The designated hitter (DH) rule has been highly debated since its initial inception in the AL in 1973. With reports of a new offer being sent to the players yesterday came the inevitable: the universal DH will be imposed for 2020 and 2021. For now, it seems a necessary change, especially given the uncertainty of the league structure and schedules for 2020, and it wouldn’t be a total shock if the change ends up becoming permanent.
MLB offer includes universal DH for not just 2020, but 2021 too. It also includes on top of 100 pct prorated salary for 60 games, a $25M postseason pool.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) June 17, 2020
The implementation of a universal DH is a double-edged sword. While some fans and players will love it, others will loathe it. Players like J.D. Martinez and Nelson Cruz will have an expanded market for their services. On the other hand, there are pitchers that will miss the opportunity to hit, like Mike Leake, who signed with an NL team at least partially because he wanted to be able to hit. Rather than leaving one side completely unhappy, there are two unconventional routes the MLB should consider as a permanent solution.
Home Team’s Choice
The more progressive of the two unconventional routes, this solution would allow the home team of each individual game to select whether or not the game should be played with a DH. As a note, teams are currently not forced to use a DH in any given game. They can already elect to give up the DH and let their pitcher hit if they so choose. In this alternate scenario, however, the home team would be making the decision for both teams.
This is not an entirely new solution, as fans have brought it up on social media in the past when the DH debate has come up. However, it has yet to gain any real traction with the league to this point. Imposing this rule would provide a “best of both worlds” solution, where each team would be able to select whether they want to play with or without a DH on a game-level basis.
There are multiple factors that would prompt a team to opt against having a DH in a particular game. Perhaps the home team has no real strong option at DH, whether due to injury or roster construction, and they want to eliminate the other team’s advantage. On the other end of the spectrum, maybe a star player on the opposing team, like Mike Trout, is unable to play the field due to a minor injury but could be available to DH. The home team could select to forgo the DH and force Trout to the bench.
Maybe the home team has a solid hitting pitcher like Leake, Zack Greinke or Madison Bumgarner on the mound for that game. They could even have a two-way star pitching, like Shohei Ohtani or Brendan McKay, or maybe even Michael Lorenzen if he returns to starting. There could be a scenario where the home team simply doesn’t want to face the opposing team’s DH, especially if it’s someone like J.D. Martinez or Nelson Cruz.
At the same time, an option would always exist to allow teams to use the DH as normal in this scenario. Teams that have a star DH or a glut of solid position players would likely always select the option of having a DH. The built-in flexibility of allowing the home team to select would add another element of strategy and would keep visiting teams on their toes. It would also provide for a real home field advantage, beyond just the comfort of the venue and the support of the crowd in the stands.
A Modified DH Rule
The second option, a more conservative route, would keep the universal DH for every game (but not in its current form). This solution would allow teams to DH any one player in their lineup, rather than just the pitcher. This would allow the better hitting pitchers, such as Leake, Greinke, Bumgarner, and two-way stars McKay, Ohtani, and Lorenzen, to still have the opportunity to hit.
While it’s true that teams already could choose to let their pitcher hit and give up the DH entirely for that game, it is not a practical solution under the existing rules. Instead, teams should have the choice to pick which player to DH. Players like Billy Hamilton, Austin Hedges, and Tony Wolters come to mind as ones that would have increased value in this scenario, as all three are great defenders with unimpressive hitting skills.
Baseball purists who would miss the strategy aspects involved with pitchers hitting would likely welcome the new strategy aspects introduced by this change. Teams would have to more carefully choose who to include in their lineup on a given day. Although teams would still likely DH for their pitcher more times than not, the built-in flexibility could provide an opportunity to better leverage a team’s assets.
For now, it looks like the league will move forward with the controversial decision to implement the universal DH in the short term. The jury is still out in terms of how players and fans alike will react to the change, but these two “everybody wins” solutions provide for an alternative that will truly give teams the best of both worlds.