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A New DH Rule: Let Pitchers Hit, Catchers Sit

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Jorge Posada Was The Last Catcher To Hit At Least .280 With 30 Home Runs

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Much has been written and discussed about the demise of starting pitchers in today's version of Major League Baseball, as the length of an average start has dwindled to just over five innings per game. Since the Kansas City Royals claimed back to back pennants and the 2015 World Series Championship on the strength of using four or five pitchers per game, many teams have been trying to emulate their emphasis on larger bullpens and shorter starts.

A trend that has been virtually ignored, one that is almost as lamentable as the de-emphasis on starting pitchers, is the disappearance of catchers as hitters. While few backstops had the power of Cincinnati's Johnny Bench or the sweet stroke of Minnesota's Joe Mauer, traditionally the typical catcher could at least serve as a threat when at the plate.

In today's version of America's pastime, catchers have become automatic outs. Overall, catchers combined to hit just .228 last season, an ugly number that looks even worse if you exclude the .273 average of Kansas City's Salvador Perez.

What is even uglier, catchers struck out more than 25% of the time. Never before had any single position whiffed so often, especially for players who have been groomed to recognize strike zones and pitch types.

Four teams, the Yankees, Astros, Mariners and Indians, got less offense from their catchers than the pitching staffs of three other clubs. Hurlers for the White Sox, Angels and Athletics all hit above the Mendoza Line, much better than the catchers of the quartet of catchers previously mentioned.

Examples like the ones above, where the pitchers actually outhit the catchers, should make you want to reconsider the new rule regarding a universal designated hitter. Instead of replacing the pitcher in the batting order, some teams might want to allow the DH to bat for the catcher instead.

“Since 2004, no catcher has hit at least .280 with 30 home runs in a season,” stated columnist Kyle Glaser in the latest edition of Baseball America. “Jorge Posada was the last to do it when he hit .281 with 30 homers in 2003. The only other catcher to do it this millennium was Mike Piazza, who did it three years in a row from 2000-02.”

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Not only is a revival of a catcher having a .280 batting average a pipe dream, but so is the idea of the same one clubbing 30 home runs. As a whole backstops, who could until the past two decades provide a power threat, last year averaged fewer home runs than any other position.

And it promises to get even worse, since the top offensive catchers are either reaching the ends of their careers. San Francisco veteran Buster Posey has already announced his retirement, Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals has just a year left in the tank, and Salvador Perez is likely to spend more time at DH than behind the plate in the coming years.

Even Philadelphia's J.T. Realmuto, the top catcher in most fantasy drafts, will be 31 on Opening Day. He had enough power to hit just 18 home runs last year, and his batting average has dropped forty points since he hit .300 back in 2016.

Hopes for an improvement in catcher production seem to be indicated in the Minor Leagues, since the number one overall prospect is Adley Rutschman. He is not only the best catcher in the farm systems, but also the best hitter.

As has been all too true throughout this century, Rutschman will not serve as an offensive threat and a catcher. The Orioles are considering a position change, not because of any defensive shortcomings, but because of his outstanding potential on offense.

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