Is It Time To Consider Expansion?
This article was originally published on FanRagSports.com and republished here with permission.
(Though it certainly helps that I’m the author.)
You can view the original here if you’re so inclined.
I hate seeing injuries befall athletes, especially those competing at the highest level of their sport. These physically gifted gladiators who are putting on a show for our entertainment have earned the opportunity to do so after years and years of training, improvement, and sacrificing. They’ve dedicated their lives to the pursuit of athletic excellence. That any of them should suffer an injury that prevents that excellence is awful.
Recently a pair of ace pitchers suffered injuries while taking their turns in the National League’s batter’s box. Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (jammed thumb) and Adam Wainwright (ruptured Achilles tendon) of the St. Louis Cardinals will both miss time after participating in an activity which some baseball fans see and pointless — and that’s putting it mildly. Granted, Wainwright will miss far more time and there’s a chance he’ll never be the same pitcher again. Scherzer, a former American League Cy Young Award winner, and a man who is on record as appreciating the challenge of hitting, was asked about these injuries and conceded that it may be time for Major League Baseball to adopt the Designated Hitter in the National League. ***UPDATE: Scherzer now claims he was joking when he said these comments.*** Naturally this response sent a wave throughout the circles covering the league. Everybody and their cousin has seemingly weighed in on whether adding the DH to the NL should be numero uno on Rob Manfred’s hit list.
There are plenty of columns out there touting the merits of the DH. Many of them are true. There’s statistical proof that the American League tends to score more runs. There’s statistical proof that pitchers, as a group, are awful at hitting. Someone went so far as to try to show that games with the DH are actually faster on average than those without one.
There are some intelligent pieces written in the last 72 as well debunking some of the go-to arguments of the pro-DH crowd. I am on this side, for the record. I love the strategy and decision-making that goes into the NL game, both in-game and before the game even starts. I would miss it if it were gone and while virtually nobody actually wants to see pitchers flailing wildly at the plate with a less than 15% chance (collectively) of reaching base, I’m willing to deal with those plate appearances to get the other juicy stuff that goes along with them.
But I’m not writing to argue against the DH in the NL — well, not directly anyway. And while I think that the offense in today’s game is actually fine enough, I understand the desire some feel in wanting more. As Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine once epically pointed out after all, “Chicks dig the long ball”. Substitute “fans” as the subject and I think you’ll find the reason that they finally began returning to the game following the players strike that once cost the league a World Series.
Offense sells tickets to many fans. My argument today is that while the DH may have added nominal offense to the American League over time, it is hardly the only way to do so. For your consideration I offer up the idea of expansion.
At its core, expansion increases the number of jobs at the MLB level allowing more players to realize their dream of being big leaguers. When you expand the number of top tier positions what you also accomplish is a diluting of the talent pool. Without as much worthy pitching to go around — and let’s be honest, the last couple of years have more or less been a haven for pitchers — the effectiveness of those doing the job will decrease. It’s been a proven fact throughout MLB history that offense goes up following expansion.
The most recent example, when the Milwaukee Brewers switched leagues as the Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks came into existence in 1998 saw the resulted in a jump in total league-wide runs scored of nearly 1700 runs. When the Colorado Rockies and (then) Florida Marlins joined in 1993 a similar effect happened but that jump was over 3500 runs (runs total statistics courtesy of Baseball-Almanc.com). League batting average jumped eight points between 1992 and 1993 as another example. League batting averages in both the AL & NL have been declining each year since 2007 as pitchers become more specialized and dominant.
Expansion isn’t the end all, be all silver bullet of offense, but it helps. It’s also not just about the offense either.
One of the arguments in support of adding the DH to the NL is that with as much interleague play as happens in today’s game, there should be one universal set of rules governing all teams. Well, adding two teams would even the leagues back out to even numbers (at 16 apiece) and would allow for the end of Interleague Play nearly every single day of the MLB calendar. It’s fun to see different teams every now and then, but the Leagues in MLB were never intended to behave as conferences do in the NFL or NBA. If you even the leagues back out at 16 there’s no reason to continue the Interleague clutter currently happening. It would allow teams to face more of the team they’re directly competing against for the right to appear in the World Series. There have been examples of egregious disparities over the last couple of year in certain cases to which NL division-mates are facing which AL teams. There also isn’t much cause in having, for instance, San Diego face San Francisco 19 times while only facing Houston 16 times. There should be more schedule equality and putting league membership at even numbers would allow for that to happen far more easily.
Lest I forget, there is an insane amount of money in the game of baseball right now. I know that there was brief talk of contraction not all that long ago, but with how the sport has grown, there’s ample resources available to support two new franchises and all the minor league teams, scouting departments, front office staffs, and even beer vendors that come along with them. MLB is also not lacking for markets who would welcome an MLB team with open arms. Stadium deals can get messy, but the promise of 81 home dates each summer tend to get those things done. (And have I mentioned that Montreal already has a mostly-ready stadium?)
If those that claim MLB is dying because of a lack of national numbers are to be believed (and they’re not), wouldn’t adding to more local markets help from a national average? Plus the added revenue of two more localized, rabid, and supportive fan bases couldn’t be denied.
MLB can handle it. Fans are ready. I think hitters wouldn’t complain. Even the incredibly underpaid minor leaguers would see their opportunities increase, but that’s another argument, as is roster expansion itself.
Look, the bottom line is that the Designated Hitter isn’t coming to the National League anytime soon anyway so we may as well look for other ideas. This has been one of mine.