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BRM Inbox: National League and the DH?

Yesterday, the inbox for Blog Red Machine received an interesting and provocative e-mail. It was authored by reader beeker. The basis was in response (primarily) to the recent signing of Prince Fielder by the Detroit Tigers. As I read the e-mail, I was fixated on the central theme of the National League adopting the designated hitter.

If you’re a regular reader of BRM, you know beeker from his comments. Those comments add greatly to our posts. They are insightful and thought-provoking.

Well, here’s beeker’s take. I suggest you read this, take a moment to think about what you’ve read, and post your thoughts within the comments section. I know beeker and I will be anxious to see what your take is on this…

Without further ado, I present beeker…

“Last April, the Red Sox snagged Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres, signing him to a 7-year, $154M contract. In December, the Angels grabbed Albert Pujols away from the Cardinals with a 10-year, $240M contract. And as you have seen by now, the Tigers have poached Prince Fielder from the Brewers on a 9-year, $214M deal. I see something very telling here, and it has nothing to do with Joey Votto. At least not yet.

In the past 9 months, $608M has been committed to pay three of the elite-hitting first basemen in the game. But did you notice something about the three teams that lost these players and about the three teams that landed them? All three moved from the NL to the AL.

These AL teams were able to outbid their competition for one reason: the designated hitter.

For years I have remained neutral on the DH. I understand the arguments of NL purists who argue that “1” is a position like any other, so he ought to bat like any other. And not having a DH does create a more interesting chess match of moves as managers use their bench to avoid sending bull pen pitchers to the plate. But on the other hand, I do not see how walking the #8 batter in tough situations to get to an easy out in the opposing pitcher makes the game better. An AL pitcher doesn’t get that luxury. And having a DH does allow some of the great hitters to thrill us for a little longer.

For years we have known that, given the choice, many pitchers would rather play for an AL team so that they can focus solely on the craft of pitching. So the DH gives them a slight edge in contract negotiations with many top pitchers. Now in rapid succession we have seen AL teams use the DH to leverage an edge in courting top hitters. An NL team simply cannot afford to match the money for an aging player as he becomes a defensive liability. AL teams have no such concerns. As hitters like Gonzalez, Pujols and Fielder slow in the field, their teams can move them to DH and continue to enjoy both the offensive production and (more importantly) the ticket draw that netted those mega-contracts in the first place.

The “junior league” has not been inferior to its bigger brother in many years. They have won 8 of the last 14 World Series, winning 11 of 14 All Star Games in that span. In the last 30 years, the AL is 17-12 as World Series Champions (the ’94 series was cancelled) and is 20-9-1 in All Star Games. With the DH, it will continue to enjoy and exploit its advantages over the NL.

I am not going to call on the NL to adopt the DH. But maybe we should kick around the idea a little more seriously. Before you laugh me off, consider this. Imagine that instead of sending pitchers to the plate to collectively bat .142 in 2011 (.120 without Dontrelle Willis), the Reds could have instead sent Yonder Alonso and his .330 average to the plate four times a game, without having to put him in LF to do it. Hmmm….”

First off, I appreciate beeker taking time to author this. Since I came on board here at BRM, this is something I have always advocated, fans voicing their opinions, and if the proper subject is approached, I will surely let other fans have a say. Second, I briefly considered using this as the next poll. Then, I thought this is too good to wait a week and a half when the next BRM podcast will be available.

Now, for my take on this (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?).

I consider myself a baseball purist…for the most part. I have been staunch in not having the DH in the NL. One reason is that I honestly believe the DH would eliminate tactics NL managers utilize. As beeker points out, walking the #8 hitter to get to that “guaranteed out”. If you do so with one out, you would surely see a sacrifice bunt attempt by the pitcher. If there’s a DH, you wouldn’t completely eliminate the sacrifice bunt, but you would certainly see significantly less being attempted.

Also, you wouldn’t see pitchers be extended to the 7th or 8th inning or even the 9th as you do in the AL. The DH would all but eliminate pinch-hitters in the #9 hole. You could also see a lessening of double-switches, too. Most AL teams will carry one less pitcher on their 25-man rosters because of the DH and the extending of pitchers where if they were in the NL, wouldn’t even be considered. You have to wonder if the extra work is good for arms. It’s only an inning here, an inning there, but it does accumulate.

Sure, beeker has made some points in the “against column”, but I felt the need to emphasize at least one as it is an argument I constantly use in chatting with a few friends.

But I can logically see the other side as well. In having the DH, you can “save yourself” at least two outs and maybe up to four outs within a game. You’re looking at potentially “adding” another inning along with turning your lineup over one more time. That can be crucial.

I will agree with beeker that in some way, the AL does hold a slight advantage over NL teams in the means of offering longer terms on contracts. If a player knowingly holds an additional means of extending his career, he will opt for that. Yes, money will still talk, but it might not be as loud if both leagues had the DH.

beeker provides an great example of how the DH could have helped the Reds while Alonso was a Red.

I am ever so slightly striding toward the fence here. I’m still reluctant, but maybe my “baseball purity” is reducing.

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Tags: Adrian Gonzalez Albert Pujols American League Baseball Cincinnati Reds Designated Hitter MLB National League Prince Fielder

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