World Series: Did we just see the last MLB game without a DH?

·4 min read

In a World Series with no shortage of storylines, the plate appearances of the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves' pitchers in Game 5 would typically rate low on the list of things to pay attention to.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez struck out looking in his only appearance. Zack Greinke was used as a pinch-hitter in the same No. 9 spot, and got a hit. Atlanta's pitchers, going through another bullpen game, were held hitless.

Those plate appearances may have collectively been the least important moments of a very important game. And yet, they may soon occupy a very notable niche in baseball history.

This might have been the last season without the universal DH

As things currently stand, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Game 5 of this season's World Series will go down as the final game in which pitchers have to hit in National League parks.

That is because MLB's collective bargaining agreement officially expires after this season, opening the door for the implementation of the universal DH as the league and players association sort through a number of contentious topics.

The possibility of adding the DH to the NL has been circling for years, and it's not hard to see why. Expanding the DH figures to increase offense and vastly decrease the game's least compelling plate appearances, which sounds appealing to MLB. It also figures to decrease pitcher injuries and increase interest in aging sluggers with little defensive value, which sounds appealing to the MLBPA.

MLB already gave the rule a try with the pandemic-altered 2020 season before going back to the old rules this season, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said any change would come during this offseason's CBA negotiations at the earliest.

Some fans (and players) might not like the on-field change, and it might go against decades of tradition, but neither of those factors have been priorities for Manfred.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 31:  Zack Greinke #21 of the Houston Astros reacts after a pinch-hit single against the Atlanta Braves during the fourth inning in Game Five of the World Series at Truist Park on October 31, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Astros pitcher Zack Greinke laced a single as a pinch-hitter in World Series Game 5. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

What would MLB look like with universal DH?

If the universal DH really does go through, Game 5 won't be the end of pitcher plate appearances, but they would definitely be a lot less common.

There are basically two reasons for a pitcher to hit when his team has the ability to play a DH. The first is the team employs Shohei Ohtani. The second is the team is forced to burn its DH for whatever reason, typically an injury. It's not a common occurrence, but it happens. So you'll still see a pitcher hit on occasion, but it will no longer be a thing for National League fans to expect when turning the game on. 

In the long run, that will mean more offense and longer games, as well as more opportunities for players who present little defensive value. No longer will the Nelson Cruzes of the world have their free agency pool restricted to just American League teams.

If the idea of all that all makes you retch, there may be some hope MLB goes with a half-measure of sorts rather than the full universal DH. All season, the Atlantic League, an official MLB partner league that has been used to test potential rule changes, has been using the "double-hook" rule.

Under that rule, teams are allowed to use the DH ... until they pull their starting pitcher. Then it's basically NL rules. The main allure of this system is that teams are incentivized to keep their starter in as long as possible, greatly decreasing the benefits of using an opener. 

Pitcher plate appearances would still plummet if that rule is used, but at least teams would want pitchers to stay in games for longer.

What else could MLB change?

The universal DH may not be the only rule change coming to MLB.

Like the Atlantic League and the "double-hook" rule, MLB has been experimenting with rule changes in all of its minor leagues this year. Triple-A teams played with larger bases. Double-A teams were required to have four infielders in the dirt. High-A pitchers had to step off the rubber to attempt a pick-off. Low-A pitchers even tried robot umps and a pitch clock.

There is no guarantee any of those rules are put in place in the near future, but MLB is playing around with them for a reason.

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