The Designated Hitter Needs to Come to the National League


This past weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals witnessed their worst nightmare come true. Adam Wainwright, one of the game’s best arms, stumbled out of the batter’s box, tearing his Achilles tendon. The Cardinals ace will miss the remainder of the 2015 season following surgery to repair the torn tendon.

There is a lot of outrage that Wainwright went down while hitting, which is completely valid because his job is not to hit, it is to pitch. Wth the Cardinals having lost their ace for the season—he will still make $19.5 million this season, and is owed $78 million over the next four years—it’s fair to wonder if it’s time for the Natonal League to embrace the designated hitter.

The National League is considered a “pure” league for baseball because it still involves the strategic aspect of when to hit with the pitcher and bunt, but come on, that is no longer true. As we know, bunting reduces the probability that a team scores a run. You’re literally giving away an out. The 27 outs in baseball are the most coveted aspect, so why give one away? You really shouldn’t.

Using a pinch-hitter can lead to some cool moments like Matt Stairs launching a home run to spark the Phillies in the playoffs, but really, why not just use a designated hitter? This season, pitchers are hitting a combined .088/.110/.102 in 615 plate appearances. That is beyond horrendous. It is a complete waste of an at-bat. In 40.7-percent of those at-bats, the pitcher stuck out. That is boring and terrible for a sport that is sort of begging for offense to come back.

By comparison, in 2015, the average designated hitter has a .267/.334/.446 slash line, and is striking out just 20.8-percent of the time. Those numbers will certainly help the offensive levels.

Think about this for a second: if I told you that you could protect your pitcher and his health by preventing him from hitting while utilizing a bat with a .780 OPS, who would say no? It just makes far too much sense to use a professional hitter than a pitcher.

We need not forget that major league baseball hands out some pretty lucrative contacts as well. The Cardinals are not paying Adam Wainwright to drive the ball gap-to-gap. They pay him to prevent that from happening. It is in a team’s best interest to use a designated hitter rather than their pitcher.

Unfortunately, Wainwright is a great example here. He is in the second year of a five year, $97.5 million contract. He will now miss this season, which is a hit both on the field and financially to the Cardinals, and who knows what they will get when he returns?

This season, there are 44 major league pitchers who will make at least $10 million and 11 of them will make over $20 million, according to That is a lot of risk you’re putting at the plate for someone who is not paid to be a hitter.

For those who believe the game loses some of the strategic aspect, I disagree. This strategy to baseball has significantly changed over the past decade. We now see more shifts and pitching platoons than ever before. Strategically speaking, it is a lot more difficult to pitch to Adam LaRoche or Jose Abreu than it is to Chris Sale. Breaking down the numbers into swing percentages on pitches, whether or not they can hit same-handed pitching and direction of their balls put in play, is a lot more difficult and strategic than lining up for a pitcher to bunt. Sure, selecting which pinch-hitter you’re going to use has some strategy to it, but certainly not as much as pitching to another every-day bat with a .780 OPS.

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Within that same argument, it still affects pitching matchups. Late in a game with runners on base, the team in the field will make defensive substitutions and pitching changes to benefit their team. It isn’t as if eliminating pitchers from hitting ruins all strategic aspects of the game.

If you want to make the argument that a pitcher like Madison Bumgarner, who hit four home runs last year, can hit and that validates leaving the pitcher spot, don’t. While Bumgarner was very good for a pitcher, he still had a 37.2-percent strikeout rate while walking just 2.6-percent of the time. Those numbers alone are terrible. Prior to his powerful hitting year (for a pitcher), Bumgarner slashed .107/.177/.107. Would you like that .284 OPS in your lineup over a potential .780 OPS? I highly doubt it.

The universal use of the designated hitter could and will get more attention because of Wainwright’s star power. Just how Buster Posey was injured on a play at the plate, breaking his leg and ending his season, which led to a rule about blocking of the plate, Wainwright suffering a season-ending injury could force the move to a designated hitter.

In a world where pitching is coveted more than ever, adding the designated hitter to the National League makes sense. Clayton Kershaw has a contract that will earn him at least $32.5 million each year through 2020. It makes no sense for the Dodgers to send Kershaw to the plate to hit and run the bases when that really is not valued in his contract. Dating back to 2010, pitchers as a collective group have not finished with a batting average over .150 or an OPS greater than .357. In that same time, designated hitters as a group have not finished with an OPS below .733. Not even close in terms of value.

In the end, using the designated hitter in the National League would add more offense, keeps the strategic aspect of the game in place and protects assets that get paid to pitch and prevent runs, not create them.

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