During the abbreviated 60-game 2020 MLB season, the designated hitter was made universal.
This was a good idea in the pandemic-shortened season.
It would have been a good idea, in my view, to keep it for 2021 — especially since most pitchers have now not batted in almost 18 months.
But MLB owners and players could not come to an agreement on the universal DH for this season, and so the rule reverts to its 2019 form, where NL pitchers will bat, and AL pitchers will do the same at interleague games in NL parks.
Barry M. Bloom of Sportico spoke to a number of NL managers about their preparations for pitchers resuming batting, including David Ross of the Cubs:
David Ross of the Chicago Cubs said he’s also easing his pitchers into hitting again, but they’re more than a week away from doing so live again in games.
“The rules are the rules, and I’m not one to change the rules,” he said. “My job is to plan for these guys to get their reps, get on the bases again to get in condition, just the small things they’ve got to deal with, which is going to be a change. From our standpoint, I can understand the concern. I’ll talk to other managers and see how it lines up for them as well.”
In 2019, the last time pitchers batted, Cubs pitchers hit .125/.166/.155 (38-for-303) with 139 strikeouts. This isn’t likely to improve in 2021. The five pitchers most likely in the Cubs rotation (Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies, Trevor Williams and Alec Mills) combined to hit .151/.164/.171 (30-for-199) in 2019 with no home runs and 96 strikeouts. Replace Mills with Adbert Alzolay and those numbers likely get somewhat worse — Alzolay was 0-for-5 in 2019, his only MLB at-bats.
FWIW, the last Cubs pitcher to hit a home run was Jon Lester in July 2019. I wrote this article on the most recent hit and homer by a Cubs pitcher last July, when it appeared the universal DH was here to stay.
I am aware that many of you are anti-DH. Granted that some aspects of baseball will be lost when pitchers no longer bat. But they’re so bad at it, and some have been seriously injured while batting, that pitchers and the game itself will be better, in my view, when the universal DH is finally accepted. That will likely be in the new CBA for the 2022 season. It’s possible that players and owners will adopt a modified version of the current DH rule, which has been proposed: The DH only exists as long as the starting pitcher is in the game. I could live with that — it would provide some interesting strategies and likely eliminate the “opener.” In the end, though, pitchers probably would never bat anyway.
As always, we await developments.