The Upside of Designated Hitting

Matt Adams is on pace for 14 HR over somewhere around 300 plate appearances this season. Adams is 24 years old and has hit enough in the minors to prove he no longer belongs there and has hit enough in limited time this season to prove that his playing time shouldn’t be limited. Given his size, Adams is tethered to first base and figures to be slightly-to-firmly below average at the position, while mashing enough with the bat to make you not care. Given his youth and assuming a strong work ethic, Adams will likely be able to pass as a first baseman for at least a few seasons, but, for all intents and purposes, he’s a designated hitter.

As of this moment, Carlos Beltran has 17 real home runs in 280 at bats and, for what it’s worth, will most likely start the All-Star game for the NL in the outfield. Beltran has a .384 wOBA, good enough to put him in the top 20 in baseball this season, but, at 37 years old and with a surgically repaired right knee, any play in the field that is a shade more than routine comes with an added risk. Yet, one of life’s great pleasures is watching Carlos catch fly balls. He’s smooth like a stick of butter sprayed with WD-40. And you curse time and age for taking that from the world, but, for all intents and purposes, Beltran should become a designated hitter to prolong his career.

When considering these players side by side, you find exactly nothing in common other than they can both swing a baseball bat. But time and circumstance has brought them together in St. Louis and has given them the added similarity that they both play for a team that can’t maximize their value going forward. And that’s not a dig at the team – the Cardinals are a talent maximization powerhouse – them’s just the breaks when your team is outlawed from using the designated hitter.

If you’re a fan of the National League style of baseball, then you’re a staunch opponent of the DH. If you’re a fan of small ball and bunts and controlled run environments and pitchers flailing hilariously away in the batter’s box, then you oppose 13-12 games and added roster flexibility. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Since 1973, it’s been tradition in baseball that the American League uses the DH, and the National League collectively turns their nose up at the thought.  And while I’ve always been a proponent of keeping the DH out of the NL, I’m starting to warm to the idea.

More accurately, I’m wishing the Cardinals had a way to deal with the roster crunch that’s coming. I find myself saying, “I like Matt Adams. The Cardinals should keep Matt Adams.” Then I say, “I like Carlos Beltran. The Cardinals should keep Carlos Beltran.” But these things are mutually exclusive. Without the hand of God or a natural disaster on the injury front, you can’t have both. Then I realize that the DH could make this possible, while simultaneously solving a host of other “problems” for the Cardinals. So, while I know the DH isn’t coming to the NL fast enough to work this out, I’m going to be a little more open to the idea when the topic gets discussed in earnest.

 

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