The DH Rule: It’s Time to Bring It to the National League

Updated on July 16, 2020
Orel Hershiser in 1993 when he posted a .356 batting average.
Orel Hershiser in 1993 when he posted a .356 batting average. | Source

“Every patron of the game is conversant with the utter worthlessness of the average pitcher when he goes up to try and hit the ball.”

The above quote sounds very much like a statement in the current discussion about the National League using the designated hitter rule for 2020’s abbreviated season. The quote, though, is from an 1891 article in Sporting Life.

The hitting ability of pitchers, or the lack thereof, has been the subject of discussion almost as long as baseball has been around. The 1891 article proposed having only the eight position players bat (the proposal nearly passed, being defeated by a 7-5 vote).

The Steady Move Toward a DH

The idea of a designated hitter for the pitcher was first discussed prior to the 1906 season and continued to be a hot topic of discussion for the next decade. Babe Ruth, while still pitching for the Red Sox, lamented the fact that most other pitchers didn’t hit well because of their mindset that they couldn’t hit.

Offense became a more important part of the game in the 1920s and prior to the 1929 season, National League President John Heydler proposed using a DH for the pitcher. While there was some support for it, the motion was tabled and not revived. In 1941 a semi-pro league experimented with using a designated hitter.

Following the dismal hitting of the 1960s, culminating in the stunning lack of offense during the 1968 season, the leagues lowered the pitching mound in 1969 and allowed the AAA International League to experiment with the DH.

Finally, after decades of discussion, the DH came to the American League in 1973 as a three-year experiment. The original deal was that after those three years, both leagues would then employ the DH or it would be eliminated. Obviously, that deal was amended so that ever since the AL has used the DH while the NL has used it only in the All-Star game, and home games in interleague play and the World Series.

Pitchers' Top Hitting Seasons Since 1972

Player
Year
BA
PA
AB
H
HR
RBI
Orel Hershiser, LAD
1993
.356
83
73
26
0
6
Carlos Zambrano, ChC
2008
.337
85
83
28
4
14
Rick Rhoden, Pit
1984
.333
92
84
28
0
4
Mike Hampton, Hou
1999
.311
88
74
23
0
10
Ken Brett, Pit
1974
.310
95
87
27
2
15
Jason Marquis, StL
2005
.310
91
87
27
1
10
Bob Forsch, StL
1975
.308
88
78
24
1
5
Jim Rooker, Pit
1974
.305
106
95
29
0
8
Fernando Valenzuela, LAD
1990
.304
78
69
21
1
11
Carlos Zambrano, ChC
2005
.300
84
80
24
1
6

The DH Comes to the NL

Many National League fans are in anguish over the decision this year to allow the DH. They decry the loss of purity in the game and some have cited great hitting feats by pitchers in the past, often from a single game decades ago.

The truth is that the National League has been using a revolving DH for years in the form of pinch-hitters. Starting pitchers rarely get four at bats in a game – last season it happened only 47 times. Jacob deGrom was the only pitcher with five plate appearances in a game. It’s common for a pitcher to get only two at bats in a game, happening more than 1,350 times in 2019. Some starting pitchers get to the plate only once. Few relievers ever make it to the plate unless it is an exceedingly long extra inning game.

Carlos Zambrano belted 24 homers in his career.
Carlos Zambrano belted 24 homers in his career. | Source

Best Hitting Pitchers, Career, Since 1972

Player
Years
BA
PA
AB
H
HR
RBI
Ken Brett
1973-79
.260
257
242
63
7
37
Mike Hampton
1993-2010
.246
845
725
178
16
79
Dontrelle Willis
2003-11
.244
447
389
95
9
39
Omar Olivares
1990-2001
.240
263
242
58
5
29
Dan Schatzeder
1977-90
.240
271
242
58
5
29
Carlos Zambrano
2001-12
.238
744
693
165
24
71
Rick Rhoden
1974-89
.238
830
761
181
9
75
Tim Lollar
1981-86
.234
255
231
54
8
38
Don Robinson
1978-92
.231
665
631
146
13
69
Brian Bohanon
1991-2001
.229
265
231
53
3
30
Zack Greinke
2004-19
.225
598
519
117
9
34

Most Pitchers are Still Poor Hitters

Since the start of the Designated Hitter era there have been 784 times when a pitcher had 75 or more plate appearances in a season; of those, 180 times a pitcher hit .200 or better (by 109 different players). The most consistent was Livan Hernandez, who topped .200 seven times and .230 five times. Tom Glavine and Steve Carlton both hit over .200 six times.

Ten pitchers since the advent of the DH have hit .300 or better, led by Orel Hershiser’s astounding .356 in 1993. The most hits by a pitcher was 29 by Jim Rooker in 1975 when he hit .305. The highest home run total was seven by Mike Hampton in 2001. Adam Wainwright had the highest RBI total, 18 in 2016.

That leaves 604 pitchers who came to the plate at least 75 times in a season who failed to reach .200. Of the 784 with 75 or more plate appearances, 350 struck out at least 25 times. Bruce Hurst in 1989 and Jake Arrieta in 2015 both struck out 54 percent of the time; Vida Blue in 1978 fanned at a 51 percent rate.

Majority of Pitchers Hit Less than .200

Since 1972, only one pitcher with 200 or more career plate appearances has managed a career average over .250 – Ken Brett, who batted .260. Ten others batted .225 or better. Twelve pitchers have hit 10 or more career home runs during that time, led by Carlos Zambrano’s 24. Madison Bumgarner is second with 19. Twenty-five pitchers have driven in 50 or more runs; Steve Carlton, with 107, is the only one to top 100 in his career.

During that same time period, there have been 365 pitchers with more than 200 career plate appearances who batted below .200. Of those, 130 batted .125 or below; 44 of them below .100. Brian Moehler has the distinction of being the worst of those, managing just nine hits in 232 trips to the plate for a .045 average. Among the best pitchers with the worst attempts at hitting were Bartolo Colon (.084), Al Leiter (.085), Pedro Martinez (.099) and Nolan Ryan (.100).

Worst Hitting Pitchers, Career, Since 1972

Player
Years
BA
PA
AB
H
HR
RBI
Brian Moehler
1997-2010
.045
232
202
9
0
5
Don Carman
1983-91
.057
239
209
12
0
5
Mark Clark
1991-99
.058
280
242
14
1
9
Tommy Hanson
2009-12
.059
225
187
11
0
5
Mike Foltynewicz
2014-19
.070
225
199
14
0
9
Charlie Morton
2008-19
.075
308
266
20
0
6
Ben Sheets
2001-12
.076
513
449
34
0
12
Aaron Nola
2015-19
.077
255
222
17
0
8
Mike Bielecki
1984-97
.078
331
282
22
0
13
Matt Garza
2007-17
.080
314
274
22
0
4
Claudio Vargas
2003-10
.080
225
188
15
0
7

Still a Manager's Choice

Obviously, based on those stats, the majority of the time a pitcher comes to the plate he is, as the 1891 Sporting Life quote says, utterly worthless. Because they’re such poor hitters they’re often called on to bunt, but even those attempts are usually lackluster.

The interesting thing about the DH rule is that you don’t have to use it. NL managers can still pencil in the pitcher in the ninth spot in the order and go on as they always have. But that won’t happen, because if there’s anyone who doesn’t want to see a pitcher trying to bat, it’s an NL manager.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Dan W Miller profile image

      Dan W Miller 

      4 weeks ago from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000

      Bummer. But necessary. More strategy leaving the game.

      I was many times pitcher, 1st base or SS even at 40 in baseball! So I was involved more than most position players.

      1,031 sanctioned baseball games umpired in 18 years after 40. Arizona Umpires.

      So I was involved or observing first hand, in many actual games, during which strategy was applied. Just less now without a bad to so-so pitcher batting. Except for Babe Ruth and a very few others.

      We batted nine and a DH. More guys happy with ABs all the way back in the mid-1980s NABA Ventura County.

      More pitchers could hit, too. But I always batted 5th or 6th anyway.

      Softball we had 10 AND a

      DH from 1980 on.

      All Star game as a 15 year old hotshot 1st sacker in the early '70s, we started nine.

      All Star game 23 years later in the starting lineup... as a DH. (I'll take it!) Also pitched an unearned run inning and played 1st all game. Santa Paula, CA.

      It was tough to pitch against 10 real hitters at my advanced age then. But so much fun!

      Read my Willie Mays hub!

      thx,

      DWM

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, howtheyplay.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)