MLB roundtable: Is the experimental ‘double hook’ rule a good idea?

The 2021 MLB regular season is now three weeks old and all the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day and home openers and all that has come and gone. The daily grind that is the 162-game season is setting in and folks, let me tell you, I couldn’t be happier.

Throughout the season my fellow CBS Sports MLB scribes and I will bring you a weekly roundtable breaking down, well, pretty much anything. The latest news, a historical question, thoughts about the future of baseball, all sorts of stuff. Last week we debated two teams off to hot starts. This week we’re going to discuss a the “double hook” rule experiment in the Atlantic League, which ties a team’s ability to use a designated hitter to its starting pitcher.

Is the ‘double hook’ rule a good idea?

Matt Snyder: It’s too much of a gimmick, to me, and I don’t think it would actually work as intended. That is to say, it seems like the intent would be to incentivize teams to leave starting pitchers in the game longer. Instead, I think teams would operate more similar to how they do in NL games now, by playing the best hitters in the field somewhere and just throwing a backup in the DH spot in the nine-hole. When the pitcher is done, he’s done and they just lose their worst hitter. Think about it, you can’t risk prime J.D. Martinez not getting an at-bat if your starting pitcher suffers an injury in the first inning. And there’s an injury exception, OK, the starter just has an uncharacteristically terrible outing, like Lucas Giolito did Monday morning in Fenway. Teams would safeguard against this, especially in big games. As such, this is dumb. Just rip the bandage off. Universal DH. 

Dayn Perry: While I’m broadly in favor of anything that leads to leaving starting pitchers in longer, this is too messy for me. You’ve got some star-level players playing DH these days and tying their availability to how long the starting pitcher stays in is kind of silly to me. Just use the universal DH. Another option is to just let the home team decide whether the DH rule will be used for a given game. If you still for some reason want to see pitchers bat, then that would likely give you an occasional reminder of what it’s like to see pitchers bat.

R.J. Anderson: I’m with Dayn. I appreciate the attempt to restore the starting pitcher to its rightful place as the game’s main character, but I think the “double hook” is too cute for its own good. The game is entertainment foremost, and I cannot think of a single time where having a utility infielder, spare outfielder, or, God forbid, a backup catcher bat in place of Nelson Cruz would have brought me more joy or made me more interested in the contest. MLB had it right last season; just install the universal DH and let time soften the critics. 

Katherine Acquavella: Not a fan. I think it’s another instance where MLB is trying too hard to fix a “problem” when the solution (in this case, universal DH) is actually pretty straight forward. At quick glance, sure, the “double hook” rule does keep teams from using openers (starters in for longer, less pitching changes) but at the same time, it forces teams to go without talented hitters at the DH spot. Like most of the rule changes/experiments conducted in the Atlantic League, just because the double hook rule is being tried out, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a given to be brought up to the big leagues anytime soon. But at the same time, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t frustrating that the league decides to spend time and resources on something like this rule. When it comes to all the rule changes and experiments in the Atlantic League, I’m more invested in following along with the league’s continued experimentation with the automatic ball-strike system.

Mike Axisa: I’m not sure what problem this solves. Everything about pitcher usage these days tells us teams will prioritize the better matchup on the mound (lefty-righty, third time through the order, etc.) over trying to squeeze one more at-bat out of their DH. They’ll see it as fresh reliever + bench hitter > tired starter + regular DH. I am all for restoring starting pitchers to prominence, but aside from limiting the number of active pitchers on the roster (worth discussing) or extending the game to something like 12 innings (not happening, obviously), I’m not sure how you accomplish that. All the “double hook” rule does is give at-bats that should go to guys like Nelson Cruz and Shohei Ohtani to lesser players, and I don’t see how that helps anything.

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