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Death to pitchers hitting and long live the designated hitter, baby

It’s been a long time coming

Billy Butler #16 of the Kansas City Royals hits an RBI double in the second inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game Six of the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Billy Butler #16 of the Kansas City Royals hits an RBI double in the second inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game Six of the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Our long national nightmare is over: we have a deal. Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have signed a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. For another blessed five years, at least, we won’t have to worry about a CBA-related work stoppage.

In addition, the players achieved some notable gains, not the least of which is the increase in minimum salary, which was set at $570,000 and scoots all the way up to $700,000 this year with yearly increases of $20,000. Additionally, there’s a league-wide bonus pool of $50 million that will be distributed among pre-arbitration players, effectively sending even more money to young players.

However, there’s something here that truly gets me excited. See if you can spot it in Evan Drellich’s tweet.

That’s right: a universal DH! In practice, this means that the National League will adopt the designated hitter for the first time, because, as we all know, the American League already has the rule in effect.

If you grew up with an NL team, you probably think that the DH is aesthetically terrible and not how real baseball should be played. If you grew up with an AL team, you have no issues with the DH and don’t even think about it until Jake Junis or whoever the hell it may be has to hit big league pitching for the first time in their professional career in, like, Cincinnati or Milwaukee.

Of course, even with the caveat that I grew up in AL cities—Cleveland and Kansas City—I have endless glee that the correct way to play professional baseball has won out, and all of you NL-truthers out there will just have to deal with it. The DH is here for good, and the game is better for it.

We all know that the reason that the DH rule exists is because pitchers are terrible at hitting. But the raw numbers are way more damning than you might think. Over the last century, pitchers have gotten nearly 60 points worse per wRC+, a metric that properly weighs all offensive outcomes and sets league average at 100. They have done so in a shockingly linear fashion.

A graph showing how terrible pitchers are at hitting

Pitchers haven’t even had a composite wRC+ of even zero since E.T. was the hit movie of the summer. Since then, they’ve managed to get worse, somehow. This is the core of the DH argument, which the American League sharply realized half a century ago: the vast majority of pitchers are flatly incompetent at hitting. The existence of Shohei Ohtani is not an argument for pitchers hitting, but rather a bright light that casts gnarly shadows that remind us all what it could be like if the ninth spot in your lineup wasn’t filled by a potato.

But beyond that, the game of baseball as a whole has moved beyond pitchers needing to hit. Only the NL and the Nippon Professional Baseball Central League in Japan operate without the DH rule; otherwise, the DH rule is nearly universal. The Korean Baseball League? DH. The NPB Pacific League? DH. The Dominican Winter League? DH. College baseball played at NCAA levels? DH. Minor League Baseball? DH. Independent baseball, such as the Kansas City Monarchs? DH.

Look: I like that not having a DH means that more bench players get more action in games. That’s fun. But it’s at the expense of being forced to watch an excruciatingly stupid event half a dozen times a game. And, let’s be honest, avoiding having relievers hit in their spot is “strategy” in the same way that avoiding steering into concrete barriers on the highway is “driving.”

Thank God we never have to hear about the DH rule ever again. That’s just how baseball is now. The league was never going to continue indefinitely with one half having adopted an effective rule decades ago and the other league gleefully shooting itself in the foot one out of every nine times a batter comes up to the plate. Everyone’s on the same playing field now, as it should have been in 1973 for the entire league. It just took a little while to get there.