On a scale of 1 to Kyle Schwarber, with Schwarber being the highest, how likely are we to see the National League adopting the designated hitter in the near future? Pick a number (or a name) and you’ll be right, because not even the people in charge know when or if that will happen.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred was of little help on the issue when it came up Thursday at a quarterly meeting of team owners in New York. Manfred, in his careful, lawyerly way, maybe/sort of/kind of opened the door to possible progress toward adoption.
“The DH is one of those topics that you never quite put to bed and I think that it is a continuing source of conversation among the ownership group, and I think that the dialogue actually probably moved a little bit,” Manfred told reporters (per MLB.com).
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Manfred also pointed out that there is a “core of National League owners who prefer the National League game” even though major league pitchers are batting, by his estimate, .113 (.111, to be exact) as a group this year.
That was a savvy move by the commish; he helped make those owners look unreasonably nostalgic and hopelessly out of touch. Those owners refuse to accept the reality that few NL pitchers can, or want to, handle the bat credibly. Below is the short list of such pitchers; interestingly, each team has at least one:
Diamondbacks: Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin. They’re 13 for 49 (.265) combined, with three doubles and five RBIs, in 2018.
Braves: Julio Teheran. Atlanta’s staff is terrible at the plate (a collective .089/.102/.121 slash line); Teheran (3 for 17) is the best by default.
Cubs: Jon Lester. Yes, really. Lester has made himself into a decent hitter (for a pitcher). He leads Chicago’s staff with four hits and three RBIs and has even taken a turn as a pinch hitter.
Reds: Michael Lorenzen. He has had just three at-bats (and one hit) this season while working out of the bullpen, but he’s a lifetime .232 hitter with two home runs.
Rockies: German Marquez. He’s sizzling at .261 (6 for 23); the Rox’s other four starters are a collective 12 for 102.
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw drove in 10 runs in 2013; he has 10 RBIs, total, in the five seasons since.
Brewers: Brent Suter. Suter’s swing draws raves even though the results have been uninspiring (.167/.250/.278 career slash line).
Mets: Jacob deGrom. The converted shortstop has been limited at the plate recently because of an injury he suffered while batting. Honorable mention to Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler.
Phillies: Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez. Arrieta extended his streak of seasons with a home run to four this year, and Velasquez has two multihit games this season.
Pirates: Joe Musgrove. He should get the nod for his baserunning alone. He really gets the spot because Bucs pitchers are batting .094 outside of his 2-for-7 line.
Cardinals: Carlos Martnez. As it also has on the mound, the baton has passed from Adam Wainwright to Martinez (.222, one home run) in the box.
Padres: Tyson Ross. Ross, one of the more athletic pitchers in baseball, had consecutive seasons of double-digit hits during his first Padres stint.
Giants: Madison Bumgarner. Mad Bum has the power (17 home runs in 534 career plate appearances) to serve as a legit bench bat.
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Nationals: Max Scherzer. Mad Max (9 for 34 with just five Ks) is the Platonic ideal of what pitchers should be: two-way players who want to contribute on offense.
As I wrote last year, I’d like to see all pitchers make a serious effort to be two-way players, just as position players need to work on their defense. Teams would rightly be afraid of pitchers getting injured, though, so my alternative would be to scrap both the DH and the pitcher hitting and just have the position players hit.
My opinions don’t count, of course, but Manfred’s do, and it sounds as though he’d prefer to have the DH in both leagues. The NL has exercised its autonomy over the past 45 years to prevent that from happening.
In the meantime, supporters of uniformity (and better baseball) need to keep swinging.