The Astros (and Evan Gattis) Are Out to Redefine the Meaning of the Designated Hitter
The Houston Astros front office is comprised of geniuses, including a former rocket scientist. Billy Beane's "Moneyball" strategy is all well and good, but what the Astros are doing puts Beane to shame.
Take this past offseason when the Astros traded highly touted minor league prospects Rio Ruiz and Mike Foltynewicz to the Atlanta Braves for Evan Gattis. Ruiz was a third baseman who some felt had yet to live up to his potential while Foltynewicz was a fireballing reliever who often hit 100-plus on the radar gun but had a few issues with control. Gattis meanwhile was a strikeout prone, mediocre catcher/outfielder who hit home runs. It made no sense to many observers that the Astros, a rebuilding team, would trade highly regarded prospects for a guy who was essentially just another version of Chris Carter and Jon Singleton.
But three weeks into the season, the genius of the Astros should now be obvious to every person possessing even the slightest knowledge of baseball. The Astros brass is redefining the meaning of the "designated hitter," obviously with the hopes that the rest of organized baseball will follow in lockstep, thus forcing baseball to do away with the position forever and ever and restoring the pitcher to the batting order for the rest of time, doomed to flail away at-bat after at-bat after at-bat.
Now, the designated hitter has a long history to baseball, longer than most observers realize. It was originally proposed back in the late-1900s by Connie Mack, the owner/manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. The National League seriously considered adopting the rule in the late-1920s. The American League finally implemented the position for the 1973 season so as to increase offense in baseball. Increasing offense in baseball would increase fan interest. Increasing fan interest would thus increase attendance. And it did increase the American League's offensive numbers, which in turn increased the AL's attendance numbers. What the DH rule does is allow a team to designate one player for whose sole reason for being during the game is to bat -- he doesn't play defense, he just hits. And the rule mandates that, if the DH is used, then he can only be used in place of the pitcher, historically the weakest batter on every team. With the DH usually being a subpar fielder who can blast home runs, offense has increased and the stress on pitchers has increased since there are no more sure outs in the opposing lineup.
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That's where the genius of the Astros comes in to play because, as the Astros are currently using the position, the DH is effectively serving the same function as the pitcher, a sure out that allows the opposing pitcher to relax just a bit and get a few easy outs every game. For those of you who are a bit incredulous about that, well look at this. The Astros have played 15 games this season. The DH for 14 of those games has been Evan Gattis. And in 58 plate appearances this season, Gattis has six hits, three walks, a homer, one RBI, and 21 strikeouts. That makes for a .109 batting average with a .155 on-base percentage and a pathetic .200 slugging percentage. Even NL pitchers, not known for their hitting abilities, think those are some damn pathetic numbers.
Thus the inexplicable trade for Gattis now makes sense. It's no secret that the Astros were forced by Bud Selig to relocate from the National League to the American League in order for the sale of the club from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane to be approved. So knowing that the team's few remaining fans were unhappy with the move, and knowing that the MLB would never allow the team to switch back to the NL, the Astros braintrust decided to change the game of baseball by forcing the American League to abandon the DH after its teams all copied the Astros and replaced their quality designated hitters with mediocre strikeout prone hitters who even the light-hitting shortstops of the 1970s think are pathetic excuses for major league hitters.
It's still too early to know if the Astros gambit is going to work. While many teams have ripped off the Astros defensive shift strategy, no team, as of yet, appears to have adopted the Astros' pitifully incapable starting DH strategy. But don't give up hope Astros fans. Once the rest of the AL sees just how much pitchers like having easy outs, and once they all notice that the Astros have a winning record despite starting Evan Gattis every night, they'll all see the genius that is the plan of the Astros. And when that happens, it won't be long until the designated hitter is forever erased from the MLB rulebook.