MLB Should Experiment With This Rule Change in 2020

Tim Kelly
May 13, 2020 - 11:25 am

If there is a 2020 MLB season, it's going to be like nothing we've ever seen before.

Sports media icon Bob Costas recently appeared on 95.7 The Game and said that he believes that a shortened 2020 season would be the perfect time to "experiment with everything." If baseball goes that route, we have a suggestion: universal DH, but with a twist.

There's long appeared to be momentum towards the DH coming to the National League, and the deal that the MLB owners sent to MLBPA earlier this week includes a proposal for a universal DH in a shortened 2020 schedule.

Let's be clear: if MLB decides a universal DH is coming, there's not a ton baseball purists can do about it. However, it is worth noting that there is a percentage of National League fans that are against the DH coming to the senior circuit because they believe it takes an element of strategy out of the game.

It's not that most older school National League fans are especially interested in seeing pitchers bat. What they are interested in is the difficult decisions that await a National League manager in the seventh inning of a game where his team is down 1-0 and the pitcher comes to bat with a runner on third and one out. Do you pinch hit for the pitcher, knowing he likely could have gone at least another inning but that he's probably not going to help you tie the game or take the lead? The other option is that you allow the pitcher to bat, and almost certainly record an out. You get to keep him in the game to continue pitching, but at what cost? If the next batter doesn't drive the runner in from third base, you're six outs away from wasting a brilliant pitching performance.

What if there was a way to keep the strategy in the National League game but not have to watch pitchers bat? Perhaps there is.

In January, Jayson Stark of The Athletic wrote that baseball had internally pondered an idea that would bring the DH to the National League, but with a catch. National League teams would begin their games with a DH in their lineup, but the DH would only be able to stay in the game as long as the starting pitcher.

Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz is one of the most accomplished DHs of his era. Photo credit (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

So, let's play this out. Let's say that your National League team signs Nelson Cruz to be your DH. Great pick, the six-time All-Star has over 400 career home runs. However, he may have cost the Texas Rangers a World Series title in 2011 by bungling what would have been he series-clinching play in right field in Game 6. And that was almost a decade ago, as Cruz is now 39. There's a reason he's a DH, as opposed to regularly playing a defensive position.

Under this proposal, a National League manager would have to weigh just how valuable Cruz's bat is in the lineup. If the starting pitcher was ready to come out after seven innings, would you move Cruz to a position in the field to keep his bat in the lineup for the chance at one more at-bat? Probably not, but taking him out would replace him in the middle of the lineup with a pinch-hitter, a clear downgrade. What if your starting pitcher has a rough outing, and only goes four innings? Then, finding a way to keep Cruz's bat in the lineup - especially since you are likely trailing - feels worth the risk of putting him in a corner outfield spot.

No one's suggesting that the American League at all alter their rules. They would keep the DH in its current form. But for those that like the National League game to include a bit more strategy, this feels like it would be a pretty fair compromise. Some that are in favor of the DH coming to the National League may even prefer this proposal too.

There's no indication that this concept has gained any traction, which should be pointed out. That said, in a year where anything and everything appears to be on the table, it would seem strange to scoff at an idea that comes off as fairly reasonable. Why not give it a shot?

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