What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position. The author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.
Also, keep in mind that these lists are based on rosters as of last week, so weekend transactions are not reflected in the rosters below. In some cases, teams have allocated playing time to different reserves than these depth charts show, but because they’re almost always choosing between near-replacement level players, the differences won’t move the needle much if at all.
And now, for the last crop of position players. Or position-less players, I guess.
Given the various uncertainties of projections, there is not much practical separation between the number seven team and the number 13 team on this list. One could even say there is not practical separation between the number five team and the number 15 team. Superstar DHs (in terms of actual value, rather than perception and marketability) are a rarity. It is not impossible for DHs to reach that level. David Ortiz (more on him in a bit) had a couple of superstar seasons years ago, and hitters like Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez made careers as superstar DHs.
Some have argued this is because teams are not utilizing their DH spots properly. While that may be true to an extent, it seems a bit too simplistic. Finding a player who is worth two wins above average (which would make him a roughly average player as a DH) just on offense is hard enough, and finding one on the free agent market who is willing to not play the field (even if he should) is even more difficult. Moreover, even teams who have money often have older players signed to long-term deals who are no longer really able to play the field every day, and thus need some of the time at DH. This makes it impractical to commit to one player at DH. It is an advantage when teams are able to do so, but it is easier said than done.
#1 Red Sox
David Ortiz may not tower over his (non-)positional peers as Mike Trout does over center fielders, but he is clearly the best designated hitter in baseball. Part of that is that other teams simply do not use a full-time DH, but Ortiz is clearly still a very good hitter. Indeed, even a .383 wOBA might seem like a stingy projection given that Ortiz has averaged .409 over the last three years, fourth-best in baseball. None of those seasons is particularly BABIP-heavy, his power is still excellent, and perhaps most impressively given his age, his ability to make contact is better than ever. Age is the main concern with Ortiz, and he did manage only 383 plate appearances in 2012 due to injury. Things have to end some time, but after the past few seasons there is little reason to think Ortiz is due for a sudden crash. He has a platoon split, but pretty much everyone does, so he is not a candidate for being platooned. Gomes and Carp will get some playing time, and nobody is a sure thing, but for a big (if not as big as in the old days) guy in his late thirties, David Ortiz is about as sure as they come.
#2 Blue Jays
The top of the Blue Jays’ DH depth chart is strikingly similar to the one for first base, where Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind are also heavily featured. Neither players is sterling at first base, but despite Lind’s resurgence and Encarnacion’s injury (both in 2013), Encarnacion is pretty clearly the superior hitter. If one considers Encarnacion as the primary DH, then the Blue Jays are in great shape here, assuming he can come back from his injury in something like his previous form. If one considers Lind as the main man, the Blue Jays are only okay. What they really need with Lind, wherever he spends most of his time, is a platoon mate, as his split is truly problematic.
If there is any player in the league other than Ortiz that is a truly competent and truly full-time DH, it is Billy Butler. Butler is not in Ortiz’ class as a hitter, and, at 28, it is very unlikely he ever will be. In 2012 Butler seemed to finally come into his own from a power perspective, with 29 bombs, but he then turned around and hit just 15 in 2013. However, Butler’s critics tend to focus on what he does not do at the expense at what he does do. He makes contact, takes walks, and gets on base. He is not a monster power hitter, but decent power is still in there. His projected wOBA of .355 may not recall vintage Edgar Martinez or Frank Thomas, but looking down this list, it favorably compares to other DHs, and is enough to make him a two-win player despite his lack of value in the field or the bases. Butler also has an excellent track record when it comes to health, an underrated aspect of his value.
Here is the cliff, the drop-off point at which teams do not really have anyone slated to be their primary DH who can hit well enough to be an average (roughly two wins over a full season) player while doing so. Victor Martinez managed it in 2011, but he missed all of 2012 due to injury. His power was down when he came back in 2013, but it was already slipping in 2011. Martinez still does an excellent job making contact, and combined with an average walk rate still contributes on offense. He does not project as a sub-replacement player by any means, and Billy Butler shows than one can be a decent DH without incredible power. Martinez, even if he plays a full season, simply does not do enough (other than avoid strikeouts) well enough to be much more than an above-replacement DH. That clearly has value, but the Tigers’ position on this list has far more to do with other teams’ lack of decent personnel to man their DH slot than Martinez’ intrinsic value.
Case in point: the rebuilding Astros’ Chris Carter-led mishmash at DH projects to have about as much value as the Tigers’ Martinez-heavy group. Carter is the anti-Martinez at the plate. Martinez is all about contact and batting average and not much power, while Carter takes tons of strikeouts, has a very low average, but makes up for it with excellent power enough walks to make his on-base percentage (and overall production) palatable. Carter is no great shakes a hitter overall, but given what nominally contending teams are paying for roughly equal or inferior production from veterans, the Astros are doing pretty well for themselves. It would not be totally shocking if the Astros traded Carter (who turned 28 during the off-season, so there is not really upside here), in which case the Astros could have a pretty hilarious DH situation.
Nelson Cruz loomed as a pretty big off-season free agent landmine, but when he finally signed with Baltimore, his deal was pretty safe: one year and $8 million. Even with the draft pick, that is pretty safe for a team in the Orioles’ position. Sure, you do not want to see him in the field regularly. His walk rate is average at best, and his contact abilities are clearly below average. There are the injury and PED worries. He is in his mid-thirties. He will not be in Texas any more. But he hits home runs, and it is not as if Camden Yards is Safeco Field when it comes to power. Sure, the Astros are paying Chris Carter a fraction of what the Orioles are paying Cruz for roughly the same projected production, but Carter wasn’t available, was he? If the Orioles are going to make another run at this, they do not want to be wishing on a big year from Henry Urrutia.
You know it may not be Cleveland’s year when an injury to Zombie Jason Giambi throws off their projected DH rotation. Okay, that is not really fair. The team is probably just counting on Giambi for a few DH appearances, a little pinch-hitting, and a whole lot of clubhouse leadership. This picture at this position is muddled for Cleveland because of the ambiguities of Carlos Santana’s role. If he were a full-time DH, Cleveland would rank second or third on this list. However, for some strange reason the team seems intent on winning games rather than doing well in these power rankings. Where are their priorities? Perhaps the team would be better off simply would be better off playing Santana at DH full-time rather than shuffling him between first, third, and catcher as well, but those spots also need to be filled. Still, among teams that appear to plan on shuttling various position players through DH, Cleveland does relatively well, as Santana, Nick Swisher and (against lefties) Ryan Raburn are all credible options.
Oakland also does relatively well for a team that is mostly shuttling different position players through the DH spot. In the As’ case, it probably has to do with their relatively deep group of position players. John Jaso, like Santana, is not much behind the plate. Despite a lack of power and a horrible 2011 performance with the Rays, Jaso still has the plate discipline to be productive at the plate. A .330 wOBA may not be what one envisions from a DH, but given trends in league run environment and the As’ park, it is not bad, comparatively. Jaso will not DH every day, but, as with Cleveland, Oakland’s other options are not bad, either, especially if they continue to platoon as efficiently as they have the last couple of seasons.
Matt Joyce is not a terrible choice at DH, particularly given the Rays’ lack of monetary resources. He is okay in the outfield, but with the emergence of Wil Myers and other decisions, the Rays have (at least for now) plenty of outfielders, and Joyce has enough value that he could be just set aside. And again, look at the other primary DHs on this list — Joyce is hardly terrible in comparison. Joyce seems to simply be a low batting average hitter. It is not as if his strikeout rate is especially poor, and he walks at a decent rate. His BABIP has simply always been low, and after more than 2000 major-league plate appearances, it is probabl more than just random variation. The Rays are probably hoping someone like Logan Forsythe will be a productive platoon partner for the left-handed-hitting Joyce. If so, Joyce’s rate of production probably will not be much higher than it already is, as he has already been pretty heavily platooned.
The Yankees are yet another team who will probably shuffle a number of pretty good position players through the DH spot, even if Soriano seems to be the primary DH going into the season. Soriano basically just hits home runs at this point in his career, but he is remarkable consistent in doing even as every other peripheral declines. Projection systems look at those peripherals and see a looming decline, but if Soriano has not been anything like a star since at least 2008, his bat is still useful. As a full-time DH rather than left fielder, the overall not thrilling, even if one thinks the projections are unfair to him. Still, he will also probably see some time in the outfield, giving better hitters like Beltran and McCann a chance to rest their legs a bit while contributing on offense. It is not a bad setup for the Yankees, given the personnel on hand.
Ah, the clubhouse politics of the paycheck. Most observers would probably agree that, objectively, if you have both first base and DH open, and the two players set to fill those spots are Mitch Moreland and Prince Fielder, the best on-field arrangement would probably be Moreland at first and Fielder at DH on most days. Even if Fielder were to see something of a drop off due to hitting off of the bench, it would probably not not be enough to balance the fielding difference. That is an ideal world, not the real world. The difference is not likely to make or break the team in any case. The point is not that Moreland would suddenly be super-valuable as a first baseman rather than a DH — he wouldn’t be. It is simply interesting in simply looking at these rankings in isolation might skew perceptions a bit. If the Rangers could find a platoon partner for Moreland, that could make a difference. Probably not a one win difference, but in matters like these, a few runs is a pretty big difference. Michael Choice might be the guy for that job in the short term sicne the starting outfield spots are all taken at the moment.
The hope here was probably for Logan Morrison to finally shake off the injury bug and remember how to hit home runs again now that he is out of the Marlins’ home run-killing park, but Corey Hart’s lingering health concerns means that he may spend more time at DH than the Mariners planned, so it isn’t clear how both Hart and Morrison will get regular at-bats on this roster. Positively, Morrison is only 26 and has always had good walk rates and decent strikeout rates. Negatively, 26 is not all that young for a hitter these days and his BABIP has been consistently low over more than 1400 major league plate appearances. And then there’s those pesky injuries. The Mariners are probably hoping for enough decent health and performance to at least get a platoon out of Morrison and Hart at DH while Justin Smoak is adequate at first (this would be a feat in itself). Maybe two of the players will emerge to give them a decent first base and DH set. Morrison has been discussed. Hart has a decent record with the Brewers, and has not played since 2012, and is in this thirties. His main offensive weapon was power, something Safeco will not help. Justin Smoak had a 109 wRC+ last year, not bad in Safeco, but as a first base/DH type it is not amazing, which is sort of sad considering it was his best season to date. This seems to be a case of the team having “if everything goes just right” as their plan.
If there is a team that needs to use their DH spot as a place to give their highly-paid veterans a place to “rest” every once in a while, it is the Angels. Still, Raul Ibanez projects to get most of the plate appearances here. And if Ibanez’ projection does not exactly scream “get this bat in the lineup,” who are we to dismiss him? In 2011, he finally seemed to hit the wall many expected him to hit years before, but in 2012 and 2013 he remade himself into something of a left-handed version of Soriano — home runs and not much else. That is overly simplistic (Ibanez actually has history of a decent plate approach, though his strikeouts spiked alarmingly in 2013), but Ibanez, despite on-base percentage just north of .300, has managed to have above-average offense value each of the last two seasons. This is not to simply dismiss the value of the projections, simply to note with wonder how Ibanez is still plugging away with some sort of usefulness. Maybe the Angels could have done better, and a platoon partner for Ibanez might help, but at just under $3 million, Ibanez is okay as a stopgap. It would not be totally shocking if he outhit Josh Hamilton in 2014 (as happened in 2013), but at this rate, that may not necessarily mean Ibanez had a good year.
This would not necessarily mean disaster for the Angels, though, as Mike Trout might always put up a 20-win season en route to his third straight second place finish in the AL MVP voting.
It’s ugly, but at least the Twins are not putting out a bunch of extra money at this position in a rebuilding year. Kubel is on a minor-league deal that is worth only $2 million if he is in the majors, and Colabello, recently of the independent leagues, is making the minimum. Hey, Joe Mauer can only be in one lineup spot per game. Kubel is probably better than he showed during his disastrous 2013, but he was so bad (and is so terrible in the field, too), that it is still fair to ask whether he is ever worth $2 million in the majors. Calabello would be a fun story, but right now he’s far better as a story than hitter.
#15 White Sox
If you thought it could not get worse than the Twins at the DH spot, you have the White Sox, who primarily feature a couple of guys who not only are roughly average with the bat (replacement level for a DH), but are both very old and in Dunn’s case, highly paid. Dunn’s deal notoriously went south faster than just about everyone could imagine, and I suppose giving Konerko one last (relatively) inexpensive farewell tour will not kill the team. Jose Abreu is the plan at first base, so Konerko and Dunn have to play somewhere. Practically speaking, the Twins and White Sox are projected to be in pretty much the same boat. The White Sox are paying far more money for roughly replacement level production from the DH slot, though.
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