What Is a DH in Baseball? Simplifying the Designated Hitter Rule

- September 4, 2023

A Designated Hitter is a player that comes to bat in place of another player that only plays in the field. The Designated Hitter usually hits for the pitcher since the pitcher is the worst batter on a team. The point of the Designated Hitter is to make the offense more potent instead of the defending team having a near-automatic out every time the pitcher comes to bat. 

What Is the Designated Hitter Rule in Baseball?

The Designated Hitter allows the pitcher to remain in the game without having to bat. The Designated Hitter must be picked prior to the start of the game and will be in that one spot for the duration of the game.  

When Can You Use a Designated Hitter?

Most professional baseball leagues in the United States of much of North America use the Designated Hitter. A team can opt not to use the Designated Hitter but must state this prior to the start of the game. Case in point is the Los Angeles Angels and Shohei Ohtani, who is a Designated hitter on days he does not pitch, but also bats when he is in as a pitcher. 

Note that at the amateur ranks, rules are different for the Designated Hitter. The NCAA rule is nearly the same regarding the Designated Hitter as at the professional ranks. The difference is at the collegiate level there is an option to have the starting pitcher stay in the game as the Designated Hitter after he is taken out of the game as a pitcher.

At the high school level, the Designated Hitter rule is different in that the DH can be used to bat for any player in the field, regardless of position. In addition, the DH can play in the field without losing that spot in the batting order.

A last, but important point to note is that the DH is entirely optional. Managers and coaches aren’t forced to use the DH. Unless you have a pitcher that can hit like Ohtani, as mentioned earlier, a manager would be wise to take advantage of the rule to increase offensive potency.

When Was the Designated Hitter Introduced?

The Designated Hitter was introduced into MLB in the American League in 1973. The first player to come to the plate as a DH was Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees. He drew a walk off Luis Tiant on a 3-2 pitch.  

About a decade later, the DH was adopted in many organizations including the NCAA and in the amateur ranks. The National League of MLB introduced the rule in 2020 and incorporated the rule fully at the beginning of the 2022 season.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the DH good for baseball?

For those who look to see additional offense, the argument is that the DH is good for baseball because it increases the chances for a team to score runs. If one takes a look at the batting records of pitchers over the years, they are, in most cases, substantially worse than position players. This is due to the fact the pitching is highly specialized, and pitches don’t work on their batting.

The Designated Hitter can be positioned anywhere in the lineup but must be noted prior to the game. In most cases, the DH is a power hitter that will be positioned somewhere in the middle of the lineup (3rd, 4th, or 5th) with increased chances for runs batted in during his plate appearances.

Can the DH hit for anyone?

As noted earlier, the Designated Hitter can only be used to hit for a pitcher at the MLB level and in most professional leagues. At the collegiate and high school level and most amateur levels, the DH can be used to hit for any position player.

Why is the DH only in the American League?

The DH was only in the American League through the 2019 season. The National League, known for its traditional nature, continued to use the pitcher to bat except for World Series games in the American League park, where the DH was implemented. At the same time, when the American League team played at the National League park, they were forced to have the pitcher in the batting order.

How many times can a Designated Hitter bat in a game?

Once the game begins, the DH can remain in the lineup for as long as the game is played, whether nine innings are 18 innings. Therefore, the number of at-bats varies and could reach eight or nine times or even more depending on the length of the game. A manager can opt to pinch hit for the Designated Hitter, who then becomes the Designated Hitter for the remainder of the game or until he is also removed for a pinch hitter.

Can a DH play in the field?

At the MLB level and in other professional associations, the DH is forbidden from playing in the field. The sole purpose of the DH in these leagues is to bat for the pitcher.

At the NCAA and high school ranks, the rule allows for the DH to play in the field under certain circumstances. The starting pitcher is allowed to remain in the game and become the DH after leaving the mound.

In high school, the DH can bat for any player on the field and can play in the field without losing the DH spot in the batting order. This is very similar to the rule at the collegiate level.

Has a DH ever won an MVP?

Shohei Ohtani won the MVP in 2021 while playing 126 games as a DH, 23 games as a pitcher, and appeared in 14 in the outfield. Ohtani hit 46 home runs and knocked in 100 while hitting .257.

Don Baylor was the next closest, winning the MVP in 1979 while playing 65 games as a DH, but played the majority (97 games) in the outfield. 

Six other times, a DH finished in the top three of the AL MVP vote:

1. Paul Molitor (2nd, 1993)
2. Edgar Martinez (3rd, 1995)
3. Frank Thomas (2nd, 2000)
4. David Ortiz (2nd, 2005, 3rd, 2006)
5. Victor Martinez (2nd, 2014)

What is the Difference between a Designated Hitter vs Pinch Hitter?

The biggest difference between the Designated Hitter and a pinch hitter is that the Designated Hitter is strictly a substitute hitter for the pitcher. The Designated hitter bats each time for the pitcher without the pitcher having to be removed from the game. A pinch-hitter can bat for any player in the lineup, but that player must be removed from the game. The pinch hitter could stay in the game in the field for the player he batted for or be removed from the game for another player.

Who is the Best Designated Hitter of All Time?

As is the case when discussing the best of all time at any position, the best Designated Hitter of all time is debatable. Popular names that come up in discussion are Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz, Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, and Harold Baines.
Let’s compare statistics and let you decide.
Edgar Martinez: .309 BA, 2247 hits, 307 home runs, 1261 RBI, 1219 runs, .933 OPS
David Ortiz: .286 BA, 2472 hits, 541 home runs, 1768 RBI, 1419 runs, .931 OPS
Frank Thomas: .301 BA, 2468 hits, 521 home runs, 1704 RBI, 1494 runs, .974 OPS
Paul Molitor: .306 BA, 3319 hits, 234 home runs, 1307 RBI, 1782 runs, .817 OPS
Harold Baines: .289 BA, 2866 hits, 384 home runs, 1628 RBI, 1299 runs, .820 OPS


The Designated Hitter was adopted in the American League in 1973 to increase offensive production by eliminating generally weak-hitting pitchers from batting.

The first Designated Hitter was Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees, who walked in his first plate appearance. The result of the DH rule was an increase in offensive production.

The Designated Hitter in professional leagues must be announced prior to the game and can only be used to replace a pitcher. This differs from collegiate and high school leagues, where the DH can bat for any player on the field.

The National League, ever the traditionalists, did not use the DH until 2020 and fully adopted the rule in 2022.

Since its inception, the only DH to win the MVP award was Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels in 2021. Last year, Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies was on an MVP pace before suffering a broken thumb. It’s only a matter of time before a National League DH wins the MVP award.

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