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Tim Benz: The DH coming to the National League? Not a big deal

Tim Benz
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The Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez celebrates his home run against the Dodgers during the seventh inning in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in Los Angeles. Martinez played primarily DH in helping the Red Sox to the title.

I think I’ve finally found a topic more controversial and divisive than the border-wall debate.

It’s the discussion about expanding the designated hitter to the National League.

On one hand, you’re talking about a significant argument over economics, unions, American traditions and job security.

And on the other, well, you’re just talking about a wall, man!

I’m sorry, but I just can’t work myself into a lather as many of my brethren in the sports media have over this topic.

Well, let me rephrase. I can, if we get ourselves discussing the right thing.

Wall sarcasm aside, there is an actual political analogy to be made here. It is like trying to pass a bill in Congress. The MLB Players Association essentially is trying to attach a rider onto league legislation that would attempt to speed up the game.

Via sources to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic :

“As part of a January 14 proposal to the players’ union on pace of play, baseball suggested a rule requiring pitchers to face a minimum of three batters.”

Rosenthal said the union responded with requests to address “players’ concerns on competitive integrity and service-time manipulation.”

Also, a “lowering of a team’s draft position for failing to reach a specified win total in a certain number of seasons.”

And, yes, the attachment of the “universal DH” in both leagues.

Honestly, I’m more interested in every one of those points and their potential impact on the game than I am about the designated hitter.

But the concept of the DH is more inflammatory because — not unlike the wall — it’s easy to argue. Conceptually, it’s simple to grasp.

You have a DH, or you don’t. A pitcher hits, or he doesn’t.

National League tradition versus American League tradition. Red State versus Blue State values.

Easy stuff. So, yeah, let’s foam at the mouth over that.

Truthfully, neither MLB nor its union nor baseball fans should get too worked up over the stupid DH argument.

If you put the DH in the National League, you’ll never miss seeing awful-hitting pitchers swing the bat. The occasional Madison Bumgarner homer will be replaced by the ninth-hitting middle infielder hitting a homer, and you won’t know the difference.

If you were to take the DH out of the American League, which will never happen even though the union pretends it’s a real threat, good hitters who are too old or unskilled to play the field will still find work.

For example, J.D. Martinez led the American League in RBIs and total bases last year. He was fourth in the MVP balloting. If the DH were to disappear, what would Boston do? Cut him?

Furthermore, the impact of the DH on the quality, style and depth of the game is dramatically overrated:

• In terms of team batting average in 2018, the top six clubs were split evenly (three apiece) between the NL and AL. Same for the top eight (four apiece). Same for the top 10 (five apiece).

The top 10 in OPS were split five and five as well. The top 10 in slugging and on-base percentage leaned slightly in the AL’s favor, 6-4.

• In the 45 years of World Series play in the DH era, the AL holds a 25-20 lead. Does that reflect an edge for AL teams because of the DH? Or the fact the Red Sox and Yankees and their combined 11 titles during that time are both in the AL?

I’ll go for the latter.

In interleague play, the AL has a slight edge over the NL, 52 percent to 48 percent since 1997.

This is a low-hanging fruit debate. Again, like so many in politics, it’s rooted in pillars and principles more than in practicality.

Heck, bat 10 guys for all I care. Let the pitchers hit and use an AH (alternate hitter) instead of a DH, like in beer-league softball.

Make me choose? OK. I’ll bite.

If I’m Rob Manfred, give me the three-batter requirement at the expense of putting the DH in the NL. Yup. I’d do that deal.

After all, I find it funny that the diehard NL traditionalists are fine with the bastardization and elongation of games based on extensive bullpen management but cringe at the notion of the DH making its way to the NL.

I’m not sure why those people break out in hives at the idea of one player who merely hits, but they think a pitcher facing just one left-handed batter a night is fine.

Plus, if they’ve ever watched an American League game, there is plenty of strategy involving the roadblock the DH creates. Just look at the ease with which NL teams make a double switch compared to the AL.

Adding the three-batter requirement injects a new strategic element as well.

But for my money, the more interesting discussion is how MLB would mandate the three-batter rule for relievers and punish teams who fake an injury to get around it.

Give me those details first. Then let’s dive deep into the DH tinder box.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.