*** Pitcher at the plate: Guess what kind of chance he has with this stance?
The designated hitter rule is back in conversation after reports about what the MLB and Players’ Association are discussing. This has prompted the usual intense debate about DH vs. no DH, though it seems like the N.L. adopting the DH is inevitable as Ivan Nova’s return to the dugout (the Pirates pitcher has reached base twice in 116 plate appearances the past two seasons).
But it’s not. There’s another solution. A solution that SOUNDS much more radical than it really is. A solution that abolishes the designated hitter AND the mostly-pathetic results when pitchers try to hit.
The solution is: eight-man lineups.
Now, reader, I need you to toss away that initial gut reaction like you’re Barry Bonds flinging his elbow armor after yet another walk. Just chuck that initial “WHAT?” to the side and give me a few paragraphs; I think you’ll start to see it.
Eight-man lineups! I’m as traditional as the next lifelong baseball fan — I still hate that there are lights at Wrigley — but I also know baseball needs to make changes. I draw the line at anything that impinges upon the actual PLAY of the game. I like four balls, three strikes, use any shift you want, don’t put runners on base automatically in extra innings. No changes that fundamentally affect the pitch-by-pitch aspect of the game.
But an eight-man lineup … why, that’s less radical than the DH rule itself. It’s less radical than allowing a team that didn’t win its division to compete for the World Series. It’s less radical than instant replay. And while we may disagree with some of these changes, none of them impeded the growth of baseball at all.
With an eight-man lineup, you get the best of both worlds: There’s no DH, so you can’t hide poor fielding skills. All players must actually PLAY. More strategy is introduced because everybody must play offense and defense. The trade-offs in both directions intensify. But there’s also no pitchers batting. Pitchers can focus on what they do best (pitch) and also never have to leave a game simply because they’re next up at the plate with their .150 on-base percentage.
The advantages are clear: We’ll get to see more plate appearances by great hitters. Eight-man lineups means rotating through the lineup quicker. The No. 9 hitter averages slightly under 4 PAs per game (source: “The Book” by Tango, Lichtman, Dolphin). So the top half of the 8-man lineup — your best hitters — would get more PAs every game. Wouldn’t you rather see that? If the Red Sox want J.D. Martinez in the lineup, he’s going to have to play the outfield or first base. But he’s going to come up to the plate one more time every game. Let’s look at a few “what-if” examples from 2018 …
Boston Red Sox 8-man lineup, 2018
Essentially, Alex Cora would have had to weigh Martinez’s offense vs. Bradley’s defense.
- Betts – CF (extra PA per game on average)
- Benintendi – LF (extra PA per game)
- Martinez – RF (extra PA per game unless Bradley subs in with a lead)
- Bogaerts — SS (extra PA per game)
- Moreland – 1B
- Devers – 3B
- Nunez – 2B
- Leon – C
New York Yankees 8-man lineup, 2018
The Yankees probably wouldn’t have traded for Andrew McCutchen late in the year because Judge and Stanton would have played in the OF every night.
- Hicks – CF (extra PA per game on average)
- Judge – RF (extra PA per game)
- Gregorius – SS (extra PA per game)
- Stanton – LF (extra PA per game)
- Andujar – 3B
- Sanchez – C
- Bird/Voit – !B
- Torres – 2B
In the NL, of course, the only real change is that the pitcher falls out of the order. Look how much time we’ve just saved Joe Maddon each day as he no longer has to ponder whether to bat his SP eighth or ninth! But the big change is the top of the lineup gets more PAs. Here were some regular “top threes” — you’d see more plate appearances by …
Chicago Cubs 1-3 order, 2018
Atlanta Braves 1-3 order, 2018
Don’t you want to see those six guys at the plate more than pitchers Mike Foltynewicz (3 for 58), Anibal Sanchez (1 for 41) or Kyle Hendricks (4 for 60)? Of course you do.
So, what are the disadvantages to this idea? There are only two, possibly, and both are reaches:
The first is tradition. An eight-man lineup SOUNDS strange. It’s a change from the birth of baseball. But it’s not a change in how the game is played, just how it is organized. Some people like the triadic symmetry of baseball — three bases, three strikes, three outs, nine fielders, nine batters, nine innings … but there’s nothing tangible about all that. It’s just tradition. We’ll all get over it quickly.
The second is that players might have to retire earlier — and thus we get to see them less — because they physically can’t play the field at their advanced playing age. There could be something to this, but baseball did just fine for 50 years in the live-ball era before the DH was introduced. Again, the trade-off would be the enhanced strategy and debate — What sacrifice would the A’s make to get Khris Davis regular PAs? What about the Mariners with Nelson Cruz? The best argument here is David Ortiz, but the end of his career was a nearly-unexplainable outlier in many ways.
When you weigh the pluses and minuses, it’s actually a little surprising this idea hasn’t received more traction. It dovetails with many other components of my common-sense Master Plan to Fix Baseball, which I’ve been sharing for privately for 10 years but may not be truly unveiled until I succeed Rob Manfred as Commissioner.
So there it is, our common-sense solution to the DH Dilemma: eight-man lineups. Natural. Simple. Let’s get it done.