Just a Matter of Time Before National League Adopts Designated Hitter
In today’s game between the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees, pitcher Kendall Graveman became a hitter when the A’s starting 3Bman Danny Valencia had to leave the game with a pulled hamstring. Because the A’s have only a four man bench, manager Bob Melvin was forced to move starting 2Bman Chris Coghlan to 3B, and make DH Jed Lowrie the new 2Bman. Thus, no DH, and the pitcher had to hit.
More importantly to the subject of this post, it was the first time in almost seven years that Graveman had batted in a game situation. The last time was back in high school. Graveman struck out on three pitches, although espn.com’s recap notes that he fouled off a 97 mph fastball.
In college, Graveman never batted, and playing exclusively for American League organizations in the minors, he never batted.
The upshot is that if Graveman is ever traded to the National League (and remains a starter), the odds are extremely slim that he will be anything other than an absolutely terrible hitter, simply by virtue of the fact that he has had no meaningful opportunities to hit in many, many years. The same applies for almost every pitcher who went to a college using the DH and was then drafted by an American League Organization.
A small number of pitchers have such exceptional hand-eye coordination and are such exceptionally good natural baseball players that they are better than average hitting pitchers even after years of inactivity. Zack Greinke is one of the best hitting pitchers in the NL in spite of the fact that he received only 26 plate appearances in his first nine professional seasons.
However, pitchers as a group just have to keep getting worse and worse as MLB hitters because they nearly never get to hit once they leave high school. Even minor league starting pitchers playing for National League organizations bat infrequently because they don’t bat when playing American League-affiliated opponents and minor league starters rarely go deep into games.
For example, only one pitcher managed to throw even three complete games in one season in any of the last three full AAA Pacific Coast League seasons. MLB pitchers don’t throw many complete games now either, but it’s not quite that bad.
At some point in the not too distant future, I expect the NL will adopt the DH Rule. Pitchers who can hit even a little bit are getting rarer and rarer, and the idea that the NL requires more strategy because pitchers have to hit is going to seem less and less plausible as the possibility that the pitcher as batter can reach base safely even once in a while becomes less and less likely. There just isn’t much fun for the fans in a batting slot in which the best possible outcome is a successful sacrifice bunt.