The DH debate

Three games into the season, the Nationals stand alone with the best record in baseball.

They have a well-rounded, talented roster to thank for that. They also have the Miami Marlins to thank for that. Let’s be honest.

The Nats are the only undefeated team left in the majors after their three-game sweep over the Marlins. Now, it’s on to Cincinnati to face a Reds team that took two of three from the Angels this week. After that, it’s the White Sox coming to D.C. for the Nats’ first interleague matchup of the season.

On that note, there’s been a lot of chatter lately about a possible change to the designated hitter rule.

With the DH turning 40 years old this season (it was adopted for the American League back in 1973), a handful of journalists have argued that the National League should make the move to the AL lifestyle, taking the bats away from their pitchers and inserting a full-time hitter into the lineup.

Davey Johnson is an old-school baseball guy, and so it’s probably not surprising how he feels about this issue. Asked whether he would be for or against Major League Baseball forcing NL clubs to have a DH, Johnson didn’t even wait for the reporter to finish the question before he delivered his answer.

“Against,” Johnson said.

And your rationale, Davey?

Davey Johnson Arms Crossed tall.jpg“I just think there’s more strategy in the game,” he said. “Baseball is a game of strategy. With the pitcher in the lineup, it’s also self-policing. I like the offense you can throw out there with the DH, but it think it’s more challenging to manage (without the DH). Pitcher’s pitched a good ballgame, a couple runners get on, there’s a low pitch count, you’ve got to go ahead and try and get back in the ballgame. In the American League, it’s real easy to read the pitcher, and when he’s done, he’s done. It doesn’t affect your lineup.

“I was reading an article today that the consensus is that everybody would go to the DH, moreso than everybody going back (to having pitchers hit). I think it’s terrible that there’s two standards, and it’s been that way a long time. But I’d like to see it (stay) the same.”

People around the game cite a few reasons as to why the current system is unfair.

The NL is at a disadvantage in interleague play, they say, because AL teams are able to construct their rosters with a set DH, while NL squads need to put more well-rounded players on their roster. When it’s time to use a DH in interleague play at AL parks, NL teams don’t necessarily have the perfect guy they can slide into that role.

Come postseason time, however, the NL teams appear to have the advantage. Their pitchers have been getting at-bats and batting practice all season, where AL pitchers don’t have as much practice swinging the bat. In World Series games at NL parks, American League pitchers have to play catch-up.

In addition, if you’re a talented hitter with defensive liabilities either because of age, health or just an overall lack of skill, you’re probably more likely to sign with an American League team. That theoretically gives AL squads an advantage when it comes to pursuing some free agents.

It’s clearly a flawed system when you look at things that way, but what’s the alternative? The American League won’t be getting rid of the DH anytime soon. The MLB Players’ Association loves having 15 teams that need to spend on a DH, and the higher-ups within the game have no intention of scaling back on the number of runs scored by putting a pitcher in the batting order.

If there’s going to be a change, it will be the DH expanding to the National League. Johnson would prefer that didn’t happen, and I’m sure he’s not alone.

The Nationals, for what it’s worth, will play their first interleague series on the road May 29 against the Orioles.

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