For over 70 years, the American League operated just the same as its senior counterpart, the National League, with batting lineups including a spot for the pitcher. Then Rule 6.10 was introduced to the AL in 1973, better known as the designated hitter. The revolutionary change to the game of baseball meant AL teams would forego having their pitchers hit, instead substituting a hitter who would not take the field during the game. The debate has raged on for four decades concerning the merits of the controversial rule and whether the AL should abolish it or if the NL should change. I believe we’re on the cusp of a tipping point — one that is dipping towards the DH spreading across both leagues.
The DH conundrum is a constant discussion in the baseball world, but when major injuries happen to NL pitchers as they feebly attempt to hit, the dissension becomes paramount. Last Saturday, St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright injured his ankle and Achilles’ tendon in an at-bat against the Milwaukee Brewers. A simple step out of the batter’s box, and Wainwright’s season is finished. It’s a debilitating blow for an elite Cardinals team looking to return to the World Series. The 33-year-old ace was off to a spectacular start this season, posting a 1.44 ERA with two wins and a 1.04 WHIP — now St. Louis has a glaring hole in its rotation because a career-.198 hitter had to attempt to swing a bat.
For the most part, AL pitchers don’t have to worry about such issues. Outside of the random interleague games taking place in an NL ballpark, they never pick up a bat. Max Scherzer, a starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals — who has spent the majority of his career in the AL — will miss his scheduled start Tuesday due to a jammed thumb — a minor injury he suffered while hitting. He recently came out in his support for the DH during a postgame interview stating:
"“If you look at it from the macro side, who’d people rather see hit: [David Ortiz] or me? Who would people rather see, a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper? Both leagues need to be on the same set of rules.”"
With interleague play no longer being a niche, specific time of the season, but rather a constant throughout the 162-game campaign; it may be time for the NL to adopt the DH. Baseball purists will argue tooth and nail for the AL to get rid of the DH and highlight the strategy behind bunting a runner over courtesy of a pitcher’s at-bat. And I have usually agreed, but I feel uneasy supporting a rule that puts pitchers at risk.
The biggest issue is not about taking away a pitcher’s chance to bunt, but rather costing teams with good-hitting pitchers their secret weapons. The Chicago Cubs boast one of the best-hitting rotations in baseball. Travis Wood has nine home runs in his career and Jason Hammel is hitting .364 in 11 at-bats in 2015. That being said, Jon Lester is hit-less in his 44-career at-bats and Jake Arrieta 0-10 so far this season. Baseball purist or not, perhaps the DH isn’t so bad.
Think about the future if you’re a Cubs fan — which I assume there is a pretty good chance you are if you’re frequenting this website. If the NL were to add the DH within the next season or two, suddenly hot-hitting Cubs prospect Dan Vogelbach has a future with the team. On Monday, Vogelbach was named the Southern League Player of the Week for the 2nd week in a row after batting .391 with three doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI. Heralded as a top-10 prospect for Chicago, Vogelbach has been compared to Prince Fielder due to his large frame and knack for crushing the ball — his defense is suspect at best. As a first baseman, he has no future on a Cubs team showcasing Anthony Rizzo. With a DH in the possible near future, Vogelbach suddenly has a spot in the lineup. This also applies to a top-five prospect for the Cubs, Kyle Schwarber, also hyped up for his ability to hit despite question marks surrounding his spot defensively on a team.
Last season, pitchers posted an abysmal slash line of .122/.153/.152. For every Travis Wood, you have 10 Jon Lester’s. The DH widespread would create a unity between the two leagues that is very much needed with constant interleague play — a point touched on by Cubs’ announcer Len Kasper on Monday, as you can see above. It would take a lot of getting used to, but it’s time. The NL needs to add the DH.