Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The DH Debate Continues

With Interleague Play a constant presence from start to finish for the first time this coming season, the designated hitter's starring role in portraying baseball's split personality could draw more attention than ever before.

When the Mets travel to Minnesota for their Interleague matchup on April 12, they'll become the first National League team to trot out a DH so early in the regular season, and we'll see the DH dotting NL lineups throughout each of the season's six months in American League cities.

Considering the uptick in its use and the prospect of even deeper Interleague schedules in the future, the DH figures to be a topic of discussion as 2013 progresses. This uncharted territory, brought about by the balancing of leagues with the move of the Astros to the AL West, is bound to get people thinking -- and talking -- about the game's most debated position. Since the DH was instituted in 1973, and through the first 40 years of its use, opinions abound as to how far the no-defense, all-offense position should go, and whether it would ever go across the board and be adopted by the NL.

For a glimpse at some of the more educated opinions on the matter, sampled from baseball's different walks of life -- a manager, a club president, a general manager and a player -- to gauge their thoughts on the future of the DH.

To some, like Giants manager Bruce Bochy, the thought of the NL adopting the DH is something akin to blasphemy, a move that would take one of the last bastions of managerial strategy out of the game.

"It's a beautiful game with the pitcher being involved and the strategy that goes with it," Bochy said. "And there's the fact that a pitcher can contribute to the offense and do some little things to help himself.

"I think it's great that you get to see two different styles of baseball in two different leagues. I certainly wouldn't want a DH in the National League."

Bochy is among those who'd like to flip the script a bit and have the NL team use the DH in its own park in Interleague Play and have pitchers hit in the AL cities.

Nolan Ryan, the president of the Texas Rangers and a Hall of Fame pitcher with a .110 career batting average, sees it a little differently.

"I'd like to see [the DH] go away, but it will never happen," Ryan said. "With the strength of the [MLB] Players Association, I don't think they will ever let it go and let that kind of talent leave the game and [have] the position taken away from the game."

That being the case, Ryan is at the point where he feels the NL should come around to the DH, too, for consistency's sake.

"They should, if they are going to keep it," Ryan said. "I have a real issue with the disparity in the World Series and the disparity in Interleague Play. Both leagues are at a disadvantage depending on where you are playing. When you put pitchers out there running the bases, or they're not accustomed to running the bases or swinging the bat, you're opening the door to many things to happen."

As a general manager, Chris Antonetti of the Indians is focused on addressing the needs of his team more than the structure of the game, which he notes is mainly the domain of others. But as one of the game's decision-makers, he sees the DH as something that pretty much is what it is -- part of the game, and a bigger part for some AL teams than others.

"I think a DH position, I don't think that's going to change anytime soon -- the DH will exist," Antonetti said. "I think what players are filling those roles may have evolved over where it was five or six years ago. But if you have players who are exceptionally skilled hitters who aren't as adept in the field, or if putting them in the field may compromise their ability to hit, you'll still find places for them.

"David Ortiz has been such an important part of the Boston Red Sox despite being primarily a DH. When you have a guy who's that capable as a hitter, you'll be willing to make the tradeoff of losing some flexibility on your roster."

This past winter, Antonetti actually used the DH to create roster flexibility, with the Michael Bourn signing bumping Nick Swisher to first base and Mark Reynolds to DH in a merry-go-round of free-agent acquisitions.

As for players, the DH has its proponents and detractors -- and many who can see both sides.

One of those is D-backs outfielder Jason Kubel, who began his career with the Twins in the AL. There, the DH was a way to get him in the lineup, and he filled that role 85 times in 2008 and 82 times in '09 before gaining more time in the outfield. He had just six appearances at DH in 2012 with Arizona in Interleague Play, playing a career-high 125 games in the outfield, almost all of it in left.

"I wouldn't want to [be a DH] all the time," Kubel said. "It's nice to get a little bit of a breather every now and then, but to do it every day, it's boring and you end up sitting there dwelling on your last at-bat if it didn't go so well."

Count Kubel among those who appreciate both sides of baseball's DH coin and enjoy both styles of play.

"I like them both," Kubel said. "It's hard to explain, but there's just a little more let-up in the National League for pitchers, and in the AL, you have to focus on everybody. I like either way. They're different."

For the foreseeable future, this much is known: The Major Leagues will continue to enjoy the difference between the two leagues, doing it a little more often than ever before in 2013, and the DH will continue to play its starring role as the biggest difference of all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The DH has been around for coming up on 43 years, and for a good reason. Would you rather watch Nolan Ryan hit .110 or get to watch Paul Molitor or Edgar Matinez still have a place in the game? I love NL baseball, but it is ridiculous to think you have Pitchers with contracts now at $175-$200M, and have to worry about them getting drilled in the arm with an errant fastball or beaned in the head when they are up there.

Pitching is a specialty as is being a designated hitter. Each has their place in the game, and each bring value.