With Major League owners having their quarterly meeting yesterday, Commissioner Rob Manfred seemed to be emboldened by a number of changes he has seemingly wanted to implement since taking over for Bud Selig.
The most radical change to the sport to emerge from the meeting was Manfred’s belief Major League Baseball is getting closer to adopting a universal DH according to David Lennon of Newsday, “I think that is a continuing source of conversation among the ownership group and I think that the dialogue actually probably moved a little bit.”
Since the American League adopted the designated hitter in 1973, it has long been a topic of discussion as to how long before the National League would follow suit. In the ensuing 45 years, we have seen most leagues adopt the DH with the DH also being utilized for international play, colleges, the All Star Game, and for all games played in American League parks.
Now, it is a widely misconstrued belief the DH has been adopted by each and every professional league outside the National League. In fact, the Central League of the NPB also has no DH. To that end, Japanese professional baseball closely models Major League Baseball.
Typically, the arguments surrounding the implementation of a universal DH are predicated upon the argument fans do not want to see pitchers hit and the DH leads to an increase of offense.
As reported by ESPN, four of the top five teams in attendance this season are National League teams. That would seem to indicate there are a host of fans who are not put off by pitchers batting. Considering the Rockies lead the Majors in pitcher plate appearances with 145, which is roughly two plate appearances per game, it is not surprising how little pitchers hitting has impacted the amount of fans who are attracted to the National League style of play.
What is surprising is the purported effect of the DH on offense. So far in the 2018 season, American League teams average 4.397 runs per game as opposed to 4.343 runs per game for National League teams. Over the course of a full 162 game season, that’s an additional 8.7 more runs scored in a season by an American League team. That’s a negligible difference.
The 2018 season is no outlier either. In 2017, American League teams averaged 4.7 runs per game to the National League’s 4.6 runs per game. In 2016, the American League averaged 4.5 runs per game to the National League’s 4.4 runs per game.
Simply put, the reasons why Manfred is pushing for a universal DH does not match what the data shows.
It should then come as no surprise some of the other ideas which emanated from the general manager’s meetings would be to eliminate Friday games for the sake of making the schedule more fan friendly. The converse of that is more weekday games with teams being able to increase rates for weekend games as part of their hybrid pricing models.
While on the topic of fan friendly topics which generate interest in the sport, Manfred noted he was forced to take down the viral video of Terry Collins and Noah Syndergaard getting tossed because of the labor deal with the umpire’s union.
On the topic of eliminating defensive shifts, it appears discussions are being held, but at the moment, there does not appear to be any proposals on the table which would eliminate shifts.
Overall, while it may appear Manfred is looking to make radical changes to the game of baseball, it should be noted the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) does not expire until 2021, and it is not likely any of these radical changes, namely the universal DH, would be implemented until after a new CBA is negotiated and ratified.