Saturday, January 23, 2016

Designated Arguments - Sweet and Sour

What does a normal person do in the middle of a blizzard? They write. Duh.

With about a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Florida or Arizona, the talk of baseball is getting bigger and bigger, despite the fact that the Super Bowl hasn't even happened yet. Talks of rookies and veterans are taking shape around the bars and taverns, and the futures of team signings hang in the balance.

Most of these conversations are fun to chime in on. However, there is one argument that I (personally) hate to chime in on, and it's this:

The Designated Hitter Rule.

Thanks for the fitting picture, Edvard Munch.

I alluded to this topic in a post about interleague play nearly six years ago, long before the Astros jumped ship to the American League and began the trend of having at least one interleague series going on in the Majors at any point during the regular season; in fact, this piece was one of the first fifteen posts of this blog. After I made a quick trip to the bathroom to throw up upon reading this older piece, I came back to my chair, knowing that I can provide a way better argument this time around, and I can actually avenge my 19-year-old self from attempting to sound logical.
[Here--here's some digital ipecac syrup to get you going.]

I never wanted to touch the topic, to be quite honest, and that was because I knew it would be a total mess from the start. There are a lot of good reasons to adopt it league-wide, and there are not so good reasons to adopt it. Both sides have good points to the point that they practically cancel each other out. Seriously, it's like asking the question of whether you like Coke or Pepsi, or Playstation or XBox, or Democrats or Republicans. You can understand both sides of the story, but if you really had to choose, what would you choose?

This is the reason why I have never talked about this until now. It is that difficult for me to decide.

So this is why I'm going to pull you by the hair and you're going to experience it with me.
We're going to do something here called "Sweet and Sour," instead of plainly calling it "pros and cons." Why? Each argument for and against aren't all exactly bad nor good--they're mostly personal preferences. On that note, let's explore!

Point #1: Uniform rules across both leagues.

Sweet: What you see will be what you get. If you're a total outsider to the sport and watch three games featuring six different teams in a given time period, there's a chance that you're going to experience the designated hitter rule at least once. It won't completely throw you for a loop as to why one game will have the rule and the other won't. When a National League team plays against an American League team, the DH rule will only go into effect if both teams are playing at the ballpark of the American League team. So if the New York Mets played the New York Yankess at Citi Field, there would be no DH rule since the Mets are in the National League; but if they played at Yankee Stadium, the DH rule go into effect.

See, this would be confusing if you didn't know what team was in which league.

Sour: The best gimmick of the Big Four sports in the United States is this particular rule. It's as if there are two different sport countries with two different sports jurisdictions. Having the DH rule remain in the American League keeps a different dimension in the sport as a whole, so when full interleague play had rolled around (especially before the 2013 season--thanks, Houston), you had teams walk in having to adjust and show how well they can maneuver the transition. Of course, not all pitchers are happy with this idea, but that'll be explained in this next point.

Point #2: Pitchers [only] gonna pitch.

Sweet: Sure, pitchers have to have some pretty swift arms to craft a nasty pitch, but just because they have swift arms doesn't mean those same arms are crafty enough to swing at one of those pitches. Not only that, it makes the pitcher more susceptible to being a "victim" at the plate, so to speak, as they have the worry of getting hit by a pitch or getting injured while making a run to a base. When pitchers are as important of a commodity as they are today, you don't want to lose them to freak accidents.

Sour: Sports are all about how versatile you are. Most times, if you're a one-trick pony, you're gonna get figured out fast. In the NFL, linemen have to be able to shift in case of an injury, and rushers have to know the routes in a receiving play. In MLS, plays will make midfielders shift to defensive lines in case if there's an offensive threat. In an extra inning game in the National League and you're low on players, there's a chance you'll have to use your pitchers as hitters. It isn't as common to see a position player as a pitcher in the American League, but it has happened before, and you're putting those guys in danger of injury as well. So why not have the pitchers show more gusto? Plus, not all pitchers hate the idea of having to bat.

Point #3: Extended careers.

Sweet: Frank Thomas. Albert Pujols. David Ortiz. While one of these three mentioned are retired, the other two are in the late thirties into early forties with gas still left in the tank. The retired name mentioned (Thomas) played into his forties. This usually isn't heard of very often, considering that most older names make way for younger guys coming through the system, and that older players are more likely to suffer injury while on the field. However, they get a new lease on life in not having nearly as much high-impact since they are either platooned or given the designated hitter spot. Playing 162 games is usually unheard of, and for a good reason (unless you were Cal Ripken, Jr.). Once age settles in, long seasons tend to take a toll. It preserves the player and keeps him playing to his strengths.

Sour: There are younger guys simply itching to make it to the Majors and step out of the farm system. With a heavy dosage of high-impact play occurring in baseball, and the measures to condition the body for long-term play, it's slowly becoming a quick case of "out with the old, in with the new." Bigger contracts are keeping the older guns in there, but for what? To have promising young players sit in AAA for goodness knows how long? Sure, it's extending careers, but it's keeping younger guys in the minors for so long, only to have them brought up much later to have shorter Major League careers. It's backwards.

Point #4: The sport needs more of an offensive burst.

Sweet: Within the past ten years, we have seen more no-hitters and perfect games thrown than ever before. Is it because of the almost-free out provided by the pitcher in the batting order and the cut of the flow in the offensive lineup? It's possible. With an added utility bat, we could see a lot more strategy and keep games at an even keel and pace.

Sour: No. No it doesn't. The sport is just fine. The score is not supposed to resemble an NFL score, and pitchers also aren't supposed to look like wimps. The game would definitely be unbalanced if it was an all-offensive showdown. Sometimes, the best games are the pitcher's duels, and as I had mentioned in a previous post, the game of baseball is, statistically, a game of failure. There are going to be times when the balance gets thrown one way during a game. It can't be so one-sided all the time.

Point #5: Less lineup drainage.

Sweet: Ah, the infamous double-switch. Once the pitcher comes out, the pinch hitter who swung for him goes on the field and replaces another position player. When that's done, you take out a player who can still hold his own and deliver in the clutch, especially if the game goes much longer than expected. You practically eliminate that with the designated hitter. If there's a position player that needs to be benched in favor of another bat (usually if there's a pitcher that one has seen enough), you can take that chance without worrying that your pitcher needs to be replaced later on in the batting lineup due to pitch count.

Sour: Adding the DH takes away a great amount of the strategy that is needed to be a Major League manager. Sports are much like a game of chess, where you have to predict the other player's moves, all while crafting your own to adjust to possible situations in the future. If you put that giant fence of a DH rule in there, you don't really have much to do strategy for in a game unless if it's between a specific hitter and a pitcher.


Okay, now that this is all out of the way, you're probably wondering what my stance is. With the arguments presented, my stance appears to be about as mysterious as Stephen Hawking's brain.

You see, growing up, I respected the pitchers that had batted, because it gave them a reason to help themselves in case if they gave up a lousy run or two. However, I also saw how the American League pitchers reacted to having to bat during interleague (especially guys like Tim Wakefield) and later watch how awkward they looked at the plate. Since then, I really haven't changed my stance. Having a one-rule difference in each league is what makes the game so unique. You see different forms of strategy in each league, and watching each league come together to do battle separates the men from the boys in the realm of management.

If that type of strategy gets taken away, you take away a specific dimension of the game. Then again, when just about anything changes in a sport, people will be apprehensive until you get immersed into it and finally accept it. That applies to when the DH rule was first implemented in 1973, or when the Wild Card came to be after 1994, or when the Wild Card was expanded to two teams in 2012, or when Instant Replay started its use in the tail-end of 2009. If they spread the DH rule to the National League, I would probably feel uncomfortable with it, because I didn't grow up and watch the Phillies in that format. But, of course, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't accept it after a while.

I would probably just be that one person in my old age going: "When I was your age, the pitcher actually batted!"

If the rule would be put into effect by Rob Manfred, which is looking more likely according to reports, it would definitely get backlash from old-school fans, but more accepting from new-age baseball enthusiasts.
(Proof of reports are here and here.)

As for now, we wait to see how this upcoming season progresses. Who knows? We could be seeing the last of awkward pitchers swinging and missing, and possibly missing Bartolo Colon and Madison Bumgarner swinging for the fences and actually getting it there.

-- Stephanie

(Some of the outline of this was based off of FOX Sports' article: "7 reasons why the NL finally should embrace the DH." Article Referenced is found by clicking here.)