Proposing new designated player roles - excellent ideas for MLB

by Fred Hofstetter on September 13, 2017

Pitchers can't run the bases. Fielders can't hit. Let's explore specializing every corner of Major League Baseball - from the shortstop to the bat boy.

Pitcher Jimmy Nelson Trying to Hit a Baseball

Because even the professionalist of athletes on the highest level of the sport are completely incapable of simple aerobic maneuvers. Photo Credit: rchdj10

Major League Baseball pitcher and professional athlete Jimmy Nelson is the latest victim in the assault on National League pitchers. Forced to bat for himself by dictum of archaic NL rules, Nelson took a turn too wide after a long single and dove back into first base awkwardly – straining his rotator cuff and partially tearing his labrum. He’s done for the rest of the season.

Pitchers are trained to neither swing baseball bats, round bases or dive into them. The Jimmy Nelson catastrophe is just the latest. Adam Wainwright popped an Achilles darting out of the batter’s box in early 2015. Max Scherzer sprained a thumb around the same time. Randy Johnson tore his rotator cuff after a swing in 2009. Of course, real hitters also get hurt while batting and running the bases, but that’s different; because pitchers aren’t that kind of baseball player. Pitchers aren’t baseball players the same way pilots don’t run airports. Or how Steven Tyler doesn’t play the bass. Pitchers pull the weight of pitching. Asking them to pull more is a backbreaker. And makes baseball teams less good.

Implementing a DH in the NL is just the beginning. MLB must take more drastic action and create following designated roles to keep players to their specialty and eliminate the chance of injury.

1. Designated Fielders

Obvious. Defensive wizards like Orlando Arcia, Andrelton Simmons, Jose Iglesias, Mookie Betts, and Byron Buxton sell tickets to show off their sorcery with the glove and arm. They should never be held back by their lack of offensive ability (temporarily or permanently). Baseball fans show up to see the BEST baseball players at every position 100% of the time. They don’t fork over tens of several tens of dollars to sit in nosebleeds to watch Adam Dunn stumble his way around right field; or Mark Reynolds helplessly track down popups.

Mark Reynolds Missing Pop Up

Baseball isn’t comedy or some circus show – this is a serious exhibition of the best athletes in the world. It’s silly to ask the world’s best defenders to swing a bat.

Leave the hitting to actual hitters. A Designated Fielder (DF) keeps the best hitters in the world protected from the likes of popups, fly balls and uncomfortable knuckleball line drives. Leave that to the little guy with quick feet and 80-grade coordination.

2. Designated Runners

The pinch runner is a sneak peek as to how this would work. With Designated Runners (DR), no hitter would ever have to run the bases. If running or moving right and left quickly doesn’t come naturally to them or isn’t part of their everyday regimen, the manager can insert a DR. The DR could “tag in” – like in a relay – after a batted ball and run the bases in place of the batter. The DR would start somewhere between the dugout and the batter, perhaps the on-deck circle, and meet the batter down the baseline.

Big slugging first baseman don’t practice beating out grounders or rounding 1st base. Why make them? All that unnatural movement puts them in harm’s way.

3. Designated Bunters

Trying to bunt without the proper practice is dangerous. Many players wrap their thumb around the barrel and expose it to serious injury risk. Some players are far better at putting a bat in the way of a baseball than others. Setting up for a bunt requires a slight bend at the knees and hunching of the back, a completely foreign notion to real hitters and pitchers alike. The need for a Designated Bunter (DB) goes virtually unsaid.

The only disadvantage of the DB is the lack of subtlety in strategy. That’s why there should also be…

4. Designated Butcher Boy Hitters

Undoubtedly the Designated Butcher Boy Hitter (DBBH) would double as the DB to reintroduce the unknown element into the strategy.

There’s very little in baseball more absurd than asking a pitcher to hit. One of the few is asking a pitcher to hit by faking a bunt than quick pulling back mid wind-up and readjusting to hit the pitch with a full swing and get a base hit. It’s hard for anyone to do that, much less a pitcher who barely takes batting practice. Not only is it a low percentage play – it’s a high risk play for the pitcher’s oblique muscles. Leave it to a specialist.

5. Designated Intentional Walk Takers

When teams declare their intention to intentionally walk a batter, teams should be able to send their Designated Intentional Walk Taker (DIWT) to home plate to make the walk to first base for the hitter. Batters are paid to bat, not walk. Batters don’t practice walking. They shouldn’t be expected to do it without ramifications.

6. Designated Arguers

Nearly every day across Major League Baseball, players, managers, and coaches with absolutely no training in argumentation engage in debate with umpires. Each team should be allowed a Designated Arguer (DA) to pursue justice through on-field discourse.

Teams would have the option to elect DA’s of their chosen style, from formal let’s-hear-your-side debaters to firebrands and flamethrowers like George Brett.

In this instance, George Brett may have been ejected as a batter – but not as the Royals’ DA.

Specialization is what the game is all about.

Back when I was a kid, I had big dreams. I wanted to be tall. Be really smart. Read a lot of big, thick books. Play Major League Baseball. Most other kids dreamed of hitting the big home run or getting the big strikeout in a full count.

Me? My bat was tucked away in the closet. I stood in the mirror and imagined myself as the first player to ever secure 1900 putouts. I’d pin my foot to my science textbook first base and lean forward into the mirror with my glove hand extended, fantasizing wrapping my glove around a routine throw from third base for the record breaking 1,847th putout. I could hear the elated crowd lose their minds as I made the iconic stretch. Children cheered wildly. Grown men cried. Old, wizened elders beamed in somber admiration amid the din. A crescendo from the orchestra. I was a hero. Did I stretch beforehand? No. Did I ever imagine doing anything else on the field? Never.

The harsh reality of being forced to swing a bat or throw a ball destroyed my ambitions of becoming a heroic big league ballplayer. I knew my body couldn’t handle it. The league lost its chance to host the greatest putouter in history.

MLB must tackle this failure within the sport and embrace more deeply specialized roles. Ditch jack of all trades, master of none. For the children. For a better game.

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