Pitcher Wandy Rodriguez of the Houston Astros walks back to the dugout after striking out in the fourth inning against the PIttsburgh Pirates at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Will the adoption of the DH in the National League be an inevitable result of the Astros' upcoming move to the American League?
Sometime Thursday, MLB owners are going to vote on approving the sale of the Houston Astros from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane. This has been quite a long process, but the sale is expected to be approved. As part of this deal, Crane has been given a "discount" -- somewhere around $70 million -- in exchange for agreeing to move the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West.
Yesterday, Marc Normandin examined exactly what kind of team Crane is inheriting and how soon they might contend again.
Today, Jeff Sullivan asked if Astros fans would accept this move. (Answer: after initial complaining, probably.)
But there's one other thing that needs to be mentioned. By moving the Astros to the American League, MLB would be creating two 15-team leagues, each having three divisions of five teams. That sounds wonderful and symmetrical and all, but there's one big problem -- unless you are going to have large blocks of off days and the World Series ending around Thanksgiving, having an odd number of teams in each league means that there would have to be one interleague series at all times.
Which would mean an increase in the number of interleague games. Now, some people are likely saying, "Great!" while others, purists who are still horrified that the leagues aren't completely separate, with league presidents with slicked-back hair and horn-rim glasses and players wearing wool flannels, yell, "No way!"
In 2011, teams played either 15 or 18 interleague games, depending on their division. One proposed schedule for two 15-team leagues goes this way:
18 games against each team in your own division = 72 games
6 games against each other team in your league = 60 games
6 games against each team in one division of the other league = 30 games
That makes 162 games, same as now, and if you think you could get that reduced to the pre-expansion 154, you're fooling yourself. No owner is going to give up the revenue from four home dates. That is the most likely split; the interleague play could be tweaked a bit to keep the "rivalry" games (Cubs/White Sox, Yankees/Mets, Giants/Athletics, etc.), although those would probably be reduced to one series a year instead of two.
Thirty interleague games aren't that many more than the current 15-18, but there's one further rub. American League teams aren't going to want to sit their DH for 15 road games -- nearly 10% of the total schedule -- and be forced to have their pitcher bat.
Which is why I think the universal DH is an inevitable result of this realignment. With two equal-sized leagues playing roughly equivalent schedules, there's no logical reason for having different rules in the leagues, which aren't really "leagues" any more; they're more like the AFC and NFC in pro football.
The DH is nearly 40 years old and was discussed in the 1920s, nearly being adopted in 1929. In 2011, major league pitchers hit .141/.175/.182. No, that's not a typo; that's a .182 slugging percentage. They struck out 1,944 times in 5,096 at-bats -- that's 38.3% of all pitcher at-bats resulting in a K. (That was actually down a bit from 2010, when the K/AB ratio for pitchers was 39.2%.) The occasional Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wolf or Yovani Gallardo notwithstanding, most pitchers are terrible hitters and many of them can't bunt, either. Further, over the last few years, several pitchers have gotten hurt (notably, Jake Peavy in 2009) running the bases. Why risk this?
It makes sense. It could be negotiated as part of the current CBA talks, or be added before the Astros join the AL in 2013 and realignment happens.
As I said, I'm not particularly a fan of the DH. But I think its time has come. We've had 40 years of two leagues operating with different rules; they are no longer separate entities. It's time to make the DH universal in major league baseball, and spare us watching guys like Ted Lilly and Matt Garza flail aimlessly at baseballs ever again.