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A year ago, Mark Trumbo looked in danger of losing any foothold as a big-league regular. Already a poor fielder and baserunner, he was slowly being swallowed by the hitter's Hellmouth that is Safeco Field, and stood on the doorstep of a very unpromising free agency. Then came the trade that made him part of the Indians' improbable playoff run. Trumbo might not have flashed any new skills, but at least he proved that his old ones weren't gone. He fit beautifully in Cleveland, if only for that short time. Alas, as pitching staffs stretch to take up 14 roster spots on more and more teams, there remain virtually no places for guys of Trumbo's ilk. If nothing had changed from last season to this, we might have seen the last of him.

Of course, that's not what happened. Trumbo's resurgent season as the Braves' DH is fueling Atlanta's fulfillment of their fast-tracked rebuilding project. The new park in Cobb County may be a choke point for Atlanta's already abysmal traffic and an eyesore unworthy of its decade-old brethren, but at least a winning team is calling it home. Without the NL's implementation of the DH, that might not be true: Trumbo's 1.5 WARP almost covers the gap between the young Braves and a .500 record.

This, I suppose, is what everyone feared most about the DH's inevitable arrival on the senior circuit. Trumbo is a deeply flawed player, even now. Twenty-six home runs at the All-Star break can't cover over everything he doesn't do, like get on base against right-handed pitchers or make consistent contact. The DH has acted as a life-support system for the dying career of a player the average fan probably finds aesthetically displeasing. Before you wring your hands into knots, though, recognize that the Cubs couldn't possibly be starting all of Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Billy McKinney, and Kyle Schwarber right now if not for the DH. Could the Marlins have grabbed Jonathan Lucroy and launched themselves back into relevance if they didn't have the option of giving Lucroy the occasional half a day off? It seems unlikely.

Shorter starter outings and increasing futility at the plate have made obsolete the argument that pitchers batting is a strategic point of interest. After the Cubs and Rockies posted the two worst team performances by pitchers at the plate in 2015, that became obvious. When the record was broken again last year, the fate of the question was sealed. It's been three months, and those who could bear to stick with the game in the face of this modern atrocity have surely found this a better form. Things move faster. Rallies never seem obnoxiously doomed. Most importantly, though, go back to Trumbo and Schwarber and Lucroy, and notice that they're all playing for NL teams. It just wasn't so before; it couldn't be. Evening out the rule set evens the playing field between teams in the two leagues again. It gives the NL the chance to build a roster with the same ambition and freedom as AL teams have had for over 40 years.

Obviously, adding the DH to the senior circuit is itself accelerating the move toward shorter starter outings and deeper, more fungible bullpens. Having that one extra hitter in the order is proving to be more of a shock to some NL pitchers’ systems than many might have suspected, and the chains of positive offensive events managers used to be able to weather more passively are starting to demand more quick hooks and mound conferences.

The Cubs are taking tremendous advantage of the extra left-handed bats the DH allows them to stack into their lineup. Teams are having to wade through Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Montero, Schwarber, and McKinney nearly every day, and it’s taking opposing managers some time to adjust. As recently as 2013, nearly 47 percent of plate appearances by American League hitters were taken from the left-handed batter’s box, whereas in the NL, the number was under 42 percent. That gap had been steadily shrinking in the last two years, but it’s now gone altogether, as more guys with first-base and left-field profiles—guys with good left-handed bats but little else around which to build value—find not only room on rosters, but space in which to shine. It’s been remarkable to see the long-standing disparity in shifts used by the two leagues evaporate, as managers race to adapt to the influx of AL-style hitters in NL parks.

It’s not terribly surprising, but it is notable, that the addition of the DH has leveled out run-scoring, but hasn’t significantly altered it so far.

R/G, AL and NL, 2013-17

Season

AL

NL

MLB

2013

4.33

4.00

4.17

2014

4.18

3.95

4.07

2015

4.25

4.01

4.13

2016

4.27

4.03

4.15

2017

4.25

4.35

4.30

The game hasn’t radically changed. It hasn’t changed at all in the American League, except that AL teams now have to compete with NL teams for offensive talents without significant defensive value, and that they no longer have to play without the DH in interleague road games. In the NL, the only real change is that their games play out like AL games. We’ll see that elevated runs-per-game figure come back to Earth over the next year and a half, as teams sort the wheat from the chaff and find the guys who can’t hack it as starters without the pitcher’s spot as an escape hatch when opponents mount a rally. The games don’t feel materially different, except to those fans who devoutly, assiduously avoided watching any AL baseball between 1973 and now.

We’ve lost no bunts, except the automatic ones. We’ve lost no strategic pinch-hitting decisions, only the automatic ones. We’ve lost no dominant pitchers, except the ones who unduly relied on being able to wade out of trouble when his opposing number trudged to the plate. It may be years overdue, but thank goodness the DH has come to the National League. The game is better for it.

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jnossal
7/08
April Fools' in July. Terrific.
RossBukouricz7
7/08
I fell like this is going to cause more and more teams to go to the Short Starter model that Russell Carleton wrote about today. Plus, might as well leverage that 14 man pitching staff so non-Lucas Giolito/Julio Urias level pitchers aren't facing the order three times through.
morro089
7/08
At least something is the same today: Trueblood is still pro-DH.

Also, we've all seen McKinney's Hitf/x data and he's just not the same player he was after he discovered there's a brick wall behind the ivy. Rookies, man.
Ryan13636
7/08
Booooo.