The goal of this column is to look at issues in the game from another point of view than what we see most everywhere else. It’s also to try to think outside the box a bit about the solutions to some of baseball’s perceived issues.
This is certainly an idea that fits in the latter category. There has been some sense of inevitability about the idea of the DH becoming universal in MLB. That is something that would frustrate a lot of fans and this idea is an attempt to see if there might be a way to standardize the rules across both leagues without going full DH everywhere. There are some details that would likely have to be ironed out, but the idea here is to put both major leagues under the same set of rules while retaining at least some small part of tradition.
So here goes…there are three basic principles that are part of this plan:
- A starting pitcher can be pinch-hit for and then immediately re-entered once per game.
- A team can designate a player as part of the original lineup and that player can hit in the spot in the order occupied by the starting pitcher whenever that spot comes up in the game. If a player is so designated, that player cannot participate in the game in any other capacity.
- If no player is designated before the game, all substitutions (other than the one re-entry) are handled as they are now.
It looks simple but this would add several new dimensions to the game in addition to making the rules uniform across both the AL and NL. Beginning at the top, the starting pitcher re-entry rule would create a lot of decision points in the course of a game. It would begin with the starting lineup and where you want to have the pitcher’s spot in the batting order. From there, deciding where to use your one free pinch-hit would be a strategic consideration. Do you want to let the pitcher hit with two on and nobody out so that he can bunt the runners over, saving your pinch-hitter for another spot? Do you use the pinch-hitter/re-entry the first chance you have and risk the possibility of having to choose between giving up a scoring chance or losing your starting pitcher in the fourth inning? This could create a lot of interesting choices for managers.
A side benefit here would be that teams who employ the ‘opener’ would be penalized slightly in that they would either have to allow their ‘bulk pitchers’ (who would not be allowed to re-enter) to hit once or they would have to use a series of one or two inning pitchers.
The second point feels like an excellent compromise between the current DH role and the argument in favor of the more traditional approach. While players without everyday defensive abilities could still have a role as players designated before a game, their impact would be lessened as they would likely have at least one fewer at bat per game. This aspect also creates a decision for a manager as if you designate your best bench bat before the game, you lose him as an option in a big spot elsewhere.
That plays right into the third point, which is essentially the current NL approach, though you do have the one re-entry for your starting pitcher. This would preserve all options for your bench players and allow for the use of the double switch but would likely require an extra hitter on your bench. The side benefit there would be that teams who would regularly decline to designate a player before the game would probably need to carry one fewer pitcher to allow for the extra pinch-hitter they are likely to need in each game. Either that, or there might be a proliferation of two-way players who can be useful in both roles.
While this is a fairly simple proposal, admittedly it is more complicated than just instituting the DH in the NL. It just seems like a bad idea for baseball to completely ignore those fans who are opposed to the DH. This idea seems like a good compromise that allows much of the offensive boost that comes from the AL rule while maintaining most of, and maybe adding to, the strategic aspects that NL fans love.
Your comments and observations are welcomed.