Enjoy the lack of NL DH while you have it, if you must

Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton, a pitcher who thinks his breed at the plate, instead of throwing to it, is a waste of lineup slot.

Guess what you didn’t hear if you watched the World Series on Fox Sports Friday night. You didn’t hear as much about what happened in the bottom of the second as you should have heard. More’s the pity.

Right then, right there, in Truist Park, in Game Three, occurred a textbook example of what can happen when the life of a rally may depend upon a) a pitcher with a pool noodle for a bat looming on deck; or, b) that pitcher having to swing his pool noodle bat when there’s a chance to put runs on the scoreboard.

Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud was on second with a two-out double. The Astros ordered starting pitcher Luis (Rock-a-Bye Samba) Garcia to signal the intentional walk to Dansby Swanson. (Remember, you don’t have to make the pitcher throw four wide ones for the free pass anymore, which is a good thing for not adding wear on the arm.)

Looming on deck—Braves starter Ian Anderson. Rookie. Promising young pitcher, but swings a bat that might as well have been made by Ronzoni. Hit 54 cents on the regular season, hit zipadee-doodah in the postseason approaching the plate now. The net result? Garcia struck him out to end the threat and the inning.

What a surprise.

Neither Fox broadcaster Joe Buck nor John Smoltz—the Hall of Fame pitcher who pitched many a splendid game for the Braves in his career—spoke much if at all about the deeper significance of Anderson’s wasted plate appearance.

Oh, they’ve mentioned the coming of the universal DH, which is liable to begin next season, but if you were looking for the deep take you didn’t really get it. Especially from Smoltz, a pitcher who finished his career with a .159/.226/.207 slash line at the plate. They spoke more of Anderson having the maturity of a 65-year-old in his demeanor than they spoke of what his second inning plate appearance really indicated.

This year’s pitchers batted a whopping .110 with a .150 on-base percentage. Since the last decade of the dead-ball era, they’ve batted .162. It has been, it is, and it’ll always be the single most guaranteed lineup waste in baseball. It isn’t even close.

“For every Adam Wainwright,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said before Game Three, “there’s ten [pitchers] that can’t hit. They don’t hit anymore at a young age, they’re specializing in pitching or whatever at a young age, so after experiencing it last year, I’m all for the DH.”

Wainwright is the Cardinals’ grand old man who’s actually batted .193 in sixteen seasons to date, including ten home runs and 51 total extra-base hits over the span. For a pitcher, that’s splendid and outlying plate production, in most generations. He’s even managed to knock 75 runs home.

It’s a wonder Wainwright doesn’t threaten first degree murder every time he has to bat—he lost a full season of his career to an Achilles tendon injury incurred . . . running the bases.

You want to ask Smoltz’s longtime, Hall of Fame rotation mate Tom Glavine about it? The New York Times did. “Take the brutality, so to speak, of what pitcher hitting has become, and I still feel like it allows for way more strategy in the National League,” lamented the .203 lifetime-hitting lefthander. “I’m hoping that that part of the argument will certainly be a strong one, but it seems now that there’s more momentum than ever to get rid of it.”

The brutality of what it has become? How about the brutality of what it always was? Then-Pirates owner William Temple Chase wasn’t just talking to hear himself talk when he lamented his five main 1891 Pirates’ pitchers hitting .165 as a group and proposed that off-season that the game should adopt what we know as the designated hitter. (It failed by a single vote.)

“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,” said the ancient paper Sporting Life in agreement with Temple. “It is most invariably a trial, and an unsuccessful one at that. If fortune does favor him with a base hit it is ten to one that he is so winded in getting to first or second base on it that when he goes into the box it is a matter of very little difficulty to pound him all over creation.”

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I was a great hitter,” Glavine continued, “but as a pitcher, I was certainly a good hitter, and I felt like my ability to do that was an advantage every time I went out on the mound. I wasn’t necessarily going to get an RBI base hit or whatever, but I knew two things: Number one, if I had to bunt, I was going to get the bunt down, and number two, I wasn’t going to be an automatic out.”

Glavine was an out for 80 percent of his lifetime plate appearances. Getting the bunt down simply meant that thirteen percent of the time he was a wasted out while he and his Braves and Mets were at it. How is a pitcher bunting not normally an automatic out, anyway? Beating those bunts out for base hits isn’t exactly a constant thing with them, either.

How about if the National League had taken its head out of its colon in the first place—pitchers wouldn’t have to worry about wasting outs, and managers wouldn’t have to watch helplessly when their pitchers a) ended rallies, or b) injured or winded themselves running the bases on the rare occasions when they picked up base hits.

This time, I won’t apologise for beating a dead horse, because in this case the horse was and remains right, and the bottom of the second in Game Three Friday night proved it.

“It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out as if he thinks he’s Ty Cobb,” wrote now-retired Thomas Boswell in 2019. “But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

If and when he does it, that is. Scherzer was 0-for-2021 at the plate, including four hitless postseason plate appearances and one sacrifice fly that doesn’t count as an “official” at-bat in the scoring. Forget Ty Cobb, Max the Knife didn’t even get to run it out as if he thought he was Ralph Kramden.

The word also is that, when the owners and the players start talking turkey to work out the next collective bargaining agreement, they may consider allowing the universal DH—at a price: the owners and commissioner Rob Manfred may actually demand that a team surrender its DH for the rest of the game unless their starting pitchers go a minimum number of innings.

Brilliant. As if the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers hasn’t screwed things up enough often enough? (Not just because too many managers are leaving them in beyond the third batter with opposing rallies in the making, either.)

Suppose they do impose a six- or seven-inning starters’ minimum in return for the universal DH. What happens to every starting pitcher who has a bad start and gets shot early, often, and full of more holes than a hanging target in a police shooting range?

Forget about blowing the poor sap’s ERA to infinity and beyond. You’re going to force him to stay in for a minimum six- or seven- and maybe sink his team so far that the Navy SEALs couldn’t get them out alive?

Baseball’s the thinking person’s sport. Those who govern and play it should start thinking again. At least one starting pitcher now lost for the rest of the World Series does some thinking.

“I’m always late to the on-deck circle, just because I need to unplug for a minute, and I like to worry about the job that I have to do on the mound,” said Braves pitcher Charlie Morton to the Times. “That’s what I’m paid to do, that’s what I’m prepared to do, spend the vast majority of my time doing. They’re paying guys lots of money and guys are working their tails off trying to be good hitters, and I’m up there taking at-bats.”

They used to say a player’s only as smart as his batting average. Morton’s a Ph.D. better than his lifetime .127 average.

Cease and desist!

Huascar Ynoa

Braves pitcher Huascar Ynoa looks like Hall of Famer Henry Aaron hitting this grand slam. But he’s not a reason to oppose the DH.

I thought I’d seen every possible absurdist argument against the designated hitter going universal to stay. (It won’t happen until after this season, if baseball’s government can quit its foot-dragging over it.) Then I read Jayson Stark in The Athletic Friday. It wasn’t Stark making such an argument but, rather, a couple of his respondents.

Stark is a Spink Award Hall of Fame writer with as much passion for mulcting “Weird and Wild” baseball moments as I have for learning about them. How could he resist White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease having a day during which he struck eleven Reds out . . . and, having to make plate appearances himself for the first time in his major league life, nailing three hits?

How could Stark resist noticing the last American League pitcher to go 3-for-3 at the plate in his first Show game (Boo Ferriss, 1945) came 76 years before Cease fired? Or, that the only National League pitcher to do that in his premiere between 1945 and now was then-Met Steven Matz (2015)?

How, too, could Stark resist making note that of those three pitchers Cease is the only one who’d never shown up at the plate to bat in his entire professional baseball life until that fine day in Great American Ballpark? And Cease’s refusal to desist happened when (Stark’s words) “a few guys who hit for a living” hadn’t had a three-hit game all season yet: Mookie Betts, D.J. LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, Francisco Lindor.

Then there’s Braves pitcher Huascar Ynoa, hitting a home run each in back-to-back pitching starts, with the second one—off Nationals pitcher Tanner Rainey, with the bases loaded and Ronald Acuna, Jr. on deck—going over the almost-straightaway center field fence.

It was the first time any Braves pitcher hit home runs during back-to-back starting assignments, Stark points out, since June 1961—when Lew Burdette and his running-mate in the comedy department, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, did it in the same week, never mind the same season.

Ynoa can claim to be only the third pitcher to homer at the plate in back-to-back starts during which he also surrendered an earned run total of (wait for it!) zero. And whom might the other two be? Stark has your answer: Don Larsen, 1958; and, Rick Ankiel, 2000.

Now, repeat after me: All the foregoing are what such creatures have always been—outliers. Extreme exceptions. Non-habit forming. Hope Diamonds versus glass. Henry Aaron for one day compared to Hank Conger lifetime. Nolan Ryan pitching 27 seasons worth of major league baseball. Get the picture?

More than a few of Stark’s commenters didn’t. “Screw the DH! Let pitchers hit (at least in the National League),” read one, to which another gentle reader replied, “I don’t get why so many people want to take pitchers hitting out of the game.”

Yes watching pitchers hit is painful but getting these types of moments with Cease and Ynoa are so worth it. It’s fun! Just think about the most memorable baseball moment in the past 5 years. What is it? Bartolo’s home run. Take away pitchers hitting and we’ll never see anything like it again. Let pitchers hit!

The first sentence by the second such reader is dismissed almost too easily. Fair disclosure: I did so, posting that as of Saturday morning, the cumulative slash line for pitchers at the plate this season is .108/.136/.146, for a mighty .284 OPS. And, I wrote further, that the cumulative slash line for pitchers at the plate from the end of the 20th Century’s first decade through the end of the 21st Century’s first decade is .158/.207/.199, for a big fat .406 OPS.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again the way I said to that gentle reader: Show me a position player with a slash line like that, and I’ll show you a guy who won’t get past the minors even if he’s the next Mark Belanger with the leather. Even Belanger slashed .228/.300/.280. And he only got to play major league baseball for eighteen years because he was a human Electrolux at shortstop, who finished his career worth one defensive run saved above league average less than Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. (Belanger: +238; Smith: +239.)

Bartolo Colon’s 7 May 2016 home run in San Diego is baseball’s most memorable moment of the last five years? It was a regular riot, no question about it. But if I called it the most memorable moment in 2016-2021 baseball, it would expose me as having slept through a small truckload of moments that were far more memorable if not half as laugh-and-a-half funny. Games Seven of the 2016 and 2019 World Series come to mind at once, for openers.

Using outliers to support arguments is as fatuous as making memes out of Ryan and fellow Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, as someone did aboard Facebook last week, showing the two righthanders sharing a laugh during a Shea Stadium event, with “Pitch Counts?” above Ryan’s head, “Innings Limits?” above Seaver’s, and “#SMH” under Ryan’s and “#LOL” below Seaver’s.

The head smacks and laughs out loud should be aimed at those witless to comprehend that, for every Ryan and Seaver there are 1) probably a hundred or more hard-throwing pitchers who didn’t have a third their career longevity; and, 2) definitely not any single pitchers otherwise blessed with the exact or equivalent physiology to that pair.

Those same head smacks and laughs out loud should also be aimed at those who think Cease, Ynoa, and Colon are mic drops for keeping the National League immune to what they think is the taint, if not the virus, of the DH. By the end of the regular season—when the still-batting pitchers overall are unlikely to finish with a slash line higher than that .108/.136/.146 thus far—Cease and Ynoa will likely remain the outliers they are at the plate, assuming they do get any more base hits the rest of the way.

Hitting this season’s tough enough, seemingly, without further wasting precious outs on behalf of an anti-idea whose time really left the building long before Elvis ever did. If you’ve got a rally in the making, or you pushed a run or two across the plate with the promise of more to come before the inning’s over, do you really want to watch the enemy pitcher bury it alive by finding a way around your serviceable number eight batter to strike your pitcher out for the side? Or, to lure your pitcher into a rally-killing, inning-ending double play?

Don’t even think about countering with “sacrifice bunts—strategy!!” either. Unless you see the other guys put the old wheel play on (corner infielders down the line; middle infielders to the corner bases) so you can fake a bunt for a base hit, send four pairs of cement hands out to the infield, or present yet another defensive overshift yielding open prime real estate, bunts waste outs. (“I have yet to meet the fan who bought a ticket to a major league game,” Keith Law wrote in Smart Baseball, “because she really wanted to see guys drop some sac bunts.”)

Unless you think managers in any era made their lineups out by rolling dice, turning cards, playing eenie-meenie-mienie-moe, calling the Psychic Hotline, or tossing coins and interpreting the I Ching, here’s a scoop that shouldn’t be a scoop: most baseball strategy is plotted before the game begins.

Make the DH universal and give National League managers the options American League managers have enjoyed for decades without having to move a pitcher above the number nine slot in the order: maybe a second cleanup hitter or an extra leadoff-type in that slot.

Relieve them, too, of the brain-bending decision (and yes, I’ve seen it happen) to remove a hot starting pitcher before his gas goes AWOL because his spot in the order’s due up early enough with men on base and a chance—especially down the stretch of a pennant race or with postseason survival at stake—to tie a game or bust it open as long and wide as the Chunnel.

Of course it’s fun to see the very occasional Ceases, Ynoas, and Colons*. But I’ll Cease and desist those in half a heartbeat, on behalf of putting a permanent end to the historic and overwhelming majority of pitchers killing my rallies because the historic and overwhelming majority of the lot of them hit as though they swing swimming pool noodles at the plate.

Instead of thwarting the universal DH, how’s about we kill the free cookie on second base to open each extra half inning and the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers? (Somebody might get killed because of the latter.) Or would that cause Commissioner Nero and his mouse-like employers to think, “Nope, makes too much sense?”

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* It took Bartolo Colon nineteen years of major league baseball, only two and a half of which were National League seasons, and 248 previous major league plate appearances, before he finally hit James Shields’s 38th pitch of the game into the left field seats.

It didn’t even take Mark Belanger that many plate appearances to hit his first of twenty lifetime home runs—Belanger did it in his seventh plate appearance of 1967. And Belanger wasn’t a tenth as funny running his out as the portly Colon who ran like a cement truck with the rear tires deflating en route.

No surprise the players said no thanks

The old exhausted gag about how you can tell lawyers and politicians lie applies to a bulk of major league baseball’s owners. When they asked the players to go for yet another expanded postseason at all, never mind without offering anything of substance in return, the only shock would have been if the players went for it.

CBS Sports’s Dayn Perry isolates it: “[A]n expanded postseason largely benefits the owners, not the players. According to the terms of the [collective bargaining agreement]—stunning use of italics forthcoming—all postseason television revenues go to the owners. The players, in turn, get a share of the gate revenues, which is a significantly smaller slice of the pie.”

It’ll be smaller, too, depending upon the continuing pandemic protocols that might yet be in place come the next postseason, even if the owners were willing to pay the players their full 162-game salaries on a 154-game schedule. The owners only think they’re being benevolent and caring about their players’ safety.

“If, however, player safety was truly the prevailing concern for MLB,” Perry writes, “then they would’ve proposed that schedule shift by itself and not appended to it a call for expanded playoffs, which benefits owners far more than players.”

Speaking of player safety, how concerned for player safety were the owners last year in allowing fans to attend League Championship Series and World Series games? Or when Justin Turner was allowed back onto the field to celebrate with his World Series-winning Dodgers after he’d just been informed he was COVID-19 positive?

And how concerned are they for pitchers’ safety if they’re refusing to show sense, keep the universal designated hitter permanent, and not use it as leverage to force more permanently-expanded postseasons that compromise competition while fattening their bank accounts?

I’ve argued on behalf of the universal DH until I’m bloated from it because a pitcher’s lineup spot is the least productive in baseball, and that’s not something that suddenly arrived with the advent of the DH in the American League in 1973. That argument was made as far back as 1891 by a National League owner. So knock it off with the lie that the DH is the American League’s continuing plot to dilute baseball.

Now, ponder this, as Perry and his CBS colleague Mike Axisa do: Last year’s pandemic-mandated short, irregular season meant pitchers having far shorter, smaller work loads. Even with a 154-game schedule they’ll be working their way back to full. “It shouldn’t be a labor issue either,” Axisa writes.

MLB should want to keep pitchers healthy — starting pitchers are the closest thing this sport has to a “main character”—and keep their best players on the field. A universal DH helps accomplish that. Reducing injury risk at a time when pitchers are coming off a bizarre year with small workloads is a no-brainer. The universal DH is good for everyone.

By the way, you can also stop lying about the “additional jobs” the universal DH would bring. It won’t, even if it means National League teams having places for DH-types who can still swing even if they’ve become or always were seditious fielders.

What it will do, as Axisa says, is turn fifteen bench seats into fifteen full-time jobs, including opening places for those DH-types. It’ll remove useless bats from having to check in at the plate in the number nine hole. It’ll put useful bats into the lineup at more regular intervals.

You can also give up the lie about the universal DH removing “strategy” from the game. With that dead lineup spot brought back to life, National League managers would have some very creative options available. Maybe they’d like a second cleanup hitter in that spot? An additional leadoff-type hitter?

Maybe they can also do what American League managers have done for years with the DH slot: give one of their regulars a extra day or two off from the field, asking him nothing more than swinging the bat a few times, and have those guys a little more fresh down the stretch of a pennant race and into the postseason.

There’s also no reason to make a bargaining chip out of the seven-inning doubleheader except owners’ avarice. In some ways making the seven-inning doubleheader permanent is more important than the universal DH for safety’s sake. We got a few because of the COVID-related postponements last year. In just a 154-game season we could be getting lots more.

“We saw teams play three doubleheaders in a single week at times last year,” Axisa says. “MLB has to assume something like that will happen again, in which case seven-inning doubleheaders are a necessity. You can’t ask players to run themselves into the ground like that.” Tell that to Joe and Jane Fan who still don’t get things like that.

Once upon a time teams were liable to play between 20-25 doubleheaders a season. (The single-season record is 44 such twin bills, played by the 1943 White Sox, in case you wondered.) If they’d thought of the seven-inning doubleheader back in the Good Old Days, the doubleheader never would have disappeared except for makeup games.

I’ve also argued until my spleen couldn’t stand it that the postseason is already expanded too much as it is. The owners may be banking mucho millions but the competition is already diluted and the audiences who can’t buy tickets for postseason game packages are already saturated with postseason baseball. Is the common good of the game really the same thing as making money for it, after all?

You already have teams thinking they don’t have to go the extra distances to compete when they can settle for the thrills and chills of fighting to the last breath to finish in second place. You think baseball has tanking issues now? Wait till you see them if last fall’s postseason should become baseball’s permanent future. Three third-place teams and one fourth-place team got to the 2020 postseason. Where’s the anti-tanking incentive?

“Lower the bar for contention, which is what an expanded postseason does, and teams aren’t going to spend as much,” Perry says. “Even at the top end, the idea of having to claw through another round of the playoffs is a disincentive for teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, and Mets to fortify rosters they already see as being playoff-worthy.”

. . . [T]he players aren’t likely to give away a strong bargaining piece like the expanded postseason unless it’s in exchange for something of similar import. From the players’ standpoint, they’d presumably like to address their shrinking share of league revenues, the occasional practice of service-time manipulation (i.e., when teams hold back a clearly ready prospect in order to delay his free agency or arbitration eligibility for a full year), tanking, the failure of the minimum salary to keep pace with revenue growth in the sport, and teams’ increasing treatment of the luxury tax threshold as a hard cap, among other matters. Addressing any of those things will be a heavy lift.

The novelties that need to disappear post haste, of course, are the free cookie on second base to open each extra half inning and the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. The extra-inning tiebreaker should last only as long as the pan-damn-ic does. Once we’re dead last certain the coronavirus is either extinct or down to levels so manageable and medically fixable that we can dump the masks and the protocols, that rule should disappear.

But spare us any continuing nonsense about ensuring safety when the owners clearly use the universal DH and other things as leverage to try forcing the players to re-negotiate the current collective bargaining agreement before it’s time to re-negotiate. You can count on maybe half a hand which owners aren’t lying every time they move their lips.

Why should the players—who actually want the universal DH and probably would go for the seven-inning doubleheader—negotiate prematurely when they’re going to come up with the short end of a stick that’s already been shortened just so? Especially knowing that conceding the more permanent expanded postseason means further-diluted competition?

“MLB ownership isn’t going to let a crisis go to waste,” Perry says, “and that’s why they’re seeking to alter the structure of the 2021 season even though said structure should be considered a settled matter.” Line drive, base hit.

No, Commissioner, you KEEP the universal DH

Commissioner Rob Manfred, donning a mask to attend a World Series game in Globe Life Field.

If it isn’t broken, call the repairman. If it is broken, it’ll fix itself. So seems to be the thinking (using the term very liberally) of Commissioner Nero. Apparently, he’s in no hurry to keep the universal designated hitter, but he’s in a big hurry to keep permanent the over-expanded postseason.

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Steinberg, whose team is now playing in the World Series and is one of baseball’s most innovative, has it right about innovation actual and alleged when he likes to say, “Break a window, don’t burn down the house.” Rob Manfred seems to prefer burning down the house to save the broken window.

The DH would have “broken” the window in 1891 if then-Pirates owner William Chase Temple had his way. Yes, I’m going there again. The concept that drives today’s stubbornly ancient-school National League fans came originally out of a National League owner’s head.

Temple was fed up pitchers being unable to hit. Not “unwilling,” unable. So he proposed what we know as the DH. Temple’s contemporary and friend Albert Spalding wanted to see and raise. Spalding thought the pitcher’s lineup spot should have been erased entirely with eight-man lineups otherwise. Window-breaking? Spalding would have busted three for the price of one.

“Every patron of the game,” wrote Sporting Life about Temple and Spalding’s thoughts, “is conversant with the utter worthlessness of the average pitcher when he goes up to try and hit the ball. It is most invariably a trial, and an unsuccessful one at that. If fortune does favor him with a base hit it is ten to one that he is so winded in getting to first or second base on it that when he goes into the box it is a matter of very little difficulty to pound him all over creation.”

No need to review the history of the DH idea in detail. Suffice to say here that Temple brought it to a vote and lost in 1892. In 1906, Philadelphia Athletics owner/manager Connie Mack (whose pitchers hit a whole .201 that season) proposed it to see it go nowhere. The National League proposed it again in 1928 and the American League rejected it then. It took traction at last when the high minors adopted it in the 1960s and impressed Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley enough (as well it might considering his 1972 A’s pitchers hit a whopping .165) convinced his fellow AL owners to bring it in.

Looking for ways to make the pandemic-shortened irregular 2020 season as painless as possible, Manfred decided this would be an experimental season. The universal DH was one of the experiments. Would you like to know how it went? The batting slash line for major league pitchers all 2010s long is .130/.161/.165. The batting slash line for 2020 designated hitters is .231/.316/.408.

It gets better. Want to know whose DHs did the best this season? The Atlanta Braves. In the National League. With a .316/.411/.589 slash line. And, a 1.000 OPS. Hitting more home runs than everyone else (17) except the Minnesota Twins (19). Getting more base hits period (73) than everybody else’s DHs. With the highest DH batting average on balls in play (.403) by 44 points. Did I mention Braves DHs knocked in the most runs (55) of any team’s DHs?

Want to know how many National League teams’ DHs finished in the top ten for collective OPS around the 2020 Show? Six. (The Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Mets, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Diego Padres, and the St. Louis Cardinals.) The top ten in DH on-base percentage is even-up between NL and AL teams (five each) with the Braves at the top. Braves’ DHs led a pack of five NL teams in the top ten for batting average at that lineup slot. They also led all teams’ DHs with 37 walks.

I’m going here, too: my Real Batting Average metric. RBA = total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches. Look how the National League’s DHs measured up against the American League’s:

2020 Real Batting Average – DHs

  PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
National League 3724 1338 366 25 26 54 .486
American League 3768 1347 377 17 26 46 .481

The National League DHs batted five points higher in RBA than the American League despite batting 44 fewer times. (They took a lot more for their teams, too, if you noticed the hit-by-pitches.)

Do you still miss those .128-hitting pitchers with their .178 RBAs? Are you ready to listen to Thomas Boswell this time, if not a) almost two years ago; or, b) when I cited him again in June?

It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.

If you want to yell your head off at Commissioner Nero, there are better reasons. Bawl him out from San Diego to Boston and back about that ridiculous three-batter relief pitching minimum and, even more, against that free cookie on second base to start each extra half inning.

Rant your heads off against a permanently-expanded postseason. Sure it might have been mad, perverted fun to see the 29-31 Houston Astros meet the likewise 29-31 Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series this month. Only because it would have made a further chump out of Commissioner Nero seeing regular (well, irregular) season losers playing for that piece of metal.

Bellow like Falstaff that the real issue with postseason baseball’s ratings declines are and have long enough been saturation. Bad enough the era of the second wild card made for potentially-exhausting maximum 43 postseason games a year. Slightly worse was this year’s sixteen-team postseason making for a potential maximum 65 games (if each series went the distance) and an actuality of 52 postseason games so far.

Even fans such as myself who think there’s no such thing as too much baseball get wrung out by that. The good news is that, this time, championship won’t be diluted. The two best teams in 2020 baseball—when all was said and done about COVID-19 infections, disruptions and scheduling contortions—are going at it in the World Series. That’s now. Does Nero really want to risk a future full of losers playing for the Promised Land?

Or would wiser heads who aren’t sound asleep while Nero burns the house down in order to put a trash can fire out willing to suggest what I’ve suggested until I’m bluer in the face than the Rays’ jerseys. Dump the bloody wild cards. Give the winningest division champs a round-one bye and let the other division winners play a best-of-three. Let that winner meet the bye winner in a best-of-five League Championship Series. Leave the World Series best-of-seven and return it to its proper primacy.

As Groucho Marx once said, it’s so damn simple a child of five could do it. And, sit back, watch the tanking teams run out of excuses to tank because you either win or be gone, watch all those “competitive” teams realise they can’t settle anymore for stirring the blood and delivering the thrills, chills, and spills fighting to the last breath to see who finishes . . . in second place.

Now, somebody send for a child of five. (Thanks again, Groucho.) Then, send him or her to Nero with instructions to keep the universal DH. Which did you one of the biggest favours baseball was able to do for you this otherwise pandemically-putrid year. Even if you didn’t know it and didn’t want to hear about it.