In recent years, it’s become apparently clear that National League rules have not shown to be in favor of the Milwaukee Brewers.
As far as thoughts on the “DH in the NL” debate, a few years ago, I was against that idea wholeheartedly. I hated the idea of bringing the DH to both leagues, completely eliminating the potential of pitchers getting the chance to hit. I was a baseball purist, you could say (although I was still okay with bat flips and such).
I felt that pitchers were athletes too, and they were playing the game just as much as the other guys on the field and belonged in the lineup.
In the past few years, however, I’ve done a complete 180 degree turn on the subject. I am now fully in the camp of bringing the DH to both leagues, and here’s why.
Reason #1: Pitcher Injuries
My mind started to turn towards bringing in the DH back in 2017, in an article you can read here. That year, the Brewers pitching staff suffered a rash of injuries, all involving the pitchers being on offense.
Opening Day starter Junior Guerra injured his calf running out a sacrifice bunt on Opening Day and missed six weeks. Chase Anderson turned himself into an ace during the middle of that 2017 season, he was the Brewers most reliable starter, and then he strained his oblique swinging at a fastball and missed six weeks.
While Anderson was out, Jimmy Nelson stepped up to be the ace of the staff. He threw a complete game, he was reaching peak velocity, he had figured out his control and had taken every step to reach his full potential. He was there. He had finally developed into the No. 1 type pitcher the Brewers always knew he would.
And then he awkwardly dove back into first base after a base hit, tore up his shoulder, and hasn’t been the same since. If Nelson were healthy that September, the Brewers would’ve made the playoffs in 2017. If they had Nelson, the Brewers likely would’ve made the World Series in 2018. If they had Nelson at his full strength for the past two years, they would’ve made it further in the postseason in 2019.
Nelson gave them a true, legitimate No. 1 ace, and not having the DH took that away from the Brewers.
Sure, adding the DH would rob us of great moments like Brent Suter homering off Corey Kluber or Brandon Woodruff homering off of Clayton Kershaw. But not having the DH robbed Jimmy Nelson of his career, and it robbed the Brewers of their first homegrown ace since Ben Sheets.
It robbed them of wins, of postseason wins, and potentially a World Series berth. I started to turn towards bringing the DH to the NL after Nelson first got injured. What has happened to him since has only further pushed me into that camp.
Reason #2: It Hurts In Free Agency
When designated hitters reach free agency, they are generally limited in the number of interested teams, since only AL teams would have spots for them. Reports earlier this winter had the Brewers with mild interest in Edwin Encarnacion, but he preferred staying as a DH and not playing the field.
With the Brewers analytically-inclined front office led by GM David Stearns, they are extremely wary of going the extra year on free agent contracts, not wanting to pay for what they believe will be a down year. It has happened a lot in baseball recently, with players signing huge long term contracts and on the back end of the deal, the player ages poorly and can’t perform at the level he’s getting paid to. The Brewers don’t want to do that, which is understandable.
But with the DH as a potential fallback, the Brewers could be willing to go that extra year in order to land the player. Let’s look at Yasmani Grandal for example. The Brewers loved him, and he loved the Brewers. It was widely expected that the Brewers would pursue him in free agency again, but he signed a four year, $73MM deal with the White Sox. The AAV on that contract is the same as he earned in Milwaukee, but they balked at going four years.
They didn’t want to pay that much for a catcher when he’s 35 and his defense will likely decline. But the White Sox could because, if his defense does decline, they can put him at DH and just use his bat, which should still be good. The White Sox had that luxury and could be comfortable going four years with that fallback. The Brewers didn’t and would be forced to play him at catcher.
If the Brewers had the DH position to offer, they likely would’ve been more willing to go for that fourth year, knowing that if his defense suffers, they could still have his bat in the lineup.
They could’ve gone after Josh Donaldson and offer four years, knowing that he likely won’t be a great defensive third baseman at 38 years old, and could put him at DH. That’s what the Twins did.
A DH spot would allow Ryan Braun a lot more rest from the outfield and keep him healthier, and frankly, if they did have a DH in 2020, that’s probably where Braun would be most often.
There are so many players that could help the Brewers now that they won’t sign because they are worried about their defense and health in the extra year or two that they would have to give them. Having the DH would change that.
Will the DH in the NL happen?
This will surely be a hot topic of discussion in CBA negotiations between MLB and the Player’s Association. The current CBA expires after the 2021 season, so at the earliest we could see the DH happen in 2022, and that’s only if both sides agree to putting the DH in the NL, which is far from a guarantee.
So it’s not a sure thing that this will happen, but there has been growing momentum in recent years to bring the DH to both leagues, and I am now throwing my support behind the movement. Bring the DH to the National League, and let these pitchers stay healthy and give all teams a fairer shot at higher level free agents.
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The Milwaukee Brewers have been suffering the consequences of being an NL team in recent years, and the AL clubs have an advantage. It’s time to even the field.