A key aspect of baseball is that it requires players to make both defensive and offensive contributions. However, the only exception to this rule is the DH –a rule that has existed for quite some time.
So, what is DH in baseball? DH stands for ‘Designated Hitter’, and is used to refer to the person who will be replacing the pitcher in the batting lineup. In other words, the pitcher (or any player who replaces the pitcher) will not bat. Meanwhile, the designated hitter (or any player who replaces the designated hitter) will not have to chip in defensively.
The DH is unique in the sense that they are the only player who does not have to make any defensive contributions. However, the job of a DH is a little more complicated than that – so, let us look at the DH rule in greater detail.
Explaining the Designated Hitter Rule:
A team’s designated hitter is in the unique position in that they do not take the field (much like how the pitcher does not bat). Although this concept is fairly simple, there are certain parameters to the DH position.
A DH can take over a pitcher’s position in a team’s lineup, even if the pitcher is not being forced to leave the game. This is something that, once again, is unique to the DH position – for any other position, a player can only be replaced if they have been forced to abandon the game for some reason. A team must choose their DH before the game, and the DH will only be allowed to occupy a single position for the entirety of the game.
On the flipside, if the pitcher is replaced with another pitcher, the replacement pitcher will not get a spot in the team’s batting lineup.
This is also true for a designated hitter; if a DH is replaced in the batting line, this will not affect any defensive position, nor will it have any impact on the position of the pitcher (unless the designated hitter steps onto the field).
So, as per this rule, as long as the pitcher comes out to bat, or the DH is moved into the field, the team will retain the same player as the DH for the full game.
If a pitcher replaces the DH in the batting order, the designated hitter will be eliminated for the remainder of the game, with the subsequent pitcher occupying the vacant spot in the batting order. This rule also applies to pinch hitters.
Similarly, in case a DH moves into a defensive role, the DH shall be eliminated for the remainder of the game, and the player whom the DH replaced in the defensive role, will relinquish their place in the batting lineup, to the pitcher.
This rule is not applicable to a player already occupying a defensive role in order to replace the designated hitter.
The DH rule exists in all North American baseball leagues, except for the Pecos League and the National League, neither of which allows a designated hitter.
At the amateur levels, the rules are slightly different. The NCAA rule is used in the same way that it is used at the professional level. However, one exception is that, in amateur leagues, the starting pitcher can serve as a DH and stay on as a DH even after they have been replaced on the field.
High school leagues, meanwhile, allow DHs to target any on-field player and not just starting relievers or pitchers.
Moreover, an additional rule was introduced during the 2020 high school baseball season: a DH can step out onto the field and still remain as a DH in the lineup; similarly, a pitcher can leave the mound and still participate in the game as a designated hitter.
In any case or at any level, it is not mandatory for the teams to choose a designated hitter. If a coach wants their pitcher to hit for themselves, they are at the liberty to not pick a DH.
Why Does Baseball Have a Designated Hitter?
On paper, the clear reason behind having a designated hitter is to allow the teams to improve their offense. Although this is largely true, the origins of the DH rule are quite deep.
The DH rule exists so that teams can remove weak-hitting pitchers and thus, reduce the offensive liability by reducing a poor hitter with a better, specialist one.
During the early baseball days, it was quite common for a pitcher to also be a decent hitter. Besides, because a large number of pitchers started (and generally ended) over 50% of their teams’ games, they were a regular part of the lineups.
However, once the positions started turning specialized and pitchers starting featuring in fewer matches, their offensive abilities (and, therefore, output) diminished.
On average, a pitcher in the 1870s and 80s was around 70-80% productive, compared to a specialist hitter.
At the 20th century mark, this percentage had gone down to around 40% and the figure has steadily gone down over the last 120 odd years.
To put it differently, there is over a century’s worth of evidence, proving that MLB (Major League Baseball) pitchers are not competent hitters – the DH rule was the remedy to this problem.
Indeed, when we pay attention to the box score for the first-ever perfect professional baseball game, achieved by Lee Richmond during the 1880s, we notice that Richmond struck second in the batting line. This is something that, in today’s baseball, would be pretty much unfathomable.
The DH rule was first tried out in the American League during 1973. Once the rule turned out to be a success, it was instituted in top-level leagues in Cuba and Japan, during the same decade. The NCAA and various amateur leagues, too, adopted this rule.
Our Final Thoughts:
To sum up, the designated hitter rule helps teams lower their offensive liabilities by eliminating a pitcher (who is generally a poor hitter) with a specialist hitter.
To learn more about the various rules and regulations in baseball, please feel free to check out some of the other blogs on our website.