The designated hitter topic never really goes away — at least not in the minds of many NL fans who detest every fiber of the position’s being — but right now it’s a hot topic, as it isin the National League. There’s always outcry from that segment of NL fans and I certainly understand and respect the feelings involved. Still, there are some misguided aspects to the argument.
First off, fans talking about how they hate watching guys who can only hit and can’t field is unbelievably contradictory, given that pitchers hit .115/.144/.149 last season and relievers don’t even bat.
Secondly, let’s tackle a notion I saw on Twitter all day Wednesday, which is this widely-held belief that a DH is some old, out-of-shape, past-his-prime player who still has power. The days of Greg Luzinski are in the past. Increasingly, the DH spot is now being used as a way to shuffle spots on the field and keep good bats in the lineup while giving them a day off from the field. Especially with the DH coming to the NL soon, I’ll guess 2020, it’ll become increasingly used in this manner.
Before we get to that aspect, though, let’s take a look at the most-frequent DHs per team. From 2018:
If we count only at-bats as a DH, only one player would’ve qualified for the batting title: Khris Davis with 535 at-bats. Cruz would’ve been one at-bat shy at 501. Only 10 players had at least 300 at-bats as a DH.
Again, the era of the full-time DH is going away. Let’s focus on the NL and use a few examples.
Let’s look at the Cubs, since so many people automatically think Kyle Schwarber should be a DH. He actually rated out as an above average left fielder last season by almost every metric. If the Cubs had the DH this year, they’d be better served to give Schwarber two or three starts a week at DH while also — assuming his bat bounces back — giving lots of DH turns to Willson Contreras, as he’s been run into the ground behind the plate the past two seasons. They could also cycle through 37-year-old Ben Zobrist while giving Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant days off from the field while keeping their big bats in the lineup.
How about the Dodgers? Max Muncy seems the obvious DH candidate, but they could also give injury-prone A.J. Pollock days off from center while using Cody Bellinger out there. David Freese is a good DH candidate against lefties. Justin Turner getting days off from the field would benefit him as well.
How about the Braves? Nick Markakis is getting up there in age while Josh Donaldson just had a season ruined due to injury. They could use turns at DH a few times a week. Brian McCann when he’s not catching is a good DH option, too.
The Mets? A Robinson Cano, Jeff McNeil, Peter Alonso, Todd Frazier revolving door? Jed Lowrie is almost 35 and has extensive injury history. When Yoenis Cespedes is ready to return, he’d be another option to rotate through the DH spot.
We could keep going. Very few teams in the majors this season figure to have a player that resembles an old-school “full-time” designated hitter. The position is evolving to the point that it’ll just be a way to keep a bat in the lineup when a player might need a day off or is a bit banged up.
In a few years we’ll be looking back and reminiscing about the days when the two leagues had different rules and one of them had 15 players who were terrible at defense but great at hitting and started regularly.
One final note: This isn’t an attempt to persuade anyone who hates the DH to change their minds. As noted, I appreciate and respect the stance. I’m just saying the DH position isn’t what many people believe it still is and it’s going to continue to evolve.