Updated: Feb 11, 2018
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs penned an article on Thursday on the current state of the designated hitter. It's a good piece but if you don't want to read it, there were two take aways: First, and probably of lesser note, the DH in the National League hit better than their counterparts in the American League for just the third time since the inception of inter-league play in 1997. That the AL is usually better makes sense. AL teams construct their rosters with the DH in mind while the NL only has to worry about it for a few inter-league games and the World Series, if they're so lucky. Second takeaway, the DH in the AL hit below league average for the first time since 1985. This was the larger focus of the column.
But I'm more interested in the not-as-important part and how it relates to the Cardinals. The AL has dominated the NL in inter-league play with a .529 winning percentage in 5,464 total games. However, the Cardinals have been the best team in the NL since 1997 (.548 winning pct.) so it stands that they might have one of the better inter-league records for NL teams. And they do, the best, in fact (.532 winning pct.). Some thanks are probably in order for all of those lousy Kansas City teams over the years, too.
It's also reasonable to think that if the Cardinals have been better in inter-league play than their NL friends then maybe they've "DH'd" better than them, too. This too, is correct. Overwhelmingly so. Taken from FanGraphs, here's how the Cardinals DH has hit compared to the other NL teams since 1997, as sorted by wRC+:
That's close to astonishing, right? If you're wondering just who on the Cardinals has been such a great DH over the years, here are eight who have had at least 20 plate appearances in that role (again, courtesy of FanGraphs and sorted by wRC+):
Larry Walker was a brief but brilliant DH, but the real hero was Matt Holliday, who is responsible for 36 percent of the above plate appearances and hit like 2010 Matt Holliday while doing it. And Nick Stavinoha, don't worry, this blog isn't widely read.
I had never given much thought to Cardinals DHs. Maybe because inter-league has been going on for over 20 years and the team still has fewer than 600 plate appearances, so it has always been very small sample sizes on a year-by-year basis. And while I can probably be characterized as anti-DH in the NL, when it does eventually arrive on these shores I'll easily live with it if Cardinals DHs want to keep hitting this well.