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The universal DH rule may not be as bad as you may think

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The change may be a great thing for the way the roster is currently put together

San Francisco Giants v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Earlier this week, it became clear that a list of potential rule changes was being considered by MLB and the MLB Players Association. Among the potential rule changes being proposed are the ones listed below, straight from our Hunt and Peck column from yesterday:

A three-batter minimum for pitchers

A universal designated hitter

A single trade deadline before the All-Star break

A 20-second pitch clock

The expansion of rosters to 26 men, with a 12-pitcher maximum

Draft advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing teams

A study to lower the mound

A rule that would allow two-sport amateurs to sign major league contracts

I’m definitely an ‘older’ fan in that I’m not the demographic that MLB is trying to connect with. Yes, I know that 35 isn’t old, but it’s clear that the audience of baseball needs to get younger.

MarketWatch.com published a report a couple years ago which said the average age of baseball fans was 57, by far the oldest of the four major professional sports in the United States. At the same time, baseball had the lowest number of fans under the age of 18, at 7% among the big four sports.

With these potential changes it would appear that faster games and more offense is MLB’s plan to get to young people’s hearts and wallets.

One sure way to get more offense is to eliminate those pesky pitchers from picking up a bat! DH’s for everyone! Personally, I don’t like the rule, but I can see where there is some benefit for NL teams to adopt it, especially here in St. Louis.

In 2018, Cardinals pitchers had the fantastic slash line of .147/.166/.231 in 286 ABs. 2017 wasn’t much different with numbers of .140/.172/.189 in 285 ABs. 2014-2016 all look about the same. If you didn’t already know, pitchers don’t hit very well.

With that obvious statement out of the way, you hopefully are seeing it the same way I am. More hitting is better than the traditions of being ‘different’ and having the pitchers come to the plate. I hear your arguments about all the great moments in baseball that would have never happened without pitchers picking up the bat. Or a pitcher ending up in the outfield late in a game because of a double-switch.

I love that stuff. I will miss it greatly.

I’m ready to embrace the rule, mostly because it solves the ‘problem’ brought up by John Mozeliak last week. If there’s no changes to the current roster and assuming that the starting outfield left to right is Marcell Ozuna, Harrison Bader, and Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill would be fighting to get ABs. The DH rule solves that.

Last season, Martinez had 37 plate appearances as a DH during interleague play. In those 8 games he put up a slash of .344/.432/.531, which is above his overall season averages of .305/.364/.457. Yes, it’s a small sample size of less than 10% of his PAs, but its SOMETHING.

The overall slash for all players batting as a DH in all of baseball in 2018 was quite a bit lower than Jose’s individual numbers at .248/.325/.449, which was the lowest non-pitcher batting numbers other than the .233/.304/.374 put up by MLB catchers.

Martinez’s 165 wRC+ as a DH (among players with 30+ plate appearances) in 2018 was 5th in all of baseball. Looking at players with higher numbers of PAs/ABs, JD Martinez was ninth at 152 and Giancarlo Stanton was tenth at 150. As I said above, the numbers are a small sample size. Would Jose do this over a larger amount of data? It’s hard to say. Anything less than 100-150 plate appearances is hard to justify the numbers but it’s a start at least.

The overall flexibility of the DH would allow the team to alternate a few other players through the spot as well. As it stands right now, Martinez and Tyler O’Neill are likely the fourth and fifth outfielders, respectively. On top of them as options, you’ve got Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter who also have some experience at DH, but just in very low numbers like Martinez. However, both Carpenter and Goldschmidt’s numbers as a DH line up a bit closer to the overall average.

Even with any other potential roster moves (I’m not saying there will or won’t be as I’m not sure), the DH ultimately gives you more lineup flexibility. My concern is that the rule will only be partially instituted this season and you won’t get the full benefits.

Most teams already have their rosters set. Some speculation was that the DH could be instituted in any game involving American League teams this season, and expanding it across the whole National League in 2020. In the end, with a partial implementation you would have more ABs open up but its still only about double what the team had last year which was 40 plate appearances over 10 games. We could also see the rule put off entirely until 2020, which isn’t out of the question either.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com