Friday, April 12, 2013


MLB 2013

Big changes in the big leagues

Houston is now an AL city, both leagues are split evenly into three divisions and for the first time since interleague play began divisional rivals play nearly identical schedules.  On balance, I like these changes though I wish they didn't constitute an improvement.*

But the biggest change of all is that interleague play is now an everyday reality rather than a mid-season special event.  Many people think it portends an even bigger change, as Jayson Stark notes:
Daily interleague play is going to be part of the baseball experience for ever and ever. Kinda like watching games on your phone. And Darren Oliver.
"It's definitely different," said Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto last week, as he found himself and his team in Cincinnati, minus its DH, for the very first series of the year. "It made putting a roster together [this spring] a little unusual. That's for sure."
But roster construction is merely the tip of this interleague iceberg. The baseball world is just beginning to shake as the tremors of wire-to-wire interleague play are starting to ripple across its landscape.
But here's our prediction: One of these years, year-round interleague-a-palooza is going to be the development that finally pushes baseball over the edge -- and brings the designated hitter to the National League.
Though game results, economics, logistics and conventional wisdom currently lean heavily in this direction, I'm not so sure its inevitable. 

Though NL ballparks weren't built to accommodate the DH style of play and NL owners and their respective fan bases aren't favorably disposed (to put it mildly) toward its adoption these are things that can change over time.  Its the players themselves that I see as the biggest obstacle to the NL adopting the DH.  The players' union must give its assent for any rules changes and, though its not widely known, there exists among MLB players a sizable number who despise the DH. Many players have publicly acknowledged this.

Any quick comparison of box scores from the two leagues hints at why - invariably there are more names listed in those from the NL.  More players on NL rosters get more meaningful playing time in more games than their AL counterparts.  The existence of the DH eliminates the need to bat for generally weak hitting pitchers and places a premium on hitting such that it concentrates playing time among AL players accordingly, much to the professional and financial detriment of veteran players with versatile skill sets.  And these type of players greatly out number DH types.

However the existence of the DH does provide all players with certain benefits, chief among them a potential roster spot if/when they devolve into a one dimensional player.  Which means veteran players benefit from having the DH in only one league.

For these reasons I think the players will try to preserve the status quo for as long as possible.

* I would prefer MLB stop eradicating distinctions between the leagues and would instead eliminate playoff wild cards, all disparity in scheduling among division rivals, interleague play and the designated hitter.

Diego: I had always thought the DH issue might be settled if a pitcher was forced to make the last out of the World Series. And then it almost happened. In 2011 the Cardinals trailed the Rangers 3 games to 2 and were down 2 runs heading into the bottom of the 10th inning. There were no more position players left and the pitcher was scheduled to bat 3rd. A 1-2-3 inning would have the pitcher making the last out of the season and shown on replay over and over again, at least by the Rangers. I thought at the time that this could be a historic moment. A pathetic at-bat to end the Series would be a strong case for changing the rules.

But none of that happened. The first two batters reached base and the pitcher bunted them over where they later scored the tying runs. Then the Cards scored again and won. And then they won game 7. So maybe I was proven wrong?

I don't like the DH but I don't like the pitcher batting either. Not everyone pitches and pitchers don't play every day (the roster size accommodates this) so why should they have to bat? A compromise would be to just bat 8, no DH and no Pitcher in the lineup.

Something has to give. I think this is settled sooner rather than later. Now that interleague play is every day it will force the issue.

John O:  That was my initial reaction last year upon hearing about Houston's move.  But the more I thought about it the less sure I was.  I've heard many players over the years express their preference for the NL and its style of play.  I really don't know the breadth or depth of player disdain for the DH, but it exists.  The PA has never made a peep about extending it to the NL, even during contentious collective bargaining negotiations when owners threatened them with the loss of the DH and/or franchises.  So far as I know the PA has never mentioned the idea. Why not?

If players really do want to have two different sets of rules, perhaps try and integrate the DH into the NL by allowing, say, 5 NL clubs to adopt it for their home park while forcing 5 AL clubs to phase it out.  That would roughly triple each teams' exposure to playing games under the opposite rule set.  Something along those lines.  


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