Positional Power Rankings: Designated Hitter

For an explanation of this series, please read Dave Cameron’s introduction from Monday. All the posts in the series can be found here.

Whether you believe that every team should have a designated hitter, or that no teams should have one, there is no denying that the DH is an interesting position. While it’s still a position of high-octane performance — as a position, DH’s .771 OPS was second-best in the American League, behind only first base — it is also the one that most resembles a carousel. Last season, teams started — on average — more than nine different DH’s. Seven teams — the Blue Jays, Mariners, Rangers, Rays, Twins, White Sox and Yankees — had more different starting DH’s than they did starting pitchers. If you’re scoring at home, that’s half the AL.

All of which is to say that predicting who will get the most playing time at DH for each team can be a bit of a crapshoot. But that’s not going to stop us from trying.

One other thing to keep in mind — when it comes to WAR, it is a little bit harder for a DH to build up an elite season, due to the heavy positional adjustment that is taken into account.

14. Baltimore Orioles

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Wilson Betemit S 0.252 0.316 0.430 400 0
Reserve Nolan Reimold R 0.246 0.325 0.416 150 0
Reserve Mark Reynolds R 0.218 0.32 0.461 75 0
Reserve Chris Davis L 0.25 0.299 0.440 75 0

The Orioles don’t have much to crow about these days. Wilson Betemit finished last season on fire, but ZiPS is not buying in for a return engagement. Nolan Reimold seems the most likely to beat his projection of this bunch, but he with two good seasons sandwiched around a dismal, albeit injury-shortened campaign, it’s still hard to know what to expect from him. Mark Reynolds, who by all rights should only be a DH at this point, is still going to see some time in the field for some reason, otherwise he might see a positive figure here. And while Chris Davis is only going to be 26 this year, it may be time to stop waiting for him to put it all together.

13. Oakland Athletics

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Seth Smith L 0.245 0.322 0.408 300 0
Reserve Jonny Gomes R 0.220 0.309 0.374 200 0
Reserve Manny Ramirez R 0.241 0.342 0.363 200 0

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing, and that’s exactly what the A’s may get out of their DH spot this season. While I count myself as firmly planted on the Seth Smith bandwagon, when you combine a potentially part-time role, with no defensive value added and a big new ballpark, you get an equation with long odds for success. Having said that, if Smith and Gomes are used in a true platoon that leverages the strength of each, then they have a chance to better than this projection. As for Manny, it’s an open question as to whether or not he has anything left in the tank, but he is likely to defy his protection one way or the other.

12. Minnesota Twins

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Ryan Doumit S 0.256 0.319 0.404 300 0
Reserve Josh Willingham R 0.247 0.347 0.45 150 0.5
Reserve Trevor Plouffe R 0.244 0.296 0.398 150 -0.5
Reserve Joe Mauer L 0.302 0.38 0.432 100 0

Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham will make a combined $10 million this year, but that doesn’t mean that they will be contributing a lot to this season’s bottom line. Willingham should be just fine as a DH, but letting him roam the expanse that is right field at Target Field may be akin to improv theater. Mauer will likely get some “keep me fresh” time at DH, but it probably won’t be enough for him to be a difference maker here. And even at that, Mauer’s forecast is for “only” a .350 wOBA. That would be plenty good for most players, but Mauer is a guy who compiled a .396 wOBA from 2008-2010. Can Mauer get back to that magniflorious three-year stretch, or will that end up as his peak?

11. Cleveland Indians

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Travis Hafner L 0.259 0.346 0.423 400 0.5
Reserve Shelley Duncan R 0.228 0.309 0.398 175 0
Reserve Matt LaPorta R 0.253 0.321 0.422 75 0
Reserve Lonnie Chisenhall L 0.255 0.312 0.404 50 0

About the only thing you can count on from Travis Hafner these days is that he will be injured at some point during the season. His days of .400 wOBA’s are well behind him, and with the exception of Bill James, every projection system on his player page has him regressing even further from the .350’s mark he has put up the past couple of years, with ZiPS being the harshest critic. In 2010, Shelley Duncan hit lefties fairly well in his first season of semi-extended playing time, which led some idiot to pick him up in his Scoresheet league to serve in the shallow end of a DH/OF platoon. He then went back to not hitting lefties, but he did turn in a good season against righties, so perhaps there is still something there. The same can’t be said for Matt LaPorta, who is essentially trading on his draft status and the fact that he was the big prize in the CC Sabathia trade. Jack Hannahan’s hot finish and similarly blazing start to this spring means that Lonnie Chisenhall may be shifted around, and a few games at DH seem like a good bet.

10. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Kendrys Morales S 0.274 0.321 0.455 375 0.5
Reserve Mark Trumbo R 0.253 0.295 0.437 225 0
Reserve Bobby Abreu L 0.246 0.338 0.385 100 0

If there is one wild card on this list, it’s Kendrys Morales. The range of possible performances is wide. On most player pages, there is usually a 15-20 point difference in projected wOBA’s, but Morales has a 53-point gap between his high and low projection. ZiPS comes in — as it so often does — at the lowest end of the spectrum, meaning that if Morales hits like he did in 2009 and 2010 that he will blow past this projection. If Morales is healthy and productive though, that will have affect Trumbo’s playing time, so in the grand scheme of things, it may not mean a great deal for the Angels’ DH spot overall. I am of the belief that Abreu will be traded before the season starts, because it seems silly to let Mike Trout waste away in the Minors, but I’ve been wrong before.

9. Chicago White Sox

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Adam Dunn L 0.209 0.34 0.429 550 0.5
Reserve Dayan Viciedo R 0.274 0.328 0.431 150 0

Dunn’s season was inexplicably bad. It was so inexplicably bad that the consensus among projection systems is a rebound back to respectability. As David G. detailed back in January, Viciedo is a candidate to beat his projections if his newfound plate discipline sticks. That could be especially true for our purposes here if he ends up the DH against left-handed pitching, as he can get quite mashtastic against southpaws.

8. New York Yankees

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Raul Ibanez L 0.253 0.307 0.427 350 -0.5
Reserve Andruw Jones R 0.234 0.335 0.455 250 0.5
Reserve Alex Rodriguez R 0.264 0.350 0.474 100 0.5

Another guy who could beat his projections if used properly is Raul Ibanez, but the proper way to use him is probably not the heavy-half of a DH platoon. Andruw Jones will pull his share in the shallow half of said platoon, but the real reason the Bombers place one spot higher than the White Sox is because of A-Rod. If he ends up being healthy enough to not need this much DH time, this ranking will probably end up on the optimistic side.

7. Tampa Bay Rays

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Luke Scott L 0.245 0.325 0.447 400 0.5
Reserve Matt Joyce L 0.254 0.342 0.453 150 0.5
Reserve Sam Fuld L 0.245 0.322 0.348 80 0
Reserve Brandon Guyer R 0.259 0.310 0.400 70 0

While home-road splits are generally pretty fallible, Steve Slow noted a funky trend in Luke Scott’s, and whether or not that carries forward will determine whether or not the Rays turned up another gold doubloon, or another lemon. Whether boom or bust, his recent physical maladies will likely prevent him from playing a full campaign. And while it is hard to know just how manager Joe Maddon will fill the void, it’s a decent bet that Matt Joyce will see some time at DH, and also a decent bet that he will be productive if he does. Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer will probably be less productive than Scott and Joyce will, but given the Rays dearth of “natural” DH options, they may be pressed into duty there anyway.

6. Toronto Blue Jays

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Edwin Encarnacion R 0.261 0.331 0.457 500 1
Reserve Adam Lind L 0.264 0.315 0.466 130 0
Reserve Travis Snider L 0.247 0.304 0.407 70 0

He didn’t hit for the power that he did in 2010, but E5 once again cut his strikeouts, and that helped carry him to the best wRC+ mark of his career. I expect more of the same this season. Whenever you hear some “expert” tout the fact that Adam Lind is a good player because he has hit 20+ homers in three straight seasons, feel free to press mute and click over to FanGraphs for a few minutes of serenity. As for Travis Snider, he may only have a few minutes left in his tenure with Toronto if he doesn’t show and prove right out of the gate.

5. Texas Rangers

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Michael Young R 0.291 0.336 0.431 325 0
Reserve Mike Napoli R 0.272 0.361 0.538 175 1
Reserve David Murphy L 0.268 0.328 0.422 50 0
Reserve Mitch Moreland L 0.264 0.329 0.424 50 0

Last year, at age 34, Michael Young had one of the three best seasons of his career, thanks to an incredibly high BABIP and a career-low K%. Don’t bet on either happening again this season. Similarly, Mike Napoli will be hard pressed to duplicate his 2011 output — but unlike Young, he can have a large dropoff and still be a very productive player. David Murphy needs to get back to hitting the ball in the air if he wants to again be an above-average player. I’m willing to give Mitch Moreland a mulligan on the account of his wrist injury, but that won’t show up in the projections. Josh Hamilton may make a DH cameo as well, but in interests of not listing half the Rangers’ offense here, we capped it at four players.

4. Seattle Mariners

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Jesus Montero R 0.257 0.322 0.438 600 1
Reserve Mike Carp L 0.252 0.317 0.414 100 0

Putting the Mariners over the Rangers here is a debatable move, but they win out for simplicity, as the lion’s share of playing time at DH should go to the cub of the bunch, Jesus Montero. While it is said that he will get an opportunity to catch, it seems more likely that he ends up spending the bulk of his time with his tools of ignorance planted firmly in the clubhouse. Mike Carp is likely not the hitter he appeared to be for much of last season, but he is a decent reserve option.

3. Detroit Tigers

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Delmon Young R 0.283 0.317 0.441 300 0
Reserve Miguel Cabrera R 0.31 0.406 0.548 250 1.5
Reserve Ryan Raburn R 0.255 0.308 0.429 100 0
Reserve Prince Fielder L 0.275 0.394 0.504 50 0.5

If there is one team at the top of this list that seems unsettled from a playing time standpoint, it’s the Tigers. Delmon Young figures to get his share of PT — whether or not he does anything with it is another story. Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Raburn and Prince Fielder seem likely to divvy up the remaining PT, with Raburn obviously being the least effective of the troika. If Cabrera’s rebirth at third base doesn’t take, he could end up the starter here, and that would easily vault the Tigers to the top of the list, but for now we’ll play along and slot him in as a reserve.

2. Kansas City Royals

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter Billy Butler R 0.295 0.362 0.462 650 2
Reserve Mike Moustakas L 0.274 0.316 0.436 50 0

In our FanGraphs After Dark chats, it seems like we are frequently asked if this is the season that Billy Butler smacks 25 home runs or slugs .500. And while those are noble pursuits, Butler doesn’t need them to remain effective. The great thing about Butler is that he is usually healthy, and doesn’t often need a replacement, but if Yuniesky Betancourt really is going to start three or four times a week, then the Moose may need to slide into the DH spot every now and again just to stay in the lineup, as crazy as that sounds.

1. Boston Red Sox

Role Player Bats ZiPS BA ZiPS OBP ZiPS SLG PA WAR
Starter David Ortiz L 0.266 0.357 0.498 630 2
Reserve Kevin Youkilis R 0.268 0.374 0.477 70 0

With Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield retiring, David Ortiz is now the longest tenured member of the Red Sox (at least in terms of time with the big club), but luckily he still has something left in the tank. Last season, Ortiz fixed his strikeout issues, which were threatening to spin out of control. The other graybeard in terms of time with the Red Sox (he has actually been in the organization longer, just not in Boston), Youkilis — who is also still a very good hitter — will likely need some DH at-bats to save his weary body from the grind of third base.




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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


46 Responses to “Positional Power Rankings: Designated Hitter”

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  1. JBentley says:

    @Paul, I bet you never half-step.

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  2. Brett says:

    Paul, considering that Manny Acta sees Kotchman as a “full-time” 1B, Carlos Santana is likely to get his days off from catching at DH, resulting in far more PAs at DH than Chisenhall, and (God forbid) LaPorta. I am not if he should be the primary reserve, as opposed to Duncan, but it is possible that with LF open, Santana also gets more time at DH than Shelley.

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  3. guesswork says:

    Is there any discourse between these rankings in regards to PA? Somehow I really doubt Miguel Cabrera is going to get 905 PA this year.

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  4. JimNYC says:

    I must say, I am positively SHOCKED at that projection for Jesus Montero — it’s staggeringly low. I can’t imagine anybody really believes that that will remotely resemble his line at the end of the year.

    On the conservative end of things — given his ballpark — I’d put Montero down for a .280 / .360 / .470 season. I would think a best-case scenario for him this season would be somewhere around .300/.390 / .550. This is a guy who, two years from now, has at least a fifty / fifty chance of being the best hitter in the American League. I’m just stunned that ZIPS would be so pessimistic. I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised if, by 2014, he’s regularly hitting .325 with 100 walks, 40 HR, and 40 2B every year.

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    • EarlSweatshirt says:

      You are drastically overrating Jesus Montero.

      +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mike says:

        I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised if, by 2014, he’s regularly hitting .325 with 100 walks, 40 HR, and 40 2B every year 1000 years from now, Jesus Christ is referred to as “Other Jesus.”

        +25 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • VivaAyala says:

        As a hitter, sure. However, I think the Ms are going to surprise a lot of people with how much they play Montero at C. It’s not like we’ve established a high standard for catcher defense back there. Eventually, you have to look at what the club’s saying and how they’re playing him in spring training (where he hasn’t been bad) and realize that he likely will catch 20-40 games.

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    • Paul Swydan says:

      I’m not going to say that Montero is incapable of 40 HR and 40 2B in the same season, but just for a frame of reference, a player only did that8 times in the last decade – 2 by Albert Pujols, 2 by David Ortiz, and 1 by Derrek Lee, Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano.

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    • los says:

      You think there is at least a 50% chance he will be the best hitter in the AL in 2 years. That is absolutely ludicrous to say about ANY player. He has a greater chance of flaming out that he does of being the best hitter in the AL in two years.

      And I think he will be a great hitter too.

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    • James says:

      What Earl said. But I feel the need to repeat it for emphasis.

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    • Earl Weaver says:

      This website used to be inhabited by nerdy statistic seekers. Now its comment section resembles an extension of espn.com.

      A pity.

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    • TJ says:

      Assuming 650 PA, 0 3B, and 0 HBP, Jesus Montero would have to have to have a triple slash line of .325/.429/.616 for that prediction to be accurate. No sane person would be unsurprised by a player turning into Albert Pujols.

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      • JimNYC says:

        Respectfully disagree. I’ll put it this way: I see him as Frank Thomas with slightly less patience. I am 100% certain that, barring injury, this will go down as the worst trade in Yankees’ history.

        -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • TJ says:

        Well, if you think he will be Frank Thomas, then why did you say he would hit 40 doubles with regularity?

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    • Baltar says:

      Nobody has a 50/50 chance of being the best hitter two years from now, much less Montero.

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  5. BX says:

    And this is why I am excited to see what Manny Ramirez can do.

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  6. gorillagogo says:

    Last season, teams started — on average — more than nine different DH’s. Seven teams — the Blue Jays, Mariners, Rangers, Rays, Twins, White Sox and Yankees — had more different starting DH’s than they did starting pitchers. If you’re scoring at home, that’s half the AL.

    This is interesting. Whenever the subject of eliminating the DH is raised, one of the first arguments is that the player’s union would never agree to get rid of all these high-paying jobs for aging sluggers. Turns out half the AL doesn’t even have a full time DH, but rather rotates a number of guys through the spot.

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  7. Jeff K says:

    I enjoyed this part of the series. Just wanted to add that Montero’s wOBA of .331(which was adjusted after his trade to the M’s) equates to a ~110 wRC+. For a DH, assuming non-terrible baserunning, that would be worth about 1.5 WAR. This wouldn’t change the order of the rankings, just that the WAR looked a little low.

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  8. ToddM says:

    If Sam Fuld starts a single game at DH, or even if he’s used as a PH for the starting DH, Maddon should be ashamed of himself.

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  9. You acknowledge that the Tigers’s PT for DH is quite unsettled. You are correct, but signs seem to be pointing to Delmon Young spending the majority of his time in LF. Andy Dirks is likely to get a large share of the DH PA’s. Now, why would the Tigers play Dirks, the obviously superior fielder, at DH and Delmon in LF? Well…Jim Leyland manages the Tigers.

    Also, I’ve addressed this elsewhere, but the assumption that Cabrera will fail at 3B seems to be built more on narrative than on any statistical data. That shouldn’t happen at Fangraphs. If someone wants to make a statistical argument concerning why Cabrera should be expected to freefall to -25 runs in the field, I would love to see it. (Anything in the mid-teens would equal a success.)

    Also, we Tiger fans know Jim Leyland will put out some ridiculous lineups, so seeing Donnie Kelly, Ramon Santiago, and Brandon Inge get some starts at DH would not be too surprising.

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    • Tom B says:

      It’s not that he will “fail” at 3B… they should just not play him there if they can get a run neutral or better 3B instead.

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      • That’s only true if you can’t find a DH who, when paired with Miggy at 3B is more valuable than that hypothetical 3B when paired with Miggy at DH.

        This year it may be somewhat close between 3B-Miggy + DH-Delmon and DH-Miggy + 3B-(Inge/Santiago/Kelly)…(even closer given the current crazy rotation of DHs that Jimmy is likely to use).

        Next year, when Victor Martinez comes back to play DH, however, it won’t be the least bit close.

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  10. sc2gg says:

    How can Micheal Young have a projected 0 WAR? He’s practically the AL MVP!

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  11. CheeseWhiz says:

    Seeing the Mariners being projected in the top 5 for production from the DH is just…. well…. it just doesn’t compute. No Carl Everett? No Jose Vidro? Heck no Adam Kennedy (yes that actually happened)? I’d be happy with just about anything north of 100 RC+ at this point.

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  12. MikeS says:

    No DH is forecasted to get more than 2 WAR? How many years has that happened?

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    • Baltar says:

      Give me a break! No specific DH is projected (not forecasted) to have much more than 2 WAR. Some who are projected to have about 2 WAR will have more, some less. Some who are projected at something less than 2 WAR will also have more than 2.
      So there will be some DH’s above 2 if ZIPS has projected well.
      Try to think before you comment.

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  13. wobatus says:

    I always think ZIPS projections are comically low. Then some players just end up stinking up the joint worse than I expect. I guess overall it gets it right, but somehow I still look at the projections in this series and more often than not I think the player will do better. I think I average the ZIPS and James projections to get closer to my own view.

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  14. Pedagogy of the Depressed says:

    Like others, I noticed a pretty mediocre bunch of hitters from a position that is all about the offence. There don’t seem to be enough good DH types to go around.

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    • Baltar says:

      You are correct. One of the premises, perhaps even the major premise, upon which the DH idea was sold was that the position would be chock full of great offensive production.
      That premise was false. Get rid of the DH.

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  15. pft says:

    Orioles ranked rock bottom yet they would not sign Damon. He would be made for that park. He got killed in the Trop last year but had a 800+ OPS on the road.

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  16. gabriel says:

    One wonders why the Jays are ranked behind the Mariners when both Lind and Encarnacion are forecasted to be better hitters than Montero (and Carp). I might prefer Montero’s output at the plate this year, but that’s not what ZiPS says.

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  17. adohaj says:

    Lists like these make me think WAR is broken for the DH more so than it is broken for catcher defense.

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    • Jon L. says:

      Is the DH that a DH can’t have any value unless he outhits the other DH’s?

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      • Jon L. says:

        Damn. Make that, “Is the *idea* that a DH can’t have any value unless he outhits the other DH’s?”

        My original comment sounded like something out of Being John Malkovich, or maybe The Smurfs.

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  18. Randy says:

    Cabrera is going to get some games at DH and possibly 1B no matter how well he does at 3B. And the days that Delmon is at DH is likely going to be based upon matchups of some kind. If you, in fact, assume Cabrera will fail at 3B, then that means he’d get most of his production at DH (or Fielder would) in which case I think that vaults them to #1. I see no way, under any circumstances, they rank behind the Royals.

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  19. bluejaysstatsgeek says:

    If Snider is on the Jay’s roster, it’s because he beat out Thames for LF. Both Farrell and Anthopoulos have said that only one of Thames and Snider will be on the opening day roster.

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  20. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    The Ibanez projection is literally nonsensical. In more PA with a lower wOBA last year Matsui posted a 0.3 WAR. There is literally no way he could reach a -0.5 WAR with a .317 wOBA.

    And this is without mentioning the fact that he is not going to see left handed pitching this year, which means the ZiPs projection will be extremely inaccurate.

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  21. tyke says:

    so montero is going to be as good as young, napoli, et al? LOL. another bonehead positional projection this week.

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  22. Jon L. says:

    Shouldn’t we have the Astros on here?

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  23. GonzoFlyBall says:

    Encarnacion will not be trotted out to 3B this season. There is a guy named Brett Lawrie who is projected to play the position. Have you heard about him?

    On that note, its not necessary to place the E5 moniker on Encarnacion. He’s gonna DH and play some 1B.

    You wanna label someone E5, you might want to look up the guy who will be playing 3rd this year in Detroit.

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  24. muzik says:

    How stoned do you need to be to call the team with two guys with 30 – 40 HR power sharing the DH position and not have them in the top 2 or 3 let alone the audacity to put them 10?

    Neither Kendrys Morales nor Mark Trumbo have shown their best yet and still they have numbers that blow away the DH slot for about every team on the list.

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