MLB: DH And The AL’s Development Edge

On Tuesday, Ken Rosenthal and Maury Brown both had articles noting the possibility of across-the-board designated hitter (DH) in MLB. Most tend to lean toward the popularity or effectiveness of the new adjustments. However, we’ll instead look at how the American League (AL) currently have a player development edge with the use of the DH in all their minor league games.

Much of my baseball mindset is on developing talent in the game. If an organization is better than average at developing their own talent, they should have a chance to compete, all other things being equal. The existence of the designated hitter limits the “all other things being equal” premise. Wins and losses won’t necessarily be determined at the MLB level by whether a team had the DH available in their pipeline. However, AL teams have the better chance to develop more prospects under current rules.

Through the Advanced-A minor league level, all games have the designated hitter in play. However, by the time NL sides advance to Double-A games, pitchers start to hit in games between NL foes. Games with at least on AL side in Double- or Triple-A have the designated hitter. As such, NL teams need to roster a spare middle infielder on the upper-level rosters to account for late inning double switches. AL sides roll with their nine starters much of the time, and have no pressing need to substitute late. The extra hitter in each pipeline gets at least three plate trips in AL-rules games.

The AL side can choose to go with “the best twelve hitters for the level” without worrying about how extra innings will limit their flexibility. AL teams can also freely go after a hitter-only type in either the June Draft or July International arena. National League teams are eventually pushed into trading a player with limited upside for what the market bears. The American League squad can use the slugger-only type as a designated hitter for two (or three) extra levels.

Sometimes, players who start with little defensive use can develop that through hard work and commitment to their trade. Without the benefit of the DH, NL teams look at those talents with less interest at selection time. Coaches in many pipelines are very good at getting “more than expected” from players both offensively and defensively. By using the same rules in both leagues, development staffs start with an even footing.

Whether I prefer the DH or not is immaterial. That an offense-only player is of more use in the American League is an edge to those 15 teams. They have a more realistic chance to shine in the AL, and are chosen through the draft, often, with that in mind. Fans tend to be rather partisan on whether they like one side or the other better. That isn’t my argument. That half the league gets less value from a good hitter swings an edge to the DH sides from a development perspective.

Let all the teams have the same value structure for the (.275/.360/.480 slash line) hitter that has limited defensive value. If, as Rosenthal hints, it comes with the “cost” of relievers needing to face three hitters, so be it. Baseball changes, sometimes openly, and sometimes less so. Making talent development equal in both leagues is long overdue.

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