Feb 15, 2022, 06:28AM

Mixed Feelings on MLB’s New Designated Hitter Rule

The rules are now the same for both leagues, but it might prolong games.

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It’s reported that both MLB and the players’ union have agreed that the National League will also use the designated hitter this year, assuming there’s a season. Designated hitters have existed in the American League since 1973. This makes little difference for American League teams. Until 1997, the only interleague play in Major League Baseball occurred in the World Series. However, the change means American League teams won’t have to decide which member of their starting lineup to sit when they play a National League team.

For National League teams with pitchers who can hit well, this is unfortunate. Some pitchers are competent hitters. In the 21st century, starting pitchers like former Chicago Cub Carlos Zambrano and current Arizona Diamondback Madison Bumgarner each had a season where they hit at least five home runs. Additionally, others have had success as hitters. A few not named Shohei Ohtani include: former Florida Marlin Dontrelle Willis, former Washington National Micah Owings, and current Los Angeles Dodger Michael Lorenzen. All five of those players pinch-hit at some point in their careers. Like Ohtani, Lorenzen started his career as a two-way player. Unlike Ohtani, who’s still a two-way player, pitching is now Lorenzen’s focus.

The move may prove beneficia for the NL.. While a team like the Red Sox have had many talented designated hitters over the years, most notably Hall of Famer David Ortiz, NL teams usually carried an extra pitcher or a pinch hitter when the league had a 25-man roster (since 2020, the league has had 26-man rosters). So when NL teams visited AL ballparks, they had to put a bench player into the starting lineup. If someone is a bench player then, odds are, they're not better at hitting than the average DH. While many people complain about MLB games being too long, this change may have an unintended effect: even longer games.

The biggest criticism of pitchers hitting is that they’re an automatic out. Often, the bat never leaves their shoulder. It’s an injury risk for pitchers to do something they’re not trained for, so teams would often rather have their pitcher strike out than try to take a swing. If that happens three, four, or five times in a game, it helps the game move along. If there’s another bat in the lineup that can work the count and get on base, that’ll result in higher scoring games that take longer.

However, it creates opportunities for good hitters to prolong their careers and increase the demand for designated hitters on the free-agent market. If the DH position existed five years ago, maybe Ryan Howard's career would’ve lasted longer. He wasn’t a good defender at first base, but hit 25 home runs in 331 at-bats for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2016 (.196 batting average). He had power, especially against right-handed pitchers, so perhaps a desperate team would’ve signed him play in 2017.


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