Unless something unforeseen happens, the universal designated hitter rule is expected to be in place for the 2022 MLB season. If there is one of course. That’s what MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported this week.
While it’s true that such a rule would rob us of the possibility of some incredibly unexpected home runs and big hits by pitchers (Bartolo Colon somehow comes to mind), having the designated hitter in both leagues would actually be good for baseball.
It would be good for the game because it can benefit both teams and players. As we have found out during the CBA negotiations, such a development is extremely rare.
But fortunately, that’s the case: everyone involved can benefit from the universal DH.
Benefits for teams
It guarantees a better offensive output: Pitchers slashed .110/.150/.142 in 4,829 plate appearances during the 2021 season, with only 17 home runs. Is that really something most fans would like to see? Yes, some of the ‘strategy’ would be gone with the move, but teams wouldn’t have to worry about a pitcher disrupting the chances of an offensive rally with their offensive ineptitude (or unwillingness, depending on the case):
It creates an extra spot to put a hot player or to solve a playing time logjam: Some National League teams have had, for example, four capable offensive outfielders, or two first basemen. Some of them have been forced to either bench some of these players or use them out of their preferred position. The DH spot provides a golden chance to write most of all deserving names in the lineup day in and day out.
It “hides” excellent hitters with suspect gloves: By playing with the Cincinnati Reds for the last two seasons, Nick Castellanos and his -7 DRS (and -6 Outs Above Average) have been forced to take the field more often than the team would have wanted. The same could be said about JD Martinez, only that the Boston Red Sox mostly ‘hid’ his terrible glove because they had the DH spot available. Those are two examples of one fact: teams of both leagues will apparently be able to use hitters with no guilty feelings and no defensive regrets (for the most part.)
Benefits for players
It can extend their careers, keeping them healthier: Giancarlo Stanton is actually a capable defender, and the Yankees know it. They just choose not to risk him out there in left field because they also know he is prone to suffering lower-body injuries. Yordan Alvarez and the Houston Astros are another example: he underwent knee surgery that forced him to miss most of 2020, so they used him mostly as a DH last year (not that he’s an elite fielder, but still). David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz, and many other talented batters extended their careers because the designated hitter spot kept them fresher.
It opens more playing time opportunities for hitters: For managers, having eight lineup slots for hitters is definitely not the same as having nine. That opens up some plate appearances for a deserving hitter.
It reduces injury risk: We already mentioned that having the DH spot lets teams take some of the defensive burden associated with playing the field of specific players, but without losing their bats. But having pitchers hitting also represents added injury risk for them, too, because it’s something unnatural for them: they are not trained to do it consistently. The Mets didn’t rule out the possibility of Jacob deGrom getting injured while swinging last year, and Arizona Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen suffered a fractured forearm as a result of his ventures as a hitter during last year’s spring training, and hat to miss several weeks of the regular season.
All in all, the universal designated hitter will bring some uniformity and consistency to MLB while reducing injury risk, opening up more playing time for players that deserve it, and will increase offensive production while making games more entertaining; not to mention that most pitchers’ at-bats provide no fun for fans because they aren’t competitive. It’s a win-win-win situation. Pretty rare, huh?
Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13