A hotly contested topic in the baseball world in the past week (and for quite some time now) has been whether or not the National League should change its rules to institute the use of the designated hitter. The American League adopted the DH in 1973, yet the Senior Circuit has remained surprisingly resilient through the years.
However, National League owners may be under increased pressure to make a change.
The debate was jump-started when St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, one of the elite starting pitchers in the MLB, tore his Achilles tendon running out of the batter's box after putting the ball in play. The club announced that he would miss the rest of the season, which is a crippling blow to a St. Louis squad trying to advance to the NLCS for the fifth consecutive year.
Washington Nationals hurler Max Scherzer was the first to rally behind Wainwright's banner. He told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that he would not be opposed to bringing the DH to the National League, saying that it would be a great way to increase scoring and make the game more entertaining.
"If you look at it from the macro side, who'd people rather see hit—Big Papi or me?" Scherzer said. "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."
This logic makes sense from Mad Max—having a designated hitter batting instead of a pitcher would make the game more fun to watch and ostensibly give the fans more bang for their buck. But his initial claims were met with a flurry of other opinions, and most weren't in agreement with his.
Madison Bumgarner was the first to publicly disagree. The San Francisco Giants left-hander also happens to be one of the best hitting pitchers in the league, and he was not afraid to come down hard on Scherzer.
This was his comment to Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News about the Wainwright injury and the possibility of the DH entering National League play:
"What if he 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? That's the way the game has to be played. I appreciate both sides of the argument and I get it. But [ending pitcher plate appearances] isn't the way to go about [addressing] it."
That is an excellent point as well. It was an Achilles injury that Wainwright suffered. If that part of his body was going to tear, it could have been anywhere. He could just as easily have injured it pitching off the mound or covering first base as he did jogging out of the box.
One of Bumgarner's teammates, Jake Peavy, gave another reason why the designated hitter must stay away. He began by talking about a situation last year when Bumgarner hit against the Los Angeles Dodgers' Zack Greinke in the eighth inning. It was late in the season in a crucial situation, and manager Bruce Bochy didn't have to go to a pinch hitter and then a reliever.
"We have a distinct advantage because of what he can do at the plate," Peavy said, per Baggarly. "We'd take a ton of strategy out of our game. The bench player is so much more important a part of the game. Managers have their say in how the game is played out.
"As pitchers, it's about taking pride in batting and base running and getting a bunt down or putting it in play. If you do that better than the other pitcher, you've got an advantage."
For Scherzer, even his own general manager is not on his side. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo—who gave Scherzer a $210 million contract this offseason—went on record against the DH earlier this week.
Rizzo was very adamant on a Wednesday radio appearance he made on 106.7 The Fan that he will never favor the DH.
"I hate the DH. I always have hated the DH. I would hate to see the DH in the National League, and I love the National League brand of baseball. Now, I worked with the Chicago White Sox for years, and the Boston Red Sox for years in the American League, and I'm a much bigger fan of the National League style of play, with the pitcher pitching and all the strategy that that employs."
That's this writer's favorite part of this whole argument. The phrase "the strategy it employs." Personally, that is one of the things enjoyable about the game of baseball. The managers competing in a chess match throughout the ballgame is arguably the most compelling thing about baseball and the main reason I like the National League better than the American League.
In the American League, the manager does not have nearly as many factors to worry about, most notably pinch hitting for the pitcher. To illustrate this, lets introduce a common situation in baseball.
Let's say Team A is winning by two runs in the seventh inning and the pitcher is due up next with runners on first and second with one out. The manager has a tough decision on his hands: Does he leave the pitcher in the game to pitch another inning even though it likely means they won't tack on any runs that inning, or does he elect to use a pinch hitter in an attempt to add some cushion to the lead even though that move will result in leaning heavily on the bullpen to finish the game?
An American League manager is never faced with this dilemma. All he has to do is monitor the pitcher, and when he gets tired or ineffective, put in a reliever.
The Junior Circuit also does not incorporate nearly as many situational pitching changes or as much bunting as the National League does.
Now some fans don't really care much about some of the finer points of the game—they prefer to see guys hit the ball as far as they can in high-scoring games, and that is perfectly fine. They can stick with the American League, but the NL does not need to change its rule book to satisfy those fans.
The final witness in this trial is someone who should know better than anyone. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has spent time in both leagues, and even though he has only been in Chicago for a few months, he has already adapted the National League style of play and is against bringing the DH to the NL.
"That's part of the game," Maddon said, via the Chicago Tribune, about Wainwright's injury. "That's the way it works. It's unfortunate. It stinks. I like the National League the way it sets. It's a really interesting baseball game."
Ultimately, it will be up to NL owners on whether or not they eventually adopt the DH. They might do it sometime in the future, but they don't need to. Their brand of baseball is more of a traditional style of play, and contrary to popular belief there are still some old-fashioned baseball fans out there who have the attention spans to watch an entire game even if substitutions and pitching changes are involved.
In my opinion, the game is much better with all nine fielders hitting for themselves. It forces players to be more well-rounded, and it makes it more interesting from a strategy standpoint. Also, it results in more intriguing scouting, as pitchers handy with the bat continue to become more and more rare. As the Giants do right now with Bumgarner, NL teams with pitchers who can hit have a tremendous advantage over their opponents, and that is nothing to sneeze at.
Either way, this is a very polarizing debate. Each side has its pros and cons, and baseball pundits, coaches and players are obviously not afraid to state their case.
Bumgarner, Peavy, Rizzo and Maddon are for the DH staying the heck away from the National League, and this writer wholeheartedly agree with their arguments.