How the universal DH would impact the Cubs
How the universal DH would impact the Cubs
After decades of an uneven playing field, the American League and National League are one step closer to playing under the same rules with a DH.
After decades of an uneven playing field, the American League and National League are one step closer to playing under the same rules. Whether you like the designated hitter or not, it has been a mainstay of the game in the AL since 1973, allowing one player to hit in the pitcher's spot in the lineup without having to take a position on the field. The rules regarding the DH have somewhat evolved, too. Originally, the World Series featured no designated hitter for either team. In 1976, the rules were changed so that the DH would be available in every game of the World Series but on a rotating, year-by-year basis. It wasn't until 1985 when the DH became tied specifically to the home team, which is how we understand the rule today. Games played in a National League park feature no DH, while American League parks allow it for both sides. Along the way, the designated hitter has expanded. It's now used to some degree at practically every level, including high school, college, and the minor leagues. There has long been a traditionalist argument against adopting the DH in the NL, predicated on the game having always been played that way. Some like the style of strategy that is inherent in having to work around a pitcher hitting for himself. Bunts, pinch-hitters, and the like. But in the modern game it's time for baseball to evolve, and that means bringing the DH to the National League. The MLBPA agrees, and a recent proposal they made to the league regarding pace of play included exactly that, according to The Athletic's [Ken Rosenthal](https://theathletic.com/802364/2019/02/05/rosenthal-three-batter-requirement-for-all-pitchers-universal-dh-part-of-proposals-that-could-bring-big-change-to-baseball/). “A universal designated hitter — something the players have sought for more than three decades, according to commissioner Rob Manfred — also was part of the union’s proposal. Under the plan, the National League would adopt the DH for the 2019 season.” Even if the proposal is accepted, it seems unlikely that the DH would be implemented in the NL for the 2019 season. Even with an astounding number of quality free agents yet unsigned, the majority of teams have their budgets and rosters set as we get closer to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. But wouldn't it be fun to see it happen? For a team like the Cubs, there are plenty of options. First on Theo Epstein's agenda should be to go back to Tom Ricketts one last time to ask if he'll reconsider allowing more money to sign Bryce Harper, but that's even more unlikely than the NL adopting the DH in the first place. Beyond a major change, the Cubs have several designated hitter candidates already on their roster. The first, and most obvious, is left fielder Kyle Schwarber. He is a former catcher with the frame of a linebacker, and would probably be better suited to play at first base. But thanks to the existence of Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs were forced to move Schwarber to the outfield back in his rookie season of 2015. It was playing in left field where the inexperienced Schwarber tore his ACL in 2016, forcing him to miss the entire regular season and the majority of the playoffs. Prior to the 2018 season, it would've been a slam-dunk to DH Schwarber on practically an everyday basis. But he worked hard on his defense and conditioning in the offseason, and as a result the 25-year-old looked more natural in the field last year. According to FanGraphs, his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) moved from a well-below average -9 in 821 innings in 2017 to 2 in 943 innings in 2018. So by the measure of that advanced defensive metric, Schwarber was actually a slightly above-average outfielder. In our hypothetical world in which the DH is being used at Wrigley Field this season, Schwarber would probably find himself in that role on a regular basis. But his ability in left field would allow manager Joe Maddon more options, and we all know how Maddon loves to tinker. Rizzo is a good first baseman, and in fact he took home his second Gold Glove in 2018. But he also has dealt with back problems for a while now, and they were at their worst last April. The 29-year-old slugger was on the disabled list from April 6-16, and overall he hit just .149 with a .448 OPS in the first month of the season. After recovering, however, Rizzo hit 24 home runs with a slash line of .303/.393/.512 in 580 plate appearances from May 1 through the end of the year. Anyone who has dealt with chronic [back problems](https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/cubs/anthony-rizzos-plan-managing-his-back-issues-moving-forward-cardinals-maddon-disabled-list) knows that they only get worse as you get older. To keep Rizzo rested and at his best, Maddon would be wise to give him the occasional day off from playing in the field. Over time, saving him those 15-20 games per year at first base would have a positive effect on the Cubs' star. __More Cubs:__ [Bet the OVER on wins](https://www.betchicago.com/chicago-cubs-win-total-odds-over) Another DH candidate is 37-year-old former utilityman Ben Zobrist. At one point in his career, Zobrist was the best in the game at playing nearly every position on the field while still being a great offensive player. He was excellent offensively in 2018, but he's no longer the flexible defender. Zobrist can play the corner outfield spots and second base, but at this point he's probably the third or fourth-best second baseman on the team. Maybe Zobrist takes the occasional game at first base when Rizzo gets time off, but otherwise he'd also benefit in a big way from DHing. Zobrist's 2017 season was derailed by injuries to his back and wrist, and a big part of his effective bounceback last year was due to Maddon monitoring his playing time. No doubt, the Cubs would strongly prefer the healthy 2018 version (121 OPS+) to the injury-riddled Zobrist from the year before (84 OPS+). There are other candidates on the Cubs roster to take some time at DH, including Ian Happ, Daniel Descalso, and Victor Caratini. Each could make an argument for more at-bats than they're currently projected to get, and the designated hitter would open a clear path for any one of them. But again, it's all hypothetical. The league isn't likely to implement such a massive change so close to the start of the regular season. However, it's a step in the right direction. For those who want to see the two leagues playing under the same rules, thus eliminating any possible advantages on the field or in free agency, the proposal is finally on the table. It's only a matter of time. __Bookmark us:__ [BetChicago MLB coverage](https://www.betchicago.com/mlb-betting)2019-02-06T18:41:01.996Z2019-02-06T11:30-07:00