This upcoming season, the National League will—rather inexplicably—revert to its pre-2020 model of having pitchers bat in lieu of a designated hitter. The outdated practice of pitchers batting has long been a farce with most hurlers serving as automatic outs. Besides it being unwatchable (giving MLB’s increasingly distracted audience even more reason to change the channel), pushing pitchers out of their comfort zone by giving them a bat and helmet can also lead to unnecessary injuries, as Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen experienced when he suffered a stress fracture in his throwing arm while batting earlier this month.
Agent Scott Boras, who represents Gallen among other high-profile clients, is puzzled as to why the National League has yet to adopt a universal DH. “This is a health and safety issue,” argued Boras. “I want these owners to understand that you’re putting the game, and all the investment they have in pitchers, at major risk. Hamstrings, ankles, broken fingers—when you don’t run the bases and you haven’t bunted for over a year and a half, you’re asking elite athletes to do things they haven’t done.”
It’s not like Gallen, who is 2-for-19 in his career at the plate, is helping Arizona any when he steps inside the batter’s box. Neither is another Boras client, Padres newcomer Blake Snell (0-for-8 lifetime), who figures to bat on a much more frequent basis now that he’s on a National League club. “[Snell’s] been in the American League his whole career,” said Boras via Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “He goes to the National League and now he’s going to get around five at-bats and then go into a major league season. With what he means to the Padres for the next three or four years? Come on.”
A handful of pitchers—Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke among them—enjoy hitting, but the vast majority don’t, including Tigers starter and former first overall pick Casey Mize. “I’ll be excited when that’s over,” said Mize, who dreads having to bat when the Tigers visit Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis later this year. “I don’t think I’ve ever faced over 90 [mph], so I think that would be a pretty scary thing to experience.”
While MLB and the players union agreed to carry over many changes from last year’s COVID-abbreviated 2020 campaign including seven-inning doubleheaders and extra innings beginning with a runner on second base, a National League DH wasn’t one of them. Boras finds it hypocritical of MLB to prioritize health and safety with its strict COVID protocols while continuing to put pitchers in harm’s way. “If you’re doing all this stuff for COVID, and you’re doing all these things to protect the health and safety of the league, then this is a primary area. Because the reality of it is: This is going to cost more time and more injuries to players than COVID will.”
The ongoing DH debate will almost certainly be addressed in the league’s upcoming labor negotiations, but unfortunately, that won’t help Gallen or Snell in 2021.