The Designated Hitter Rule was adopted by the American League of Major League Baseball in 1973. Under this rule, an American League team must have a batter bat in place of the pitcher, and is not allowed to bat in place of a catcher, infielder, or outfielder. When a National League team plays in an American League ballpark, both teams use a Designated Hitter (DH). When an American League player plays in a National League ballpark, both teams let pitchers bat.
The rules are a little different when it comes to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Initially, the DH did not exist in the All-Star Game but that changed in 1989, when the DH rule was applied to American League (AL) ballparks. Fans would vote for the DH for the American League and the National League manager would pick a DH. Since 2010, the DH has been used by both leagues at American and National League ballparks.
When it comes to the World Series, the DH rule has had a fascinating history. Prior to 1976, even with the DH rule in place, pitchers from both leagues were required to bat. From 1976 until 1985, the DH rule was in place in American League stadiums during even year World Series matchups. Since then, the DH rule has applied to the American League team’s home games every single year.
This strikes me as odd. If the DH rule was in place effective 1973, why wouldn’t the rule take place in the World Series effective immediately? Would they have wanted to experiment to see if the DH would be effective? It’s something that sparks my curiosity, to say the least.
What inspired this rule, you may ask? Good question! Many, many years ago, people have noticed pitchers were drafted for pitching skills instead of batting skills and their batting skills weren’t necessarily the strongest. Connie Mack brought up the idea in 1906 since he was probably sick of his pitchers not batting as well as he could, but his idea was met with lack of support and media criticism. In the 1920s, a number of motions were made and the NL almost agreed to it.
The 1960s pitching dominance changed a lot of things. Pitching rules changed after the 1968 season and in 1969, a designated pinch hitter trial took place, with lack of participation from the NL teams. Minor league teams began a four-year DH trial. It seems that the minor league teams approved highly of the concept during this trial and so did the AL with the rule becoming official in 1973. I don’t blame them for wanting this rule one bit, considering the fact that they have had a higher overall batting average than the National League in the years since.
This past January, there has been a proposal to require the National League to implement a designated hitter. There have been quite a few differing opinions on the matter. My take on the entire situation and proposal? I honestly can’t be sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I want pitchers to have a chance to go to bat and contribute to their team’s offensive performance. I feel like there’s this stigma around pitchers and how they cannot hit at all when they honestly have a chance to do so.
On the other hand, I have seen the positive impact that a DH can have on batting averages and I do believe they can protect the pitcher. In the 115 World Series matchups that have been played, most of the victories go to the American League. Remember, they have consistently had a higher batting average than the National League for over forty years. In addition, while I do believe that pitchers can hit home runs or get base hits, they haven’t had the best batting reputation as of recent. In addition, it’s important to remember that pitchers are drafted for pitching instead of hitting or baserunning.
Let’s take a look at Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. He plays pitcher and designated hitter, which is a very fascinating pair of roles to take on, in my opinion. He has hit 18 home runs in 2019, 40 total during his career, 110 hits in 2019, a total of 203 career hits, 51 2019 runs, and 110 career runs. In addition, he has batted 62 runs in in 2019 and has batted 123 in during his entire career. Not only that, but he is the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle! He also recorded impressive offensive statistics during his time in Japan, too.
Let’s take a look at Shohei’s pitching statistics now. During his time with Nippon Professional Baseball, he had a win-loss record of 42-15. He had a 2.52 earned run average and struck out 624 batters. This impressive pitching performance carried over to the United States, as he has a 4-2 win-loss record, a 3.31 earned run average, and 63 strikeouts. This certainly proves that pitchers can be good batters and that having a talented all-around player on your team is extremely beneficial. Considering the fact that Shohei won Rookie of the Year in 2018, it should be no surprise he’s a valuable member of the Angels.
Another case study worth bringing up is German Marquez. He’s had quite the pitching and hitting career. He finished in fifth place in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, which is pretty high praise in my opinion. He also pitched a one-hit complete game in 2019, the first in the history of the Colorado Rockies.
In addition, in 2018 he was the first pitcher since 1986 to hit a home run off of a position player pitching and he ended up winning a Silver Slugger Award. He was nominated for the award in 2019, too, alongside fellow Rockies pitcher Peter Lambert, but the award went to Zack Greinke instead. These are some of the reasons he is my favorite Rockies pitcher. He is versatile pitching and batting.
The last case study regarding pitchers who are talented batters I would like to explore is Mike Hampton. Mike Hampton has had quite the pitching career with a win-loss record of 148-115, a 4.06 Earned Run Average, and 1,387 strikeouts. In my opinion, that is a very impressive pitching resume. It is no surprise to me that he has a National League Championship Most Valuable Player (NLCS MVP) award, two All-Star Game appearances, a Gold Glove Award, and a NL Wins Leader award under his belt.
Not only that, but he has five Silver Slugger awards. Better yet, he won five straight Silver Slugger Awards, from 1999 until 2003, while he played for the Houston Astros, New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, and Atlanta Braves. That is a wonderful batting resume. I can only imagine how it had to have felt to win such an honor five years straight.
These are all wonderful examples of how a player doesn’t need to be a catcher, infielder, outfielder, or designated hitter in order to be a productive batter. However, the average batting statistics of pitchers as of January 2020 are a dismal .115/.144/.149. In addition, I find it important to take pitchers’ health into account. Throwing baseballs to batters and catchers multiple times an inning looks extremely exhausting. If pitching can drain somebody’s stamina quickly, then just imagine what they have to go through pitching, too.
The DH role has been so impactful that an award has been named after Seattle Mariners player Edgar Martinez. Edgar Martinez, as well as Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz, are two of the most noticeable winners of this award. Awards have not been limited to the Edgar Martinez Award, though. Paul Molitor won a World Series MVP award after playing most of the 1993 World Series as a DH. In addition, David Ortiz won an American League Championship Series (ALCS) MVP award in 2004. These honors go to show how much the position means to the league. It’s impressive how much magic a person who bats in place of a pitcher can bring.
Sadly, there is lack of representation of the DH in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Paul Molitor and Jimmy Rice were the only players until 2014 who played in the role a quarter of the time. Frank Thomas was the first player to play mostly DH to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014, followed by Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines in 2019. Remember, the American League has more World Series wins than the National League and they have a higher batting average. All things considered; I believe that designated hitters deserve a little more appreciation for what they do.
I ran a Twitter poll asking how people felt about this position going to the NL. Surprisingly, I saw a lot of people in favor of it. Up until recently I thought the DH was useless and mean to pitchers. Looking back, it does make a little bit of sense to implement the rule all-around, however, there should be a trial run to ensure at least 12 out of 15 NL teams actually want to do it. It would make no sense to implement it and teams not want to do it at all. I would be a proponent instead of unsure if there was a trial run.
Given the information that the DH has positively impacted the AL, the fact that the NL was very unopen to the idea when it was proposed in the 1970s, and the impact that pitchers can have when they bat, are you a proponent, opponent, or someone with an undecided opinion? Let me know your stance and why in the comments.