Baseball

Universal DH Presents New Opportunity for Base Stealers

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With MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) set to expire, it is quite likely that the universal DH gets implemented in the upcoming 2022 season. From the perspective of the players union, a universal DH could reduce pitchers’ injuries, and allow more players with little defensive value to stay in the game. For Rob Manfred and the MLB, a Universal DH serves to add more offense into the game, increasing viewership, but a Universal DH could have an unintended effect: allowing teams to have more pinch runners on the roster.

Less Need for Pinch Hitters

Right now, NL teams simply can’t afford to have players on the roster that aren’t productive at the plate. In a 26-man roster, teams typically feature thirteen pitchers, eight starting position players, a backup catcher, and a utility player. That leaves only three spots for pinch-hitting, and as pitchers repeatedly get taken out of games earlier, all three players need to be effective hitters in the likely case they have to bat. A universal DH could allow for more flexibility in roster construction, as teams would no longer need so many pinch hitters on the roster for pitchers. This means they could afford players that serve more niche roles, such as baserunning. Here are some players that could fulfill that role.

Speedsters

Terrance Gore

Terrance Gore has appeared in an MLB game each of the last eight seasons, but he has only totaled 102 career MLB plate appearances. Gore has a career MLB slash line of .224/.325/.284, and he hasn’t posted a minor league wRC+ over 100 since rookie ball in 2012, but his elite speed-last recorded at 30.2 ft/s in 2019-has consistently allowed him to secure a spot on postseason rosters, appearing in four postseasons and securing three World Series rings in the process.

If the Braves were willing to take a chance on him with no DH in 2021, it’s easy to see him getting an opportunity again in 2022.

Billy Hamilton

Hamilton was a top prospect in the Reds system before making his debut in 2013. While he has never been able to put it together with the bat (66 wRC+ in 3260 career PA), Hamilton has used his speed and defense to accumulate 10.1 rWAR, including a 3.1 win season in 2016. While he isn’t as fast as he once was, the 31-year old Hamilton was still able to post a sprint speed of 29.5 ft/sec in 2021, good for the 97th percentile in baseball. Filling in for the injured White Sox this season, he posted a series of highlight-reel plays on the way towards a 0.3 rWAR season. Hamilton’s combination of speed and defense should make him a safe bet to make a roster next year.

Tim Locastro

Tim Locastro owns the MLB record for most successful stolen bases to start his career, successfully swiping bags in his first 29 attempts. His 2021 sprint speed of 30.7 ft/sec places him 2nd in all of baseball, and his unique ability to draw HBP allows him to maintain a high on-base percentage despite limited hitting talent. Locastro tore his ACL in 2021, leaving questions about whether he will be able to return with the same speed that makes him a viable option. The Red Sox think he will be fine, as they recently claimed him off waivers from the Yankees. Could Locastro be the next Dave Roberts?

Roster Space is Precious

Although a DH would provide the opportunity for base-stealers coming off the bench, MLB teams simply do not value base-running as much as they do an additional arm or bat. We don’t have to look much further than AL teams or the 2020 season to see that having a player who only comes in for running purposes is uncommon. Yet, the game is constantly changing, and proposals about limiting the number of pitchers on rosters serve as another opportunity for pinch runners to be good bench options. Speedsters like Gore, Hamilton, and Locastro make the game more exciting to watch, and the Red Sox’s signing of Locastro could be a sign of more to come in 2022.

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main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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