Starting this season, the NL and the AL are going to play interleague games in a fashion quite unlike before; namely, year-round interleague play. With this new development (making it very unfeasible to call up a Quad A guy to be your DH for the 2 weeks you play at AL stadiums), the calls for the NL to adopt the DH rule have started. I'd like to go through the arguments for the DH and tell why I don't particularly love them.
This is one of the first things that any article espousing the DH rule will be quick to point out. Traditionally, pitchers are terrible hitters, and for some reason people think this either lessens the prestige of the game or is less entertaining. I think this is a pretty awful argument. Just because most pitchers aren't very good at the plate, that doesn't mean that they all are. People are always looking to sabermetrics to find "the new market inefficiency." That inefficiency could very well be pitchers hitting.
It's also not like pitchers didn't grow up hitting the baseball anyway. There is no DH in little league, or in high school. Traditionally, your best player was your pitcher or your shortstop, and that guy hit like .600/.600/1.800. There is at least some skill there. I understand that the more time a pitcher spends in the cage is less time he spends refining his repertoire, but I very much suspect that the marginal benefit of spending an extra 2 hours taking batting instruction from world class hitting coaches could outweigh the marginal cost of the 49th and 50th hour working on mechanics/long tossing/whatever professional pitchers are doing.
One last thing. If you can't be bothered with pitchers batting, just use the double switch! You can essentially skip over your pitcher in many circumstances when replacing him, so many times your pitcher only has 3 PA in a single game. That's 3 opportunities to knock in that 7th or 8th hitter that gets on base 28-31% of the time.
This is a subjective argument. You might enjoy games with more offense – that doesn't make games with more offense objectively better. If high-scoring games are way better than low-scoring ones, why do people seem to remember shutouts and nail-biting 2-1 and 1-0 games better than 10-7 or 9-8 affairs? I love baseball; low-scoring games, high-scoring games, because they are all baseball games.
I think the real argument people are furthering here is that games are better when their team is scoring more often. I'm not sure that's objectively true, either, even if it feels good. There's also another way for games to be higher-scoring: help pitchers hit better.
That's not a road you want to start walking down. Do you know what's tremendously more dangerous to a pitcher than swinging a baseball bat? (warning: first two links are violent) This. Or this. Or this. Getting hit by line drives has literally killed coaches before. If we are talking about making sure pitchers (who, by the way, are supposed to be excellent physical specimens) don't get injured, we should be talking about making sure all infielders wear helmets or use batting practice guards, not preventing pitchers from swinging a fucking bat or running to first base half-heartedly.
Is it more unfair to the National League to not have a DH, or for the American League to have to put Adam Dunn at 1B and sit Konerko when they play the Cubs? Or put Dunn in LF? The cut runs both ways: the DH shortens American League benches for National League games (if the DH truly cannot field). It might be easier for the AL to adjust to not having a DH than it is for the NL to adjust in the other direction, but I seriously doubt it. It isn't like the NL bench bats couldn't use the extra ABs during interleague play.
A side point in this direction is "this would create more high paying jobs, so the players secretly want this to happen." I feel like this is a poor argument. It's not like there are so many DHs in the league right that some are just dying for work. Guess how many "DHs" qualified for the batting title this year? That would be 6 (50% or more games at DH). Two of them (Delmon Young, Jesus Montero) weren't even league-average hitters last year. People actually want to add 15 more DHs to baseball, so the "pure hitters" that don't exist for even half of the teams eligible to field one can find work?
Adding DHs won't increase the talent pool in baseball; it'll dilute it. You aren't going to pull more league-average hitters into the majors; you're going to to pull your worst fielder into the DH role and replace that guy with a AAA guy (Soriano to DH, replaced by Tony Campana. Woooooooo). Opening the DH just widens the fringe.
As you can tell, I come pretty heavily on the side of letting the pitcher bat. I don't think there are any really compelling reasons as to why the change should be made, and I have a few reasons why it shouldn't.
1. Playing shortstop takes a tremendous physical toll on your body. It's a different type of fatigue than a pitcher faces, no doubt, but I'd imagine that on the whole, it takes a much greater physical toll to play SS 162 games a year than it does to pitch in 32. There are also many poor hitting shortstops in baseball. Where are the calls for designated hitters for these guys? Why are the players who have to field every day forced to hit every day while the pitchers get away scott free?
This is obviously an insane argument. This line of thinking would rationalize 9 designated hitters, and no one would both field and hit. I don't believe for a second that we should have designated fielders, and I don't think anyone else does either… but it makes more sense to me than designated hitters for just pitchers (from a physical standpoint). Is there any position that would not benefit from not having to worry about hitting the baseball?
2. The game of baseball is getting tighter and tighter. After the A's played Moneyball, everything changed. Instead of going with your gut first and the numbers second, teams utilize both scouting and statistical analysis. Especially with the rising costs of competitive baseball (that would likely slightly increase with the introduction of the DH, but that's not a huge issue), and the rising intelligence of even the very bad teams, teams are looking for every edge they can get. Here's one:
On 15 teams, there currently is a collection of about 5 guys who hit pretty poorly. If you developed each of them to where they hit just .200/.250/.300, you'd double their productivity (essentially) and provide a benefit to your team that almost no other team in your league has. Of course, that's the pitcher in the National League. Owings and Zambrano and Leake and Hamels and Jackson and Wood have all shown that pitchers don't have to be terrible at hitting; they just are, usually. The pitchers that make a concerted effort to improve in that area usually do so (and the teams that field these pitchers reap the rewards). I don't think the answer to "pitchers hit poorly right now" is "don't make them hit." I think it's "teach them how to hit, because hitting is part of their job."
There's a hidden point I'm making here (that isn't so hidden). The Cubs have always had a better hitting staff than normal. 2 of the top 10 hitting pitchers last year either played for the Cubs last year (Travis Wood) or will play for them this year (Edwin Jackson). The gap between the best and worst hitting pitchers is huge, also. That means that there is a ton of room for improvement in this area that any team that wants to divert resources to hitting instruction can take advantage of.
If we're being completely honest, I don't hate the designated hitter. I think it's pretty dumb, but I'm not calling for it's repeal from the AL. Frankly, I could care less; it's been around longer than I have. I just don't think there is any compelling reason to change it now.