Major League Baseball has announced that they are testing out more rule changes; this time in the independent Atlantic League. You’ll remember that MLB used the Atlantic League for rule changes in the past, including robo umps and stealing first base on a wild pitch.
The 2 new changes would be the “Double Hook” Designated Hitter and moving the pitching mound back a foot. Both changes could have big impacts on the game, but the DH change could be interesting.
The basics of the rule, which will be used all season in the Atlantic League, is that a team will use a DH for their starting pitcher; after the starter leaves the game, a team will have to use a pinch hitter or allow the relievers to hit for themselves. The MLB believes this rule will encourage teams to leave their starters in longer since they will have a better hitter available for more at bats.
We can use the 2019 season to compare the DH to Pitcher hitting; we should be able to expect that the DH will improve offenses.
There is a huge difference in sample size, but it wouldn’t make much of a difference. The DH is superior for offense. But would it make much of a difference in the game today? In 2019, starting pitchers averaged about 5 1/3 innings per start. That would be maybe 2 at bats per game for this hybrid DH plan.
I get what they want with this plan, but I don’t see if being as effective as they are hoping for. Front offices track performance of pitchers the deeper they go into games. It’s been proven that pitchers are less effective the more a lineup faces them; while the league might want starters to go longer, organizations will still want to keep their starters from going through a lineup a third time.
The plus side to this plan would be the late inning strategy would stay in place, something that us in the anti-DH mindset would miss. Double switches, playing matchups, and the value of a strong bench would stay in the game.
The downside is this doesn’t fix a real issue for fans. Right now, the game is all home runs and strikeouts. Adding a DH would increase home runs; the DH is the position that gets the most home runs per plate appearance at 4.74% (next closest is first base at 4.33%; every other position is at 4% or less). The DH is also the position (excluding pitchers) that strikes out the most at 25% (noted above); catchers and left field are close at 24.1%, but every other positions is between 20-24%.
Another issue would be roster construction; a team would instantly be down one of their best bench options once the starter is pulled. There could be an argument that you’d probably use a pinch hitter when the start leaves, but there are 2 other possibilities: the starter leaves mid-inning and your best hitter might not be the first pinch hitter used. I know teams would go out and get their specific DH DH, but then you play with a short bench or a reduced bullpen. The league could expand the rosters again to 27 players, but owners would not like adding another player to the MLB payroll.
You’d also have owners not want to pay a guy that only gets 2 at bats per game big time money; the average DH makes $9,465,481 this season, with the top 5 averaging $21,620,000. If you took the average DH salary and broke it down to at bats (2 at bats per 162 games), he’d be getting over $29,000 each time he stepped to the plate. A full time DH bats 3.93 times per game, so he’d be worth almost $15,000 per plate appearance. An owner would see those numbers and flip.
While I give the MLB credit for being creative, I think the “Double Hook” Designated Hitter will end up on the shelf with stealing first base.