First Pitch: Three Ways the Designated Hitter Would Help the Pirates

The designated hitter is a pretty divisive issue in baseball. You’re either all-in for the idea, or heavily against the idea. I’m personally pro-DH. I don’t have any issues with making a change to the way baseball has been all my life. I don’t really think the strategy involved with letting a pitcher bat is really complex. The “strategy” is mostly manufactured by the fact that you have someone who can’t hit, and you need to find a way to limit the damage, or hope for a 10% chance or less that it works out for you. The “strategy” is usually the exact same thing in the exact same scenarios, and that’s hardly strategy at all.

In thinking about this Pirates team, and Pittsburgh teams in the future, I can’t stop thinking about ways where the Pirates would greatly benefit from the DH. I’ve been pro-DH for a long time, even back when the Pirates didn’t even have enough hitters to fill out a lineup. So this argument isn’t just due to the ways that the DH could help the Pirates now. Instead, I’m going to point out three ways where the DH would help, just to help make the argument in favor of the position for the National League.

In the process, I expect to change zero minds, and get a lot of really strong reactions about wanting to see pitchers hit for that grand “strategy”, and for the one time in seven at-bats when Gerrit Cole gets a hit, which apparently justifies the whole process.

2015: The Crowded Infield

The Pirates upgraded their bench at the trade deadline, adding Aramis Ramirez and Michael Morse. They also saw the returns of Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison in August. The result? Every single night there are lineup complaints before each game, all because the Pirates have more starters than positions.

Jordy Mercer has been getting the priority at shortstop because of his defense, which moves Jung-ho Kang to third. Kang moving to third means that Aramis Ramirez is limited, and has since moved to first. But that removes Pedro Alvarez’s hot second half bat from the lineup. Then there’s Josh Harrison, who can step in at third, second, and in the outfield.

All of this would be easier if one of those infielders could play as the designated hitter. You could focus on defense on the field (Mercer at short, Kang at third) and have one of Ramirez or Alvarez playing as the designated hitter each night, while using the spot to give additional breaks to other position players when needed.

2016: Byung-ho Park and Josh Bell

I wrote about Korean first baseman Byung-ho Park today, and how Jung-ho Kang has opened up the market for Park to get a good deal. The Pirates have sent some top front office members to scout Park and other players in Korea. But they’re in a situation where it doesn’t make much sense to sign him, unless he comes cheap, which probably won’t happen thanks to Kang.

The Pirates have Josh Bell in Triple-A. He’s learning first base this year, and has been doing a better job as the season has gone on. He’ll still have things to work on at the position next year, but right now he looks like the first baseman of the future. He could come up by mid-2016 at the earliest.

For that reason, it doesn’t make sense to give a long-term deal to someone like Park when Bell would arrive so quickly. Unlike Kang’s situation, there would be no place to play Park once Bell came up. And Bell moving back to the outfield wouldn’t work, as the main reason he was moved to first base was due to no room in the outfield in the short or long-term.

2017 and Beyond: Austin Meadows

Just like Bell’s situation, Austin Meadows doesn’t really have a spot in Pittsburgh in the short or long-term. And moving him to first base won’t be an option, since Bell projects to be there. Meadows is currently in Altoona, and should be there all year in 2016. He could also spend an entire year in Indianapolis in 2017. That would be a very slow progression, but it’s something the Pirates could do since they don’t have a need for Meadows. And even if he comes up in 2018, they might not even need him then.

If there was a designated hitter, they could speed the progression up for Meadows, getting him to the majors quicker, and rotating their outfielders in and out of the DH spot to keep everyone fresh.

The Benefits of the DH

There are a lot of strong rejections to the designated hitter, mostly revolving around arguments for strategy. But the reality is that the American League has a significant advantage with the DH, allowing them to sign and call-up players in situations where an NL team is forced to sit a good player on the bench or keep a good player in the minors.

If the DH was in the National League, the Pirates could go for someone like Park, or bring Meadows up eventually on a less conservative timeline. They wouldn’t have to bench guys like Pedro Alvarez, Aramis Ramirez, or even Jung-ho Kang if they had the DH now.

There are two separate leagues that operate with two separate rules. But that doesn’t make sense when both leagues compete against each other throughout the year, compete in the World Series, and compete in the off-season to sign players. The designated hitter gives the American League an advantage in every one of those situations.

**Pirates Offense Explodes Behind Strong Start from Jeff Locke. A win, plus two Cardinals losses, puts the Pirates 2.5 games back in the NL Central.

**Prospect Watch: Yeudy Garcia Pitches Well, Altoona Sees Their Season End. The end of the year for Altoona and West Virginia, despite a strong performance from breakout West Virginia pitcher Yeudy Garcia.

**Pirates Notebook: Clint Hurdle Announces Rotation Through 9/22. Sean McCool has the details of the rotation over the next few weeks.

**Jung-ho Kang Has Opened the Door For KBO Hitters, Including Byung-ho Park. Looking at how Jung-ho Kang has paved the way for other KBO hitters, including Byung-ho Park.

**Morning Report: The Aces Didn’t Show Up Friday Night. John Dreker breaks down Tyler Glasnow’s playoff outing from Friday.

 

  • Going to a DH makes sense to me. What really needs to be addressed is how unfair it is to allow teams to expand rosters during the critical play off drive part of the year. Baseball is the only sport that does that and I don’t think it gets the attention it deserves.

  • Christopher Athari
    September 13, 2015 1:23 pm

    Why would you want to take Frankie’s bat out of the lineup? #PitchersWhoRake 🙂

    • I spent 5 years in Red Sox-Yankee AL country. The rest of my time here. The DH is a specialist who doesn’t take the field. It is unnatural. The game is less interesting with a DH. I enjoy the thrill of Cole battling, AJ rounding the bases, and Liriano looking shocked when he lines a double. Pinch-hitting is a big deal in NL games and there are a number of strategic decisions that are lost when you have a non-fielding specialist as your 10th man.The more I see it the more I appreciate the no-DH National League.

  • A pro-DH article? That’s it, subscription canceled!

    Tim, you’re way too dismissive of the added strategical nuances that following the first rule of the game adds. Yes, some pinch hitting and pitcher change scenarios are routine, but many are not and frequntly provide subtle intrigue to the game. Should a team pitch around the number 8 hitter with runners on 2nd and 3rd and two outs in the 2nd inning of a scoreless ball game, or should they go after him and play to have the pitcher lead off the third? Should a team pinch hit their ace pitcher with two outs in the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded, down 2-1? These situations don’t have easy answers and they make the game more interesting.

    Yes, the DH would eliminate the Pirates question of “is Pedro’s power enough to justify his horrible defense,” and would allow them to play everyone in their crowded infield, but the game is more interesting when those problems are left unsolved. The MLB would be more dynamic if every team with a David Ortiz type had to factor his glove into the equation. It would at least make American League benches more active, and if anything needs fixed in baseball, it’s the mundane drudgery of the American League bench player.

    Finally, watching pitchers hit is FUN. Seeing someone who is (usually) much, much worse than everyone else adds a spark of amateurism that can be down right exhilarating. And yes, those rare occasions when a pitcher hits a two run double or a three run homer are simply divine. The DH smacks of soulless homogeny and kills fun.

    Why do you want to kill fun, Tim?

  • My objection to the DH is not due to “strategy” or liking to see pitchers hit or anything like that; it’s rooted in Rule 1.01: “Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players each…” Not “Baseball is a game between two teams of ten players each, of which eight shall play in the field, one shall pitch, and one shall hit.”

    So call it a traditionalist argument. I dislike how the NFL, for example, tweaks the rules every year to try to tune gameplay one way or another. As a result, it’s basically pointless to try to compare players or teams from as recently as the 1970s to modern day players or teams, because the game was so different. I like that you can do some minor adjustments for era and compare Honus Wagner to Derek Jeter in a way you could never compare, say, Sammy Baugh to Peyton Manning.

    And I view things like the DH as a step down that path.

  • Either drop the DH in the AL or add it in the NL. to have different rules is crazy. I like hitting so I am all for the DH in the NL.

  • I’m partial to an eight man lineup.

    • How about the ninth position be a designated runner who automatically is put on 1B when the 9th position in the order comes up with out respect to other runners being on base. That would really jazz up the scoring, without bloating the budgets. It would also be exciting watching the increase in SB.

  • With no DH all NL teams are at a competitive disadvantage where 1B/Corner Outfield types are concerned. The Pirates are unable to give a young “thick build” player (someone like Pedro or Kung Fu Panda) a long-term contract because of the worry they won’t be able to play the field toward the end of the contract. Power is at a premium and this would allow for more inexpensive power bats to be available to the Bucs. Plus, I don’t want to see someone like Cole go down for a season due to running to first base. Bob Walk be damned! Bring on the DH!!!

  • Why stop there? Let’s be REALLY innovative and have Defensive Platoons and Offensive Platoons.

  • I don’t care about the strategy involved or the purity of the game or whatever other argument you want to make. I just like watching pitchers hit. It brings me great joy to see Frankie lace a double to the gap on a pitch out of the strike zone. It’s like finding a four leaf clover. Stop trying to take it away from me Williams!

  • Overall,I agree with Mike U. But, from everything I see and hear, we better get used to it, because it is coming to the NL, and probably sooner than later.

  • My argument is always that baseball is a Game of exceptions, which is what makes it a beautiful game. More offense does not constitute a better game. I seriously doubt it does anything for attendance. Seeing washed up, one tool players inflate the score a few runs a game is not nearly as exciting as seeing frankie or aj get a dramatic hit once every 10 abs…it’s a game where the best hitters fail 70% of the time. If I cared about a game being high scoring, I’d watch basketball. Nothing to do with strategy, it’s just changing the fabric of the game to appeal to the instant gratification, more runs crowd.

  • Overall, I lean towards the DH for 1 reason….watching 25 pitches a game to a completely overmatched batter bores me. In the long run I think the NL will adopt it for a couple reasons: players union will benefit for keeping 15 aging name hitters in the game and studies will ultimately show less throwing/overuse injuries to AL pitchers

  • I think I would be more ok with a DH if he was truly designated to hit for one player instead of half the roster. Basically tie the DH to the SP when one leaves they both have to. They can either then be replaced separately or with one player though once you replace with just one player it remains that way for the remainder of the game.

  • I’m ok with adding the DH if the defense can add a rover 🙂

  • I’m with Bob Walk; ban the DH.

  • I’ve always been opposed to the DH and back when it started (yes I’m old enough to remember prior to 1973 when it didn’t exist) thought it would be just an experiment that would quickly go away, but reality is reality. The DH is a major part of the AL and as far as I can tell isn’t going anywhere. But, it also is part of virtually every other league and level of baseball from little league through high school, college and all levels of the minors. Take a look at the box score of Indy, Altoona or any other minor league team and you find the DH being used. A pitcher never hits, or tries to hit, at any level until he arrives with a NL major league team. What kind of sense does that make? I’d love to see the DH go away tomorrow, but see no way that’s going to happen.
    Major league baseball needs to decide whether it wants the DH or not, and at this point I cannot see it being eliminated for a variety of reasons including union opposition, and standardize the game with absolute rules prohibiting any further changes. Given that the NL is the only outlier, the only way for that to happen is for DH haters like me to swallow hard, bite the bullet, or whatever saying works, and accept it like everyone else apparently already has.

    • Just to clarify your comment, it isn’t even done on a consistent basis in Minor League ball. When the two opposing teams are National League affiliates, the pitchers do hit. When one of the teams is an AL affiliate, neither pitchers hit.

  • In the long run a DH replaces a minimum wage relief pitcher or defensive specialist. That makes it a liability for a low payroll team like the Pirates, who wouldn’t be able to afford a big bopper to DH.

    • I disagree. Payroll flexibility is not anywhere near of an issue as playing time flexibility. As Tim mentioned, how are they supposed to promote Meadows and keep existing OF?

      • There is no guarantee that Meadows, or anyone else, will be a star. As a general statement, low payroll teams will suffer because they will need to have another higher paid player on the roster.

        • The DH doesn’t have to be a hitter only. It could be a starter getting a day off in the field or like Tim says, a bench player not getting field time. It would give the NL starting pitchers more innings and less need for 11 pitchers.

          • Starters in the NL have pitched more innings on average than starters in the AL in each of the past three seasons. In 2015, AL teams have averaged 5 more IP thus far – about 35/1000th of an additional pitch per game.

            A DH doesn’t mean fewer pitchers. If anything it means the ability to add more pitching as bench players see fewer appearances if you are not using a dedicated DH, such as adding a LOOGY (which is more prevalent in the AL). To date, most all MLB teams continue to use 12 pitchers and 13 position players (or 12 + DH in the AL), although AL teams are more likely to employ a LH hitting specialist with little defensive value than an NL team.

        • Lower revenue AL teams like TB, Oak, KC and Hou have been or are currently successful despite this burden.

    • So maybe they add a high OBP, speed guy at the top of the order instead. AS ceap variation of that would be Jaff Decker.

  • That’s ridiculous!

    • Meant to post as a reply to bucsws2014 comment.

    • That’s what people said about the original DH.

      • But at least there was logic behind the idea to put a bat in lineup for P. There’s no logic to support your suggestion. Some teams have great hitting SS & C, nobody has a great hitting SP.

        • Goalposts move all the time. In pro sports, if there’s an area that can be improved to generate more offense, there becomes incentive to improve that through specialization.

          Look at increased specialization in the NFL. An active roster was 30 in the 1960s. It’s ballooned to 46 and talk of 55 continues. Linemen have been physical freaks for awhile now. QBs and WRs are taller. There are guys who do nothing but return kicks or play on 3rd down pass defense. Those are all recent developments.

          The NFL outdraws MLB. Home Run Derby outdraws the ASG. The incentives for more specialization already exist.

          The camel’s nose is already in the tent with the DH.

          • Those comparisons are apples and oranges. In MLB, a player is required to stay in the game to remain in the game. In football, no such rule exists.

            Now I will agree with you about camel’s nose comment. There clearly is debate at highest levels concerning DH in NL. Even an anti-DH proponent has to agree there are certain positives to the idea, such as same rules for all teams, and equal footing when considering FA signing of a position player. And also must agree there’s much better chance DH comes to NL than AL rids itself of DH.

          • If the MLB wants offense, they can just shrink the strike zone to its 2008 size, if it has expanded logically it can contract.

        • Scott, MadBum is a great hitting pitcher. He already has more homeruns than Cervelli and he only gets a chance to bat once every 5 days.

          • Yeah, but over a long period, how do those skills play? I wouldn’t suspect there would be as much production over 140 games worth of AB’s

            • His last two years have been good from the hitting side. 136 AB, 19 R, 34 H, 9 HR, 24 RBI’s, .250 AVG. Those are not bad numbers and are arguably better than a position player. The only bad stats he has is 54 SO and 4 BB

          • Ok, but is he a GREAT hitter? Obviously not or the Giants would let him hit more than once every 5 days. Just because a Pitcher happens to hit a few HR’s means he’s strong, not a GREAT hitter. I said there are no Pitchers who are GREAT hitters, and I stand by that comment.

        • Please ! Let me introduce you to Madison Bumgarner and Mike Leake

          • They’re great hitting Pitchers, not great hitters.

            • If MadBum played first base full time how many HR would he hit?

            • If you don’t think Travis Wood, Leake and Bumgarner are decent hitters, you are watching a different game than I am.

              • When did I ever use the word decent in this thread? I said there are no GREAT hitting Pitchers. And I stand by that comment. As for the best hitting Pitchers, I would agree with you those mentioned have hitting skill, but to say they’re GREAT hitters, is a stretch. Trout, Harper, Miggy, Cutch Goldy, those guys are great hitters. Don’t get confused.

  • If I were Commissioner for a day, I’d institute the hybrid DH for both leagues. Play first 6 innings with a DH. Starting in 7th, SP replaces DH in lineup, or DH must replace a position player in lineup to remain in lineup.

    To me, this is the best compromise solution. Brings the best of both ideas together. However being pragmatic, I know it will never be adopted. Therefore, being forced to choose between DH or no DH, I choose DH.

    There is no denying AL has on-field and off-field advantage. AL has a far better record this year in inter-league games (154-126), and nobody can deny they have the advantage in signing veteran FA hitters like Pujols and McCann just to name a couple. So if you want to see Cutch remain in a Pirates uniform his entire career, you better hope the DH is adopted in the NL in the next couple years.

  • Once the NL has the DH and offense stabilizes, more complaints will come on how we need MOAR OFFENSIVE and MOAR HOME RUNS. And soon enough, MLB will look at a DH for SS (league wRC+ 85). And after that a DH for catcher (86), then 2b (96) and CF (99) and so on, because the precedent has been set.

    And look how that benefits the Pirates. You could bring up Gift Ngoepe and Gorkys would have an opportunity to stick on a roster so we wouldn’t have to put up with Cutch in CF.

    • Wow….sounds like the DH in the NL would make the world crumble. Baseball is the last to be inventive. I would like the DH and the softball rule whet you want to give a batter an attentional walk…no four pitches.

    • Its been 42 years and the NL doesn’t have a DH yet, I don’t think the slope is that slippery.

    • DH for a pitcher is different. They only play every 5 games. Tough to become a good hitter facing that little live action.

  • Short sitghed agruement for the DH. I personally like the nuances of the game when a manager needs to actually manage in game developments as opposed to playing 8 position players and a bloated toad who can hit.

  • Because one league jumped off the bridge, the second one should? Remember that childhood question from your parents? 🙂

    It is interesting that Tim claims that their is no, or rather limited “strategy” (quotation on the word via Tim), yet every argument made for the adoption is because it makes “strategy” easier on the Pirate’s, the exact thing that we of the no DH rile against. Crowded infield? Good for us. Make good decisions on their use. Sold on Bell on first, then don’t sign Park. Not sold on Bell, then sign Park. Meadows in at least 2 years away. I worry about that when the time comes. Tim totally blows past the other main reasons against the DH, and that is in game management of pitchers and pitch hitting. That is “strategy” that the AL has long lost.

    The only reason for the DH is that it allows aging players, or those who are of limited defensively but can hit, to find an easy spot to slot into. The first part is nice, but not required, and the second falls into that pesky “strategy” of the NL.

    Tim did have it right however that he probably won’t change many peoples mind on it and there is a rather decisive view by people on the issue 🙂

  • Dale Deabenderfer
    September 13, 2015 4:41 am

    No, no,no,no. No softball game’s.

  • Sure, the DH is good when you have a surfeit of good bats. But look at it the other way; isn’t it harder on the pitchers? We seem to have benefited in a number of cases from acquiring pitchers who got beaten around pretty well in the AL (AJ, J.A., F. Liriano, Melancon, just off the top of my head). And yes, I know Searage and Benedict have contributed mightily to the Bucs’ success in that regard. Helping the bats might have the unintended consequence of hurting the arms.

    In any case, I’m against change on general principles — except when it’s good. Bring on the robo-Umps!

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