What will happen with the Universal DH in 2021? That’s one of the questions that arose last week as Major League Baseball (MLB) informed teams to proceed as though the designated hitter (DH) will not be universal in 2021.
Added for the shortened 60-game season in 2020, after COVID-19 significantly changed the landscape of the game, the universal DH, along with the extra-inning rule, and seven-inning doubleheaders will also likely be absent in 2021.
The Historical Context of the Universal DH Is Important
First adopted in the American League in 1973, pitchers were required to bat in all NL games and Interleague games when a National League team was the home team.
The DH was not used in the World Series from 1973-75, then was used by both World Series teams during even-numbered years from ’76-85. The practice of playing each game by the rules of the designated home team’s league began in the 1986 World Series.
Does the Universal DH Benefit Teams All the Time?
For the players and their union, the universal DH means adding players to the National League Team lineups and giving teams more options around how to work in position players that may not be able to otherwise play.
The Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2020 postseason were a curious study when it came to the use of the DH though. Their DHs batted .125 this postseason, with just ten hits in 64 at-bats. The Dodgers also drew just three walks out of the DH spot and a grim .194 on-base percentage.
Players who did not DH batted .271, with a .385 OBP and 27 home runs in 19 games.
Will Smith led the Dodgers in OBP (.401), OPS (.980) and adjusted OPS (164) during the regular season but batted .083 (2 for 24) with no homers, one walk, and a .120 OBP while being the DH.
He hit .262 (11 for 42), with two homers, five walks, a .340 OBP, and a five-hit game in the NL Division Series against San Diego.
MLB Adds Stipulation to Universal DH Change
The real catch here is not the change itself, but the fact that the MLBPA and MLB are slated for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement after the 2021 season.
Adding the universal DH prior to the new CBA is a strange move especially since the CBA itself and expanded playoffs are all possible discussion points when those talks happen.
It is only after the CBA that we might see the universal DH implemented. Major League Baseball could use that to entice the players to sign off on an expanded playoff.
The expanded postseason could see 14-teams, instead of the 16 used in 2020. The revenue generated should that happen is a huge benefit to both sides.
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