The other day, I was sitting on my couch, watching the Phillies and Mets play (which, by the way, was utter torture, because, well, one, it was the Mets, and two, the Mets shelled Chad Billingsley in his first start of the season, but that’s just a side note) when Bartolo Colon stepped to the plate. We all probably know where this is headed. Colon, notoriously viewed as one of, if not the worst, hitting pitcher in baseball, stepped to the plate with about as little a chance of success as I would have. Colon flailed at a few pitches before miserably taping a pitch for an out.
This at bat, like many of Colon’s .063 season batting average at bats have, prompted a conversation from the Phillies announcers on why pitchers are still hitting in the National League when their American League counterparts don’t have to worry about hitting. It got me thinking, like every 1 million times a season this conversation comes up does. Should a DH be inserted into the National League to allow for a far more competent hitter to get to the plate every ninth batter, instead of having to send your pitcher up there for what amasses, for most, to an out? Now of course there are exceptions to the rule, like Carlos Zambrano, Dontrelle Willis and Micah Owings, but for the most part, it is a major struggle for pitchers to hit at the Major League level.
So why not allow a DH to come into the National League? It is an offensive game after all, right? Wrong. So wrong. Drop dead wrong. There is absolutely no reason to take the purity of the game in the National League, which makes pitchers hit, away. In fact, there are so many reasons to keep the pitcher hitting in the National League, and to take the DH out of the American League for that matter.
First, let’s talk strategy. One cannot sit there and say that a DH doesn’t take away from the strategy of the game of baseball. In the American League, managers don’t have to worry about when their pitcher will come up in the batting order, and trying to figure out the perfect matchup for their pitchers before they are going to have to be pulled in favor of a pinch hitter. Having your pitcher hit means that double switches and lefty-lefty matchups become ever so important. A great manager is able to use the double switch to his advantage and give his team the opportunity to stay away from the pitcher’s spot in the order fro as long as possible. He becomes a mastermind, a chess player trying to out duel his opponent, the other manager. That all goes out the window in the American League.
Also, the manager must learn to play small ball with not only his pitcher, but the players around him, specifically those who hit in the 7 and 8 spots, as well as the lead off hitter. Lets suppose the 7,8 and 9 hitters come up to the plate in the inning for an American League team. While that could be three of your weaker hitters, there’s a 99.99% chance that your 8 or 9-hole hitter is still a better hitter than the pitcher in the National League. With that, a National League manager needs to be able to configure his lineup in such a way that he has a supporting cast around his pitcher that gets on base for the pitcher to sacrifice them over. He needs players that hit a bunch of singles and take a ton of walks. That’s how runs are, and should be, produced.
Not only that, but the bench player becomes important as well. As an American League bench player, you’re really only limited to spot starts and injury appearances. If a team has a good starting nine that’s able to play 150-160 games together, the bench becomes somewhat obsolete. In the National League, however, the bench players have to be prepared every night to have their number called on to pinch hit, often times in crucial spots in the game. It is so much more important to have a well rounded bench in the National League because of the hitting pitcher. Just look where it got Matt Stairs and Greg Dobbs in 2008 with the Phillies.
Finally, it comes down to the pitchers themselves. Pitchers are proud creatures and don’t like struggling in anything they do. There’s also a strong chance that these pitchers, who are generally great athletes, were decent hitters. Give the guys some more time in the cages and maybe things will turn around for them. I don’t expect to see pitchers hitting .300, but hitting under .100 is simply unacceptable for anybody that calls themselves a Major League ball player, in if it is a pitcher.
Later in that inning, after turning away from it for a bit out of pure disgust for what the Phillies’ franchise has become, I flipped the game back on. Chad Billingsley was stepping up to the plate. With an 0-2 count, Colon tried to sneak a fastball by Billingsley, and why not? Save your good pitches for hitter who matter right? Well a few seconds later, the ball ripped off Billingsley’s bat found its way into the left field seats for the first run of the day. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes? Maybe. But I’ll take that blind squirrel over an impurity in the game of baseball any day of the week. Stay out of the National League, DH.