing what it is."

So, after three all-star pitchers weigh in, we're no closer to an answer other than banning all pitchers from carrying their daughters. I must admit though, I love watching pitchers hit. I even love the storyline it has been for Joe Maddon having them bat 8th in the lineup and seeing if that makes a team measurably different. If so, how? I've often wondered if this is because of a 'grass is greener on the other side' attitude since I live in an American League city. Would I get tired of watching Bartolo Colon bat for my team? Would I rather see players like Wilin Rosario on more starting lineup cards? Would the Padres have felt compelled to trade away Cameron Maybin if they could have DH'd Matt Kemp instead? These are difficult questions for me to answer and they vary on opinion. To me, both the American League and National League are equally strategic. A double-switch doesn't take more strategy.

What really got me going though was what Bumgarner said about accountability:

"I guarantee you some of the things you're seeing in the American League wouldn't happen if pitchers had to hit. They'd be a whole lot more polite."

Undoubtedly talking about the Kansas City Royals and their series of brawls -- involving suspensions to Yordano Ventura, Kelvin Herrera, Edinson Volquez, and opponents Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija among others -- Bumgarner presumably believes in the designated hitter being rescinded from the American League as a form of vigilante justice. This is so ludicrous to me that it is exactly the reason I made the conscious effort to switch from watching hockey, which has its own version of on-ice 'codes' that if broken result in two adult men punching each other in order to 'send a message' with no real repercussions following.

Either way, it's an interesting series of perspectives from those in the game. Of course, as I stated off the top, Madison Bumgarner is the only pitcher that was even above average at the dish in 2014, so his perspective is warranted. But, if you believe the run environment in baseball to be problematically low, then perhaps introducing the designated hitter to the National League would be a reasonable response. Which way do you lean?

. . .

Quotes courtesy of USA Today, Big League Stew and SF Gate

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Michael Bradburn is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mwbii. You can also reach him at