The Sad State Of The DH Position In 2012 And Probably Going Forward

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Tuesday January 1st, 2013

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox is one of the few players to have a lengthy and successful career almost exclusively from the DH position. He was The Sporting News DH of the decade in 2009. As his career winds down, who will be the next great DH?

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox is one of the few players to have a lengthy and successful career almost exclusively from the DH position. He was The Sporting News DH of the decade in 2009. As his career winds down, who will be the next great DH?

Ryan Dana (MLB Reports Intern): 

The Designated Hitter in the American League has morphed into many different roles for teams over the years since its adoption in 1973.  At times it has been used to put lethal bats into the lineup without having to put the player’s subpar defense on the field too. At times the DH was a great place to use aging veterans who could still hit, but could not handle the rigors of playing every day in the field and stay healthy at the same time. The former use of the DH has been more common amongst larger market teams, and the latter more common avenue for smaller market teams to take. Not all that long ago, the DH was a position of prominence and was a great advantage to teams that had one of the league’s best, but there has been a recent trend that has put the DH position into a role of diminished importance.

There are a lot of things happening in Major League Baseball that have contributed to the decline of the DH in one way or another. For one, the “steroid era” has seemed to fade and gone are the days of 16 players hitting 40+ HRs a year (like in 2000). Not to bring up a debate about steroids, but there were only 6 players in 2012 that hit 40+ HRs, and only 15 players to accomplish this in the past 4 seasons combined. So whether the reason for the decline in HRs is a decline in steroid use, or something completely different, the numbers are the numbers regardless. There has simply been a decline in availability of players to fill what was the prototypical, power hitting, DH of the past. Power numbers are down, and aging sluggers seem to be aging faster in recent times.

David Ortiz Highights:

Edgar Martinez might just be the best DH of ALL-Time, It would be a good case of Ortiz vs him. Martinez was a 7 Time ALL-Star 5 Time Silver Slugger Award Winner and had a 3 Slash line of .312/.418/.933. Will he be the 1st ever Primary DH to be inducted into the Hall?

Edgar Martinez might just be the best DH of ALL-Time, It would be a good case of Ortiz vs him. Martinez was a 7 Time ALL-Star 5 Time Silver Slugger Award Winner and had a 3 Slash line of .312/.418/.933. Will he be the 1st ever Primary DH to be inducted into the Hall?

The trend of the DH position today is not crystal clear, but it is clear that it is changing. There are some teams that still invest a roster spot and a considerable financial commitment to a single DH they hope to use for the majority of games. On the other hand a lot of teams are using more of a DH by committee, which some managers, and general managers like due to the increased flexibility it gives a team. The notion of DH by committee is growing more popular as a way to rest every day players by giving them the day off from the field, but keeping their bats in the lineup. The DH will often vary depending on whether the opposing starting pitcher is a righty or lefty as well. With this DH by committee, there is essentially an extra roster spot for a manager or general manager to use for whatever he needs and managers love the versatility that they can have with the roster.

It is also fair to say that increased competitive balance has led to the decline of the DH. With notorious big spenders like the New York Yankees trying to cut back and get under the luxury tax, one obvious place to cut back is the DH. It is more important to spend on players that can both hit and field before a player that is only going to hit. Having a good DH is more of a luxury in this case. At the same token, smaller market teams that are spending more, are still not going to spend a large portion of their budget on a DH.

As far as DH’s in 2012 go, there weren’t really any that stood out as great investments for their teams. The two DH’s that stood out most were probably Billy Butler of the Royals, and David Ortiz of the Red Sox. Both had a 2.9 WAR, and gave their team that slugging DH that was so common in the past. Ortiz did all this while missing considerable time due to injury, which shows why he can still find work as an aging player who really has never played the field. Chris Davis of the Orioles was also a pretty solid DH in 2012. Adam Dunn gave his White Sox that prolific Adam Dunn power from the DH spot in 2012 too, but he also gave them the prolific Adam Dunn strikeout rate (222).

The Designated Hitter was put in place due to the fact most pitchers were pretty weak hitters, not surprisingly as they only wen to the plate once every 5 days. It has definitely added excitement to the American League as it provides deeper lineups and more offense. The DH position has been a great addition to the game and given many players phenomenal careers that may not have been possible otherwise. The annual award for most outstanding DH is now recognized as the Edgar Martinez Award, named after the DH legend himself. Maybe the DH will be a position of prominence again in the near future. Maybe there will be another wave of individuals who are such gifted hitters, but devoid of the skill required to play part of a Major League defense.

For Archived Articles on the DH Position please click the following links:

A Great DH Can Mean Winning the AL Pennant

To Keep or Get Rid of the DH:  The Future of the Designated Hitter in MLB

Jim Thome is a prime example of an aging veteran whose career was extended due to the DH position. He now sits at 7th on the all-time HR list with 612.

Jim Thome is a prime example of an aging veteran whose career was extended due to the DH position. He now sits at 7th on the all-time HR list with 612.

(*The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com*)

Welcome  to our newest Baseball Intern: Ryan Dana:

a  ryan dana

Ryan Dana is junior studying physical education with a concentration in coaching at Bridgewater State University. He has been playing baseball since he was 7 and coaching since he was 14. Ryan wants to be a college baseball coach once he graduates.  Ryan is, and always will be, a diehard Boston Red Sox fan. Secondary to baseball, he is a big health and fitness enthusiast.  You can find Ryan on Twitter

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Posted on January 1, 2013, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. There is a glaring omission when you mention great DH investments for 2012: Edwin Encarnacion.

    I can’t imagine you left him off because he only spent 82 as DH. You even mention that Ortiz had limited playing time (81 games as DH), and both Adam Dunn (93 games) and Chris Davis (60 games) only played part of the time as DH.

    You surely couldn’t have left him off because of his offensive performance. If you look at the B-Ref WAR, as you do in your article, the four DHs you compare, along with Encarnacion, you get:
    Encarnacion: 4.6
    Butler: 2.9
    Ortiz: 2.9
    Davis: 1.3
    Dunn: 0.9

    Now, since we’re looking at DHs, their defensive woes shouldn’t necessarily be a factor. So even if we look just at their B-Ref oWAR, the list reads like this:
    Encarnacion: 5.1
    Butler: 3.4
    Ortiz: 3.1
    Davis: 2.0
    Dunn: 1.5

    Now this doesn’t mean that Encarnacion is the best DH. Since WAR is a counting stat, playing time will affect it, as you noted with Ortiz’s WAR of 2.9. If we look at wRC+, the list looks like:
    Ortiz: 169
    Encarnacion: 152
    Butler: 140
    Davis: 120
    Dunn: 114

    Ortiz would have been healthy and able to maintain his production over a full season, which is about 140-150 games for him, he would have had his best season since 2007.

    • HI Cory,

      This is a valid point. This is because EE spent the majority of the 2nd Half as a 1B when Lind was sent to the Minor Leagues. The plan moving forward for the Jays is to use EE in the field and try Lind and a cast of others at the DH position. Based on that, we left him off. But yes, no doubt about it, the guy had a monster year. Chris Davis also played a lot of DH the final month when the club called up Manny Machado for the hot corner and Reynolds was over at 1B.

  1. Pingback: The Best DH of All-Time « MLB reports

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