Is the DH Dying?

A few years ago, the NFL saw a shift in how running backs were used. Rather than sticking with the single starter model, many teams shifted towards job shares, preferring to let two guys split the playing time in order to keep both more fresh and healthy than either could be by themselves. It became more efficient, in some cases, to have multiple players at the position than a single player getting all of the playing time.

We may be seeing something similar in baseball with the designated hitter. If there’s been one theme to the last two free agent periods we’ve seen, it has been a lack of interest in guys who cannot play the field, or who play it poorly. Teams have significantly pulled back from aging offense-only types, finding value in other types of players at the expense of some legitimately good hitters.

But it doesn’t appear to be just a renewed focus on the value of defense. Several teams are all but abandoning the idea of having a full-time designated hitter to begin with. The White Sox yesterday admitted that they wouldn’t be bringing Jim Thome back, because they just didn’t have the at-bats for him. Instead, their DH position will be filled with a rotation of guys that cannot hit as well as Thome. Yet, they see value in having the flexibility to use the spot for various players.

The Tigers, Mariners, and even the Yankees appear to pursuing similar strategies. Detroit has declined to bring in an additional power hitter, preferring to use their DH to give Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, and Miguel Cabrera time away from their gloves while keeping their bats in the line-up.

The Mariners are going into the season with LF and DH being a job share between various players, depending on where Milton Bradley is healthy enough to play on any given day. And while the Yankees were willing to spend $6 million to bring in Nick Johnson, he’s the kind of guy who simply can’t play every day, which will allow the Yankees to use the DH spot to rest Jorge Posada and any other veteran who needs it.

Teams are choosing to increase their flexibility, even if it comes at the expense of some production. Increasingly, teams want the option to use the DH spot as a pseudo off day for their regulars, or as a fall back plan if their banged-up position player is unable to acceptably field his position. With the move towards 12 man pitching staffs, limited bench sizes put a premium on roster flexibility, and teams are reacting by devaluing players who can’t play the field.

Given that there are only 14 designated hitter jobs in baseball to begin with, this is bad news for aging players. If even half of those teams move towards a rotating-DH plan, you’d be left with only a half dozen or so full time, offense only players. To get one of those jobs, you’d have to be a monster of a hitter, a David Ortiz in his prime kind of guy. And once you decline even a little bit, your chances of getting another job go out the window.

It will be interesting to see how teams react to this emerging DH usage.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

75 Responses to “Is the DH Dying?”

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  1. TonyPenaforHOF says:

    Interesting post. Since MLB is looking at making changes in the game, how about tweaking the DH spot like this: allow for the DH in both leagues but not for the pitcher. Think about it – teams can play a defensive wizard without sacrificing offensive production. Players like Thome can continue their careers because all teams can use one. And this will help give players in the post steroid era a chance to play long enough to remove some of those stained records. Better offense and better defense – at the same time. Good for the fans, which is good for the game.

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    • ryan says:

      Intriguing idea….but isn’t this a step closer to a football style roster, where positions are specialized? Part of my love for baseball stems from the fact that, other than the DH, players play both sides of the ball. Players are desired if they excel at both. The diversity of a player is embraced, rather than just having good offense OR defense.

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      So you would rather a pitcher hit than a Nick Punto? Not sure I agree with what you are suggesting. Even Ozzie Smith was a better hitter than 95% of pitchers.

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      • Ryan says:

        Because ozzie smith was the worst hitter ever?

        while a .262/.337/.328 slash line isn’t overwhelming, he was a more than functional hitter particularly with his glove and base running.

        now if you had said rey ordonez?

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      • Sandy Kazmir says:

        I think you missed my point, Ryan.

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    • ryan b says:

      To differentiate myself, I will have to remember to use ‘ryan b.’ I am the same ‘ryan’ (all lowercase) that posted above….

      “Better offense and better defense – at the same time.”
      True, but there could be even better offense and defense if we increased the roster sizes to accommodate 8 defensive specialists to play the field and have 8 (or 9) different players to hit. The best hitters and the best fielders, separately…this would create ‘better’ offense and defense, but I doubt there is anyone here that would advocate going this direction. Create DH or fielding-only players cheapens the game in my view.

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    • Jimbo says:

      I’ll meet you half way and suggest that all teams be allowed to substitute a DH for their pitcher…but that DH has to also be a pitcher.

      Still have all your two-way players. Still face “a” pitcher, but you face the team’s best hitting pitcher.

      There are some guys I’d love to see get 300 at bats!

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    • Jeb says:

      How about this: Totally specialize the defensive and offensive functions of a team. The lineup can consist of 9 DHs. You can field 8 outstanding fielders plus a pitcher and none of them have to hit. You’d obviously have to expand the roster a bit, but you could have all the Adam Everetts you want all over the field, and a lineup full of Jim Thomes and Jermaine Dyes. Wouldn’t that be fun?!

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  2. NEPP says:

    Or simply do away with it altogether as the reason for having it in the first place no longer exists.

    The DH was created to spur offensive production as the late 1960s/early 70s were essentially a 2nd deadball era. Get rid of it, let pitchers hit and everyone wins.

    Can you tell I’m an NL fan?

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    • TonyPenaforHOF says:

      NEEP – so am I. But I am a fan of the game and the idea that steroid abusers get the record books is a problem. I watched Bonds for years and it makes me sick he holds the HR records over Hank Aaron. We need a way to give some of the stars of the game a chance to clean it up.

      I am also a fan of a small market team. This would create parity – it is easy to pick up a good fielding/no hit middle infielder. Bring in Thome to hit in their place and now the team has both without paying big the big dollars. What would both players cost – $5 million total?

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    • Joe R says:

      Pretty much every lower level plays with the DH now. 95% of pitchers are embarassingly outclassed at the plate.

      If you go back to 1954, the earliest year b-r offers league splits, the pitcher’s league tOPS+ was an already bad 15. In 2009? It’s almost embarassing, at -6. As a position, pitchers were good (based on my half-assed calculation using Bill James’ old school RC equation, discounted based on my own study of it, and using AB-H for outs) as 0.92 RC/27. I just fail to see why seeing an unbelievably outclassed player flail away at 90 MPH cheese right down the middle is better baseball than replacing him w/ a guy who’s paid to do nothing but hit that pitch.

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      • NEPP says:

        Baseball is a game of tradition. Traditionally pitchers hit. If they eliminated the DH in the majors, the minors would soon follow and it would solve itself as in issue. It would also continue the trend towards speed and defense as you’d see far more sac hits and double switches, etc. I personally like the strategy required to manage an NL game more than the AL game. Its simply a personal preference.

        Besides, there are plenty of examples of AL pitchers moving to the NL and being surprisingly good hitters.

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      • Joe R says:

        One could argue, though, that traditionalism has been the bane of MLB’s existance in some ways. Bill James, for example, had a pretty good essay in his 2001 Historical Abstract on ways he’d change the game. A lot of it makes a whole lot of sense to me, like limiting pickoff throws per at bat.

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      • scott says:

        I’ve always wanted someone to explain to me the whole “strategy” of the NL? Isn’t it LESS strategic and MORE obvious that when Homer Bailey is coming up with one out and two on the fifth that the odds of scoring those runs are diminished by a) bunting or b) not pinch hitting for him? It makes the decision a little more clear to me that scoring those runs becomes easier if you pinch hit for him. Then again, Wily Taveras is coming up next, so the odds of those runs scoring is highly unlikely.

        It’s a myth (to me) that the NL requires “more strategy.” Some of the most “stragtegically minded managers” – Joe Maddon, Mike Scioscia – manage in the AL. If they loved stragety so much, why are they managing there? Conversely, the quintessential NL manager, Tony LaRussa, likes to use three pitchers to get three outs in the 7th inning. This does not trend towards speed (though I know that’s not the point you were trying to make).

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      • Lombard says:

        Spinning off of Scott’s comment about LaRussa, I think this reflects more on the specialization of the bullpen rather than the increased emphasis on position player defense. While managers are using guys for one out in the 7th they lose the ability to roster the superior offensive, harmful defensive guy.

        The question stemming from this would be, is that 7th inning out more valueable than 3-4 ABs from the superior offensive player? My gut would say no, but a bases loaded out with 2 down in the 7th from a LOOGY could give you a better WPA swing than a HR in the first from Thome. In a high leverage game bullpen could prove more important, but over the course of a season I’ll take Thome/Ortiz as often as possible.

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      • Matt says:

        The DH will never go away…if anything they’ll add it to the National League. Why? Does anyone honestly think that the Players Union would go for the elimination of a high paying job? No way!

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Baseball is a game of tradition.

        Which traditions?

        A set number of teams?
        Teams owning the player for his career?
        1 division per league?
        2 divisions per league?
        3 divisions per league?
        Not having interleague play?
        Not having the Wild card?
        Not lifting weights as to prevent becoming “musclebound”?
        Number of games per season?
        4 man rotations?
        Closers pitching more than 1 inning?
        A HBP demanded retaliation?
        Grass => Turf => Grass?
        Crazy park configurations/dimensions => Cookie Cutters => Retro classics?
        White/Grey jerseys => unbelievable, even rainbow colored jerseys => back to white/grey?
        Not having pitch counts?
        Jumbotrons instead of wooden scoreboards?
        Rock music instead of organs?

        Baseball traditions have changed even during my lifetime. I can even remember way to the 80s where the winner of the division was automatically in the LCS, teams wore powder blue, closers pitched the 8th and 9th and many teams used 4 SPs, and 20 HRs was considered to be the “mark” for a power season.

        I’m not seeing baseball as being as “traditional” (meaning “unchanging”) as others do. While I might wish it were, it isn’t.

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    • Tom B says:

      how does anyone win by watching some guy that can’t hit… hit?

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      • Toffer Peak says:

        Don’t you think that teams will get smarter as to the value of a good hitting pitcher though? Right now the difference between the best hitting and worst hitting pitcher is 1.4 WAR. That’s a significant fact that I think most teams are ignoring (why else would the Mets be interested in Sheets?).

        As more money goes to better hitting pitchers the quality of hitting in pitchers should improve for two reasons. First pitchers will put more effort and time into improving their hitting ability and second teams will select better hitting pitchers (and the Dave Bush’s of the world won’t have MLB pitching jobs).

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      • Wally says:

        Toffer, you’d likely see more emphasis on pitching being able to hit in the minors and even high school or college if the AL dropped the DH, but the relative amount of value a pitcher gains through his hitting is just never going to be enough to be a large factor over all.

        Just for example. In 2007 Zambrano faced 925 batters while pitching and had 86 PAs hitting. That’s just 8% of his total PA’s (pitching and hitting) as a hitter. Even if Zambrano is a reasonably good hitter, he gains a pretty minimal amount of value while taking up about a months worth of PAs for a normal starter.

        So basically, pitchers might spend *some* time learning to hit, so they are at least not automatic outs (like say actually learning how to lay down a bunt or slap something to one side of the field). But given the relative amount of playing time spent hitting, they simply can’t afford the training time to become good at both things. Which is of course shown by pitchers still being pretty bad hitters pre-DH.

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  3. JayCee says:

    The owners may well use this trend, and it makes sense to me as teams begin to more fully value defense, to try to kill the DH during the next collective bargaining. Many fans naively assume owners support the DH to improve offense- in fact, they loathe it due to the extra big salary.

    One interesting fallout from your observation, Dave, comes in fantasy leagues. In AL-only leagues, the proper DH roster spot was exceedingly thin for years. As more teams have done as you mention, in fantasy leagues with multiposition eligibility the position is becoming much, much deeper.

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    • Wally says:

      “Many fans naively assume owners support the DH to improve offense- in fact, they loathe it due to the extra big salary.”

      This wasn’t really emphasized in the article, but isn’t “adding flexibility” relatively cheap? I mean, the Yankees signed a guy for 6 million to be the flexible guy on the roster. Other teams probably pay a third of that.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      For some reason I remember a certain NYY owner being flat-out pissed off that one of his star pitchers was injured running the bases while playing at an NL park.

      Does anyone really think owners loathe the DH’s salary any more than they loathe their star pitcher out there weakly attempting to hit and run the bases?

      Let a pitcher dive headfirst into a base or hard slide to break up a double play, etc and see if he manager tells him to “never f’ing do that again” or whether he pats him on the fanny.

      I guess I’m not seeing the same reality that some of you are. No other baserunner dons a jacket. That should be reason enough in itself.

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  4. james k says:

    as a die hard whitesox fan, ozzie guillen’s decision to not bring thome back sickens me (as does his grasp of the english language). Let’s replace Thome’s 847 ops for kotsay’s 717 giving us the added benefit of kotsay playing backup first base. That’s what i call roster flexibility. Let’s throw away 25 homers and 40 or so walks so Paulie can have a half day off. Weren’t the Mariners critically panned for having an anemic offense last year? I seriously hope Kenny williams has an ace up his sleeve a la signing Johnny Damon and moving Quentin to DH. I shudder to think what a DH platoon of Kotsay/Visquel/Andruw Jones might look like. My post season hopes are getting washed down the drain.

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  5. Kevin says:

    The Angels have been doing this for the past couple of years, rotating Guerrero, Anderson, Rivera, and then Abreu through the DH spot to rest them. However in 2009, when he wasn’t hurt, Guerrero became more of a full-time DH. It’ll be interesting to see if the Angels give the lion’s share of DH at-bats to Matsui, or if they go back to the revolving door of OF/DH.

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    • scott says:

      Strategy in the AL?! Is that what you’re referring to?! Impossible!

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    • JayCee says:

      Guerrero isn’t even OF eligible anymore- I was shocked when I recently realized this.

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    • ineedanap says:


      He’s been doing it for years now. Keeps the players fresh or something.

      Anyway, I don’t see this as the end of the DH, just a change in its usage thats now being adopted all across the AL. It will be interesting to see the effectiveness of this strategy v. the previous strategy of having a guy like Ortiz hold down the spot. How one would measure such effectiveness is a different story, but the strategy itself seems to have worked well for LAA.

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  6. kds says:

    Is this really that big a change from historical usage? It seems to me that many teams, every year, did not have a full time DH. Could someone do an historical study of how many AL teams have had full time DH’s. ( or intended to but injuries prevented?)

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    • infindibulum says:

      Sparky Anderson did this all the time in Detroit back in the early and mid-90’s. In ’93, he used Gibson as his primary DH (76 gms), but he also used Fielder (36), Scott Livingstone (32 (!)), and Skeeter Barnes (13) Tettleton, Tony Phillips, Fryman, and others rotated in and out of the DH spot. He viewed the DH spot as a way to rest his regulars, most often using the inimitable Barnes as a defensive sub everywhere but catcher and CF. As to the current trend…it might be as much a function of economics as lineup strategy, if not more.

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    • Kincaid says:

      I agree, I don’t think it’s much of a change, at least not from the past decade or so. In general, teams typically divide their DH PAs between players from other positions a lot more than they do with any position in the field. DHs who are full-time in the same sense as players are full-time at other positions are already not that common compared to other positions. Most AL teams over the past decade haven’t had one player take even half the team’s PAs at DH. DHs have been a bit more full-time, on average, over the past few years than they were 5-10 years ago, and last year most teams at least had one player take more than half the team’s PAs at DH, but over the decade on a whole, that’s not the case. I wouldn’t be surprised if the typical DH next year is less full-time than in 2009, but that wouldn’t be anything out of line with what we’ve already been seeing from how teams approach the position.

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  7. The A Team says:

    That leaves the…um…Royals as the only team that has a place to play Thome? And that’s if Moore can admit that Guillen should just be cut/folded up and stored in the dark corner of the clubhouse.

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    • Not David says:

      The Twins have plenty of DH plate appearances to offer Thome, assuming they’re willing to admit that Delmon is utterly useless against righties.

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  8. Mike Ketchen says:


    I see your side of the argument but I also think their may be an opportunity for smart organizations to exploit this. Take TB or the Twins. I think 400-450ab’s for Thome at a discounted rate really strengthens there O. The problem a few years ago was teams were forced to pay a premium for these elite DH’s. This is no longer the case.

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  9. snapper says:

    I’m surprised you group the Yankees in that camp (no clear DH), Dave.

    Nick Johnson is pretty clearly the full-time DH. He just can’t play much more than 120 G’s and stay healthy, so Posada, ARod et al will get some turns there.

    No different from what they did last year with Matsui.

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    • Deelron says:

      He played 133 games last year in the NL and stayed healthy. While he’s not likely to be healthy, it’s clearly possible.

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      • snapper says:

        Sure, but that probably included some PH. Just like Matsui played in ~140 G, but only started about ~120.

        So, figure 130 Gs for NJ (120 DH, 10 spelling Tex at 1B), 30 DH Gs for Posada and 20 for ARod/Tex/Jeter.

        NJ’s still the clear starter.

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    • Matt says:

      But I think the point is that Nick Johnson COULD play 1B. He started 124 games at 1B last year so it’s not like he couldn’t fill in if Tex got hurt. When they had Matsui (or if they had someone like Ortiz, Thome, etc), they would have to go grab a replacement player from AAA.

      While it won’t most likely be a revolving door, at least the have a backup position player at the DH. Plus I’m sure they can sit him against very tough lefties (even though he’s got good splits) and let ARod/Jeter/Posada DH.

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      • snapper says:

        Sure. But they’re not planning on a “DH by committee” like some teams.

        They have a very good hitter slotted in there, even though he can play elsewhere.

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  10. Ender says:

    I’m an NL fan and I hope they bring the DH to the NL.

    1) Pitchers can’t hit, it should be painfully obvious by now that this is true. They just don’t get the reps you need to be a solid major league hitter. The average pitcher had an OPS of just .350 last year, that is just sad.

    2) Watching pitchers hit in general is pretty boring. I mean seriously, I don’t want to watch bad hitters hit in general and it creates a lull every time I’m at a game.

    3) It just isn’t fair to the NL right now. Every year a dozen or more NL pitchers get hurt hitting and running the bases and over time this takes a huge toll on the NL teams.

    I’d rather see the NL get the DH but I think it is past time that they equalize these things in some way. If that means the AL loses it then fine but keeping them different is the worst of both worlds.

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    • roc says:

      #2 = Bathroom break

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    • Derek R-C says:

      While I agree with most of what you are saying, I don’t agree with your #3 statement.

      If pitchers can’t run the bases with out getting hurt, they shouldn’t be a professional athlete. I know pitching is specialized but come on, even Prince Fielder can run the bases.

      As far as getting hurt while hitting, if you can’t swing a bat without injurying yourself doing it, you shouldn’t be a professional athlete. I am not talking about not getting hits, I am talking about swinging the bat and hurting themselves. I probably couldn’t get a hit in the MLB all season, but I know I wouldn’t hurt myself just from swinging the bat.

      If you are talking about getting hurt by bean pitches, there is a reason for that. That is the great equalizer in the NL, if you bean a player on the other team, expect to be beaned back.

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      • Tom B. says:

        You didn’t get what he meant. He’s not saying pitchers shouldn’t be expected to be able to “run the bases.” He’s saying it’s unfair to make NL pitchers play in a more dangerous environment that AL pitchers. Hitting and running the bases in more dangerous than sitting on the bench between innings. That’s tough to argue with.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        As far as getting hurt while hitting, if you can’t swing a bat without injurying yourself doing it, you shouldn’t be a professional athlete. I am not talking about not getting hits, I am talking about swinging the bat and hurting themselves. I probably couldn’t get a hit in the MLB all season, but I know I wouldn’t hurt myself just from swinging the bat.

        Given that even great athletes, specifically speedsters, get hurt (pulled hammies, strained calfs, etc) running the bases and the games’s best hitter injured an oblique swinging the bat, I can’t think of your comments as being anything other than either pure dumb or just clueless.

        I seem to remember Ventura, Kendall, and Alou breaking their ankles … in painful and entertaining (highlight clips) ways, running the bases. Most leg injuries of MLB players come from “running the bases”. I do give you credit for not saying that “players that hurt their shoulders/elbows throwing the ball shouldn’t even be athletes”. So, you’ve got that going for ya.

        Jermaine Dye even broke his leg fouling a pitch off his shin. I mean what an idiot, how did this moron even make it to the majors (<= sarcasm).

        Think about what you say.

        I say all that while acknowledging (like the previous poster said) that you completely missed the point of the post you were responding to.

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    • Doug Lampert says:

      If I were dictator of MLB, I’d eliminate the DH and also say pitchers don’t need to hit.

      Seriously, is it that unthinkable to have an 8 man batting rotation? Just allow a team to leave one player off the rotation when setting up their batting order.

      Why does not making pitchers hit => having a player who does nothing but hit?

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      • Wally says:

        Good point. I’d never even thought of that. My guess is that this would be relatively unwelcome however. This would mean that regular players would get through the line up 11% more often for one thing. This would be the same thing as adding 18 games to the schedule. Meaning a readjustment on what are good standards for counting stats (which many on this page wouldn’t care about, but certainly a lot of people would). So, 200 hits is now pretty easy to get and 250 is more of the bar. Then one day A-rod would hit 80 HRs in a season or something, and 20 years down the road 3000 hits isn’t the bar its 3500. Etc…. Then of course pitchers would tire faster because they would go through the line up more facing the better hitters more, ERA’s would probably go up, but we’d have an extra roster spot for a reliever (ah the day of the 13 man pitching staff!).

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I’m trying to figure out why this post has more thumbs down than thumbs up votes?

        Doesn’t it make more sense to just NOT have the P bat, and have both leagues go without a DH and have an 8-man lineup?

        That seems to make more sense than just having a DH. You just lose the DH and have a DP.

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    • durs836 says:

      Plus (and i saw this way too many times last year) a pitcher gets on first or second with two outs, next hitter hits one in the gap and the pitcher is busting his but trying to score. The inning ends shortly after and they get to the mound still slightly winded. Think what you want but that will effect most pitchers especially if they have to take the mound immediately afterwards. Most pitchers dont practice sprints and aren’t conditioned to immediately bounce back.

      I myself am in favor of having the same rules in both leagues. I dont care if its one way or another they just need to play by the same rules. The DH would allow teams like the offensive starved Giants to get guys like Thome and not have to worry about the lack of production from defensive wiz’s like Ishikawa.

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  11. John Q says:

    I think it’s a mistake A.L. teams are making. I think it’s basically just a measure to save money.

    Baseball Prospectus did a study on this a year or two ago and found many A.L. teams were under-utilizing the D-H position by making it a piecemeal quasi day off for position players. They would be better off treating it like a full time position and putting a very good hitter in that spot for 500-600 P.A.

    I’ve always thought A.L. teams don’t take advantage of a N.L. players like Adam Dunn and try to acquire them to DH for their team.

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  12. Jay Wells says:

    Seems like this is the next undervalued asset in the baseball world to me. Why an Adam Dunn isn’t a full-time DH is a complete mystery to me.

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      He’s stated that he doesn’t want to DH. Should a GM trade an asset for him and then either watch him pout or outright refuse to play the position?

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  13. rotofan says:

    You’ve presented an interesting hypothesis but I’m not persuaded by your evidence that your hypothesis is correct (or incorrect). It would be interesting to further test that hypothesis by doing considerably more research on historical DH usage because in order to argue there’s been a change you must first show what the historical usage has been.

    Your hypothesis assumes that before last year teams used DH’s who were offensively productive but couldn’t field or couldn’t field effectively. That may very well correct, but as a starting point, I’d like to see to what extent that was true.

    In short, we need a baseline so that we can see if usage last year, this year and in future years is markedly different.

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    • Joe R says:

      I don’t think the problem is that teams are moving away from the DH. I think the problem is that the DH really has no stars at the moment. Lind was the best one in 2009, and how many people outside of Toronto even know who Adam Lind is?

      Just wait for the next fat guy who can go .320/.450/.570 and DHing will be back. Just right now, there’s no one that’s both a great hitter and big enough of a defensive liability that you DH him 155 times a year.

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      • Tito Jackson says:

        Yeah I agree. The current DH’s are just in a lull and are mostly older players in decline and near retirement. But it is possible that Adam Dunn could be landing in the AL as a DH in 2011, and with Lind and possibly Jesus Montero as well, perhaps things won’t look so bleak for DH’s in 2011.

        Btw, why the heck did the Mariners sign Griffey rather than Jim Thome?

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  14. Joncarlos says:

    I think this is a natural response to the changing economics of the game. If you want to sign a slugger as a free agent, you have to give him a few years if he’s anywhere near his prime. Towards the end of that contract, he’s going to look a lot better as a DH. So you’re using your DH spot to get some value out of a sunk cost, and most of the time the defensive position is filled by someone young and under the club’s control. Look at the Yankees with Matsui at DH and Melky in CF last year (Damon started in CF and eventually replaced Matsui in LF)

    Similarly, if you have a guy like Damon who isn’t quite ready to be a full-time DH, you can still get more value out of your investment by putting him in that role a couple times a week. Most teams have a guy hanging around at the end of a deal who can be their DH. And once they’re in that mindset, then they think it’s the way they should go forever. I honestly think the Yankees are finally waking up and realizing that Posada and Jeter are heading down the defensive spectrum eventually and they shouldn’t commit to someone for 4 years as a full-time DH.

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  15. Jonathan says:

    Replacing strictly DH-players with a rotating set of players in the DH spot may also be a form of market correction. Teams like the Tigers must rotate players through the DH spot because they signed multiple old players with poor defensive skills to prohibitive contracts when times were good. Their place as a DH hitter is a product of regressing defense and outstanding contract value.

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  16. rotofan says:

    While Dave is among the best writers on baseball that I have found, this time there’s reason to believe that he’s simply wrong.

    I posted earlier that his hypothesis about DH-use was interesting but needed to be tested, and more specifically, he had to make a case about how DH’s were used in the past before he could persuasively argue that their use appears to be changing.

    I’ve done some initial research using searchable data at and that research suggests to me that teams in the past did NOT typically use full-time DH’s, and if that is true, the examples Dave cites represent a continuation of that pattern rather than a break.

    I used the following criteria for my search (and this was done on the fly so I’m not suggesting the criteria used were the best):

    – period: 1980 to 2009
    – How many players played at least 100 games in a season and played at least 90% of those games as a DH?

    Here are the year-by-year results, noting that years with no DH’s making the criteria are skipped:

    6 1981 4 Don Baylor / Greg Luzinski / Hal McRae / Al Oliver
    7 1983 3 Greg Luzinski / Hal McRae / Ken Singleton
    8 1984 4 Reggie Jackson / Dave Kingman / Greg Luzinski / Andre Thornton
    9 1985 3 Dave Kingman / Gorman Thomas / Andre Thornton
    10 1986 2 Dave Kingman / Andre Thornton
    11 1988 2 Harold Baines / Brian Downing
    12 1989 2 Brian Downing / Dave Parker
    13 1990 2 Dwight Evans / Dave Parker
    14 1991 4 George Brett / Jack Clark / Chili Davis / Dave Parker
    15 1992 2 George Bell / Glenn Davis
    16 1994 3 Jose Canseco / Chili Davis / Paul Molitor
    17 1996 3 Harold Baines / Chili Davis / Edgar Martinez
    18 1997 3 Chili Davis / Edgar Martinez / Paul Molitor
    19 1998 3 Edgar Martinez / Paul Molitor / Frank Thomas
    20 1999 2 Jose Canseco / Edgar Martinez
    21 2001 2 Brad Fullmer / Edgar Martinez
    22 2002 2 Ellis Burks / Frank Thomas
    23 2005 2 Travis Hafner / David Ortiz
    24 2006 4 Travis Hafner / David Ortiz / Frank Thomas / Jim Thome
    25 2008 3 David Ortiz / Gary Sheffield / Jim Thome

    If the criteria I used are fair and if the results are accurate, here’s what I would conclude:

    (1) Full-time DH’s have been the exception since 1980 so what we are seeing this year and last don’t seem like the start of something different.
    (2) I don’t see a trend in the use of full-time DH’s over time, though perhaps more vigorous data searching would reveal something.

    I also did a similar search with an 80% threhold:

    6 1981 4 Don Baylor / Greg Luzinski / Hal McRae / Al Oliver
    7 1982 6 Don Baylor / Greg Luzinski / Hal McRae / Ken Singleton / Andre Thornton / Richie Zisk
    8 1985 5 Don Baylor / Mike Easler / Dave Kingman / Gorman Thomas / Andre Thornton
    9 1986 5 Don Baylor / Reggie Jackson / Cliff Johnson / Dave Kingman / Andre Thornton
    10 1989 4 Brian Downing / Jeffrey Leonard / Dave Parker / Larry Sheets
    11 1990 3 Dwight Evans / Chris James / Dave Parker
    12 1991 6 Harold Baines / George Brett / Jack Clark / Chili Davis / Brian Downing / Dave Parker
    13 1992 6 George Bell / George Brett / Chili Davis / Glenn Davis / Brian Downing / Dave Winfield
    14 1994 4 Jose Canseco / Chili Davis / Julio Franco / Paul Molitor
    15 1996 5 Harold Baines / Chili Davis / Edgar Martinez / Paul Molitor / Mickey Tettleton
    16 1997 4 Chili Davis / Reggie Jefferson / Edgar Martinez / Paul Molitor
    17 1998 5 Edgar Martinez / Paul Molitor / Tim Salmon / Matt Stairs / Frank Thomas
    18 1999 6 Harold Baines / Jose Canseco / Chili Davis / John Jaha / Edgar Martinez / Rafael Palmeiro
    19 2000 3 Brad Fullmer / Edgar Martinez / Frank Thomas
    20 2001 3 Ellis Burks / Brad Fullmer / Edgar Martinez
    21 2003 3 Edgar Martinez / Josh Phelps / Frank Thomas
    22 2004 3 Erubiel Durazo / Travis Hafner / Edgar Martinez
    23 2006 5 Jonny Gomes / Travis Hafner / David Ortiz / Frank Thomas / Jim Thome
    24 2007 6 Travis Hafner / David Ortiz / Gary Sheffield / Frank Thomas / Jim Thome / Jose Vidro
    25 2008 3 David Ortiz / Gary Sheffield / Jim Thome

    Here’s what I can conclude:
    (1) The full-time DH was least prevalent in the 1980s – four years no one met the threshold
    (2) There is wild variation from year to year which suggests it’s imprudent to make conclusions based on two years of data.

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    • rotofan says:

      The data above is incomplete — I belatedly noticed that the source only included up to 25 players for each search and the actual list using the two sets of criteria is considerably longer. From that I conclude the following:

      (1) You shouldn’t make any conclusion from the incomplete data I presented.
      (2) If someone has a subscription to, perhaps he or she can get the full data.
      (3) Hopefully Eric R below was more careful than yours truly.

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    • John Q says:

      I think this gives you a good idea on how the DH was basically used since 1980.

      One thing that stands out to me is how the DH was underutilized by playing many player, (Evans, Brett, Bell, and Glen Davis) Who were well past their prime and DH quite a bit for their team.

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  17. Fergie348 says:

    The season is too long, and now they’re testing for greenies. There’s only so much coffee a 35 year old guy can drink without spending 2+ hours a day in the bathroom, so it’s no wonder that young and flexible are the bywords of today’s front office.

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  18. Eric R says:

    I broke down 30 years of the AL into three groups; 1978-1987, 1988-1997 and 1998-2007 and did a count on how many teams had a single DH get 150+ games, 130-149 games, 110-129 games, 82-109 games and no player with more than 81 games. Did that as a percentage and graphed it.

    Using one DH for 150+ games has been declining. Otherwise, the first two time periods were very similar. 1998-2007 was also pretty similar to the other two in the percent of teams having primary DHs for 110-149 games. the recent group had a tremendous drop-off in 82-109 which causes a jump in the last group.

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  19. from

    I was listening to 670 THE SCORE earlier today, and heard a strange comment by Mully and Hanley. Mully and Hanley tried to say “hey look, we love Jim Thome and appreciate all that he’s done for Chicago, but he was only a 1 WAR player last season” (in actuality, Thome was a +1.5 WAR player in 3-4 months (he did not play in NL-interleague games) of ABs for the White Sox as a DH, and a -0.2 WAR player off the bench for the Dodgers in extremely limited ABs). Bless their hearts for trying to use Fangraphs and sabermetrics to support their arguments, but it’s important to use the statistics right for them to be valuable and effective.

    True, Thome is aging, worth “only” about +2 WAR pr 600 PAs and is also limited by both age and health to a DH-only role. +2 WAR is still valuable, but let’s just say it’s not enough for the Sox. What Mully and Hanley didn’t account for, however, is that DH’s generally have limited value in general because they provide one-side of the game contribution and get a -17.5 run reduction (-1.7 WAR) from their batting line. In other words, any DH is inherently less valuable and going to have limited value in comparison to “other baseball players” who play the field.

    If you are signing a player in general who will play the field, you want a guy who will maximize his total contribution. In the average player, this contribution is a combination of position, offense and defense. Becauase there are more imputs for the non-DH, a non-DH who does not have Adam Dunn-like fielding abilities will inherently have a higher WAR; especially if they play a premium position like SS. The higher the WAR, the better the player. Teams want +5 WAR guys over the +3 WAR guys and the +2 WAR guys over the +1 WAR guys.

    However, the perspective of evaluation must change slightly when you look to sign a DH-only player. A DH-only player only contributes offense. His WAR will be negatively impacted by the fact that he is a DH, no matter how good his bat is. If player A and player B are both equally good at offense, but player A is an average defensive LF (-7.5 run adjustment, +0 fielding runs) and player B is a DH (-17.5 run adjustment), WAR would not be the best method to evaluate which player to sign if you are looking to sign either A or B to a DH-only role. Player A looks better because his WAR is likely to be a full integer higher than B, but that does not mean A will be more valuable than B in the DH-only role. What teams should be looking at when evaluating prospective DH-only role players is not “who had the better WAR,” but who had the better Batting Runs Above Replacement (BRAR) line.

    Quick tangent, on that note: Rotating mediocre offensive players, whose total value comes from all-around play, through the DH role is a terrible idea. The DH exists to maximize offense. Omar Visquel, who posted +1.3 WAR in limited action (62 games) last season, will not translate into winning an additional games if you play him at DH.

    You want a guy like Thome because all he can give you is batting and he does it quite well. As I mentioned before, it is one thing if you are someone to play OF or 1B or whatever. If this be the case, then by all means, please use WAR to compare and contrast players. Here, you want the healthiest, most all-around contributing player. However, this is a DH-only situation for Jim Thome and any team looking to sign him is looking for a DH-only player to play only DH. In this situation, you need to look not at WAR, but BRAR, and note that a DH-only player is bound to have a more limited WAR than comparably good hitting non-DH-only players.

    Of all DH’s who received 250+ PA’s last year, only three (Adam Lind, Jason Kubel and Hideki Matsui) had WARs higher than Thome (who posted a +1.5 WAR mark as a DH for the Sox). Of those three, only Lind was worth +3 or more WAR (+3.7, to be exact). Additionally, all three of Lind, Kubel and Matsui received somewhere between 100 and 200 more PA’s than Thome did in 2009.

    Thus, we cannot evaluate a DH from last season, who we are prospectively signing as DH for this season, and say “oh he’s only an X WAR guy.” Obviously the guy whose slightly good at defense and offense combined and plays a valuable position will be worth more in the field, but as a DH, it’s about one thing and one thing only. What’s your batting line? And Thome’s is still good.

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  20. Eric R says:

    “(3) Hopefully Eric R below was more careful than yours truly.”

    Well, one thing you did that I neglected was to look at games at DH comapred to total games for the year for the player. If the team had two players get 80 games each all, or nearly all, at DH and little or nothing else, then that team really falls into the 150+ group since despite splitting time between multiple players they essentially had a full-time DH. I find it hard to believe there would be a team using 2 roster spots to platoon DH without either one of them being utilized at other positions at any significant frequency…

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    • Eric R says:

      Here is a new chart where rather than looking for particular players who DHed alot for one team, I used the sum of all players on the team who were DHs in 90%+ of their games. I changed the years to:

      1973-1984 [1981 excluded]
      1995-1997 [1994-5 excluded]

      Definately looks like a downward trend in terms of dedicated DH(s).

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