On Saturday, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak commented that there was “more momentum” for the designated hitter (DH) in the National League (NL). As Chicago Cubs fans we should be celebrating this momentum.
The DH rule creates a systematic advantage for the American League (AL) over the NL. So as a Cubs fan, I support bringing the DH to the NL. I am not endorsing the DH as a good rule.
That is a completely different issue. The relevant issue is that the NL is institutionally disadvantaged by the DH rule, particularly in the World Series.
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The designated-hitter disadvantages the NL in two distinct ways: free agency and team health. National League teams are disadvantaged in free agency because the AL can outbid the NL in contract lengths knowing that they can obtain 2-3 more years of value in an aging slugger as a DH.
Lots of 35-40-year-old players are still valuable batters. But fewer remain valuable fielders. As such, AL teams can offer longer contracts to older players than NL teams can because AL bidders will get more on-field value late in such contracts.
In theory, this advantage should be negated by the extra value NL teams can derive from good hitting pitchers. For example, Zack Greinke, the best hitting pitcher today, was worth 2.4 oWAR over the past four years.
An NL team could outbid an AL team by around $20m over a four-year contract, safe in the knowledge that Greinke’s offensive prowess would pay the extra value. Yet NL teams lack information on half the market because there are no batting stats for AL pitchers, effectively robbing the NL of half of its one advantage.
The roster advantages gained by the AL, however, pale in comparison to the health benefits AL teams derive from the DH. Every year pitchers are injured at the plate and on the base-paths. Adam Wainright was lost for 2015 to an Achilles injury suffered during an at-bat.
Likewise, Cubs fans may recall the first of Mark Prior‘s many trips to the DL started with a shoulder injury from a 2003 baserunning collision. The wear and tear of all those extra incidents take their toll over a full season on NL pitchers. The current rules are analogous to an NFL rule mandating that every NFC quarterback submits to use as a tackling dummy for 15 minutes after every game while sparing their AFC counterparts.
How even would future Superbowl odds be? It also allows managers to rest regular starters, by allowing them the occasional DH game. Over a 162 game season, having a few days off keeps players fresher for the playoffs. Basically, the NL is walking into the World Series a little more tired and bruised than the AL, year-in & year-out.
The bottom line is that the DH is not leaving the AL. So as a fan of an NL team, I would rather the Cubs be on an even playing field when we finally reach the World Series.