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It looks like we won’t have the universal DH in MLB in 2021

You might rejoice if you’re anti-DH, but careful what you wish for.

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Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

We’re into the week of “virtual Winter Meetings” — reporters hanging out with baseball people over Zoom instead of in person in Dallas — and here’s one report, from Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic, about something that likely won’t happen next season, buried in a long section of that article about roster size:

MLB instructed clubs in a memo last week to proceed under the assumption the DH will not be used in the NL this year, though few will complain if the league and union reach agreement to the contrary.

Well. You already know how I feel about this issue and I already know how some of you who are opposed to the universal DH feel, so we don’t have to relitigate that.

What I will point out is this: MLB and the Players Association agreed to not have pitchers bat in the National League in 2020 and use the DH in all games. From all accounts, it worked out pretty well.

Now, you’re going to ask pitchers to bat starting in April (or whenever the season actually begins) 2021 when they haven’t done so in 18 months? This is just asking for poor performance, injuries, or both.

As a reminder, in MLB’s last full season (2019) pitchers had 5,098 plate appearances in which they hit .128/.159/.163 (574-for-4490) with 2,218 strikeouts. I’ll do the math for you: that’s a strikeout in 43.5 percent of pitcher plate appearances. They laid down 431 successful sacrifice bunts, about 8.5 percent of all pitcher plate appearances.

This also would mean that for free-agent DHs like Kyle Schwarber, Marcell Ozuna, Nelson Cruz, Domingo Santana and others, the total of teams that would be interested in signing them is cut in half.

What seems most likely to happen with the DH is summed up here:

So why bother having it again in 2021? Cubs pitchers were slightly worse than the overall group in 2019, hitting .125/.166/.155 (38-for-303) with 139 strikeouts. They did manage 23 sacrifice bunts, but Jose Quintana (5-for-54, 27 strikeouts) and Yu Darvish (5-for-56, 31 strikeouts) were particularly bad.

I grant you that the fun of seeing a pitcher hit the occasional home run will be lost when the universal DH is instituted. Those are so rare that seeing the parade of Ks isn’t worth it. And with starting pitchers throwing fewer and fewer innings these days, the number of PA for pitchers is dropping precipitously. In 2009 pitchers had 5,967 PA, nearly 20 percent more than in 2019, and 10 years before that (1999) they had 6,317 PA.

Pitchers are batting less and less these days, they have less time to “work” on hitting (something most have never done) and the risk of injury is too great. MLB owners, as usual, are being shortsighted in wanting to pry a concession from players in return for the universal DH. Both sides appear to want it. Rosenthal’s article indicates it could still happen, even if teams are told to “plan” without it.

Get it done already.