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.
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