DH position has not been kind to Nats through the years

Whether the lockout ends later this week, later this month or just some time way later down the road, we do already know one significant change that appears to be coming to all of Major League Baseball.

For all the rancor between the league and the players over a host of issues, the one hot-button topic they seem to agree on is the designated hitter. Despite more than 120 years of established history with pitchers batting for themselves, the National League is poised to make the DH a permanent addition to the lineup once a new collective bargaining agreement is signed.

For the first time in 50 years, there really will be no difference in the style of play between the two leagues.

Feel free to debate this subject til the end of time - as a lifelong "NL Guy," I've been opposed to the DH for as long as I can remember - but concede this runaway train can't be stopped anymore. The players want it because they believe it will add more high-paying jobs (higher than the traditional bench players who previously held those 15 roster spots), and the owners want it because they believe it will add more offense and more action to the sport at a time when fans appear to want more of both (never mind the slower pace of play that could ensue with longer at-bats from real hitters who pose a stiffer challenge to pitchers).

Like it or not, the DH is about to come to D.C. for good. But no matter how you feel about the aesthetics of it all, just be aware the Nationals historically have suffered far more from the DH than they've benefited from it.

Did you know - chances are you didn't, because I had no idea until I looked it up - the Nats have employed the least productive DHs in baseball during the entirety of their existence?

Yep, it's true. Since 2005, Nationals designated hitters have produced a collective .631 OPS, dead-last among all 30 MLB clubs. It's only 896 total plate appearances across 17 seasons, but the team's DHs have been held to a paltry .222/.287/.344 slash line, with 19 homers and 92 RBIs.

(This is the portion of today's article in which I mention those stats only apply to the regular season. The DH proved to be kind of important to the Nats in the 2019 World Series, when Howie Kendrick went 5-for-16 with a fairly significant home run and three RBIs during the four games played in Houston. As you were.)

Bad as they are, those DH numbers of course far exceed the offensive production the Nationals have received from their pitchers over the years: a .136/.168/.167 slash line across 5,432 plate appearances. Though their .334 OPS still ranks 12th in the majors since 2005. So relative to the rest of the sport, their pitchers have been slightly above-average hitters.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Kendrick-HR-Swing-Blue-WS-G7-Sidebar.jpgMost of the limited DH plate appearances the Nats have had to dole out over the years, not surprisingly, have gone to veteran hitters, several of them with below-average defensive skills. Kendrick leads the way with 108 plate appearances (many of those coming during the abbreviated 2020 season when the NL did adopt the DH full-time).

After that, it's Ryan Zimmerman (77 plate appearances), Jayson Werth (72), Dmitri Young (58), Asdrúbal Cabrera (45) and Michael Morse (43).

What kind of player will the 2022 Nationals seek to hold that role? Will they look for a full-time DH, a potential big bat with limited defensive ability? Or will they spread the at-bats around, using that position to give everyone semi-regular days off?

Current members of the roster who seem the likeliest candidates are Yadiel Hernandez from the left side of the plate and Riley Adams from the right side. But much depends on whatever other moves general manager Mike Rizzo has up his sleeve once the lockout ends. Maybe he's got someone else in mind who can be swooped up via free agency.

Whatever the case, let's take one final moment to remember and honor the Nationals pitchers who have spent the last 17 years swinging - and mostly flailing, though occasionally connecting - as hitters. The last pitcher to bat for them was Joan Adon in Game 162. He went 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts. The last pitcher to record a hit was Paolo Espino on Sept. 29 at Colorado.

The last of the 11 Nationals pitchers to hit a home run was Jon Lester on July 19 against the Marlins. Stephen Strasburg and Liván Hernández forever share the club record with four homers a piece.

It's OK to shed a tear knowing we may never see another one again.

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