Ranking MLB's 10 Greatest Designated Hitters of All Time
History was made yesterday when David Ortiz doubled in the second inning against Seattle, as he passed Harold Baines for the most hits as a designated hitter with 1,689.
That begs the question, is David Ortiz the greatest DH of all time? What follows are my rankings of the top 10 designated hitters in MLB history.
Before a barrage of comments rain down, let me make it clear that these rankings reflect only what the players achieved while serving as DH.
I'm well aware that Jim Thome is better than Chili Davis and that Paul Molitor is better than Travis Hafner, but they didn't have better careers as designated hitters.
*Note: There is a discrepancy in statistics between Stats LLC and Baseball-Reference. According to Stats LLC Harold Baines had 1,688 hits as a DH, but according to Baseball-Reference he had 1,690.
Stats LLC is the more trusted source, but I do not have access to those statistics, so I used what I could from the chart in this article when making reference to DH stats. However, all of Jim Thome's stats and all single-season numbers came from this Baseball-Reference table.
10. Don Baylor
Though he made his mark of late as a manager for the Rockies and Cubs, Don Baylor was also a solid run producer during a 19-year big league career.
In 5,385 plate appearances as a designated hitter he posted a .259/.344/.449 slash line and launched 219 home runs playing primarily for the Angels and Yankees during his time as a DH. He took home Silver Slugger honors in 1983, 1985 and 1986.
He also won AL MVP honors in 1979, posting a .901 OPS with 36 home runs and an AL-high 139 RBI, though he did split that season between DH and corner outfield.
9. Hal McRae
The Cardinals' hitting coach during their World Series title winning season in 2006, Hal McRae also spent time as manager for the Royals and Rays.
He recorded 5,778 of his 8,059 plate appearances as a designated hitter, posting a .295/.358/.465 line with 143 home runs as he was a big part of the Royals success during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
His best season came in 1976 when he hit .332/.407/.461 to lead the AL in on-base percentage and OPS, finishing fourth in AL MVP voting. He finished fourth in voting again in 1982 when he led the AL with 133 RBI and won his only Silver Slugger award.
8. Paul Molitor
The only Hall of Famer on this list, Paul Molitor played 21 seasons, logging 791 games at third base, 400 at second base, 197 at first base, 57 at shortstop and 50 in the outfield.
He was primarily a DH though, playing 1,188 games at the position and registering 5,334 plate appearances. During that time he hit .308/.374/.454 with 1,456 hits and 102 home runs and his 167 steals at the position are the most all-time.
Molitor took home four Silver Slugger awards at DH and started the 1993 All-Star Game at the position. His best season as a DH came in 1993, when he hit .332/.402/.509 with an AL-high 211 hits to finish second in AL MVP voting. He then went 12-for-24 with eight RBI and 10 runs in the World Series to take home MVP honors.
7. Jim Thome
Jim Thome spent the majority of his career at first base, where he played 1,106 games, also playing 493 games at third to kick off his career, but he still had some solid numbers as a designated hitter.
In 3,451 plate appearances at DH he hit .264/.391/.531 with 205 home runs, and his .922 OPS is the third best among DHs with at least 500 games at the position.
Most of his time at DH came with the White Sox, with his best season coming in his first year with the team in 2006, as he had a 1.014 OPS with 42 home runs and 109 RBI to finish 12th in AL MVP voting and make the All-Star team.
6. Travis Hafner
With just 72 games played at first base and 1,102 at designated hitter, no one on this list has played a higher percentage of their career games as a DH than Travis Hafner.
Still active, he has put up a .277/.380/.507 slash line with 200 home runs in 4,415 plate appearances. His best season came in 2006 when he had an AL-high 1.097 OPS with 42 home runs and 117 RBI.
His drop off was a steep one, but he was one of the game's truly elite run producers for four seasons from 2004-2007, as he averaged a line of .296/.410/.567 with 32 home runs and 108 RBI.
5. Chili Davis
An outfielder during the early stages of his career with the Giants and Angels, Chili Davis made the move to DH in 1990 at the age of 30, and he actually posted better numbers at the plate from then on.
In 4,903 plate appearances, he had a .282/.381/.482 slash line with 200 home runs.
As a 37-year-old in 1997 he posted an .896 OPS and hit 30 home runs for the first time in his career. He is one of just 36 players to reach the 30-HR plateau at the age of 37 or older. He closed out his career winning back-to-back World Series titles in 1998 and 1999.
4. Harold Baines
Harold Baines, the man that David Ortiz passed for most hits all-time as a DH, began his career as a right fielder for the White Sox. However, 1,769 of his 2,830 games played came as a designated hitter.
In 6,619 plate appearances he had a .291/.370/.466 line with 235 home runs, and he made four of his six All-Star appearances as a DH.
Overall, he finished his 22-year career hitting .289/.356/.465 with 384 home runs and 1,628 RBI (30th all-time), and that earned him a statue outside of U.S. Cellular Field. Not all of those numbers came as DH, but he put up Hall of Fame caliber numbers as primarily a designated hitter.
3. Frank Thomas
Though he had probably the best career of anyone on this list, Frank Thomas spent six of the first seven seasons of his career as a first baseman, winning back-to-back AL MVP awards at the position in 1993 and 1994.
A superstar as a first baseman, he was still a terrific run producer later in his career, and in 5,698 plate appearances as a DH he hit .275/.394/.505 line and 269 home runs, which is good for second all-time at the position.
After a pair of injury plagued seasons, he was a star once again at the ages of 38 and 39, hitting .274/.379/.511 with 65 home runs and 209 RBI to finish his career with a bang for the Athletics and Blue Jays.
2. David Ortiz
Primarily a DH throughout his career, David Ortiz has spent 1,647 of his 1,905 career games at DH, with the majority of his time at first base coming as a result of the Red Sox looking to keep his bat in the lineup during interleague play.
In 6,829 plate appearances as a DH he has hit .290/.385/.560 with a position-record 236 home runs and 1,209 RBI. He's taken home five Silver Slugger awards and started the All-Star game as a DH four times, including each of the past three years.
At 37, he's showing no signs of slowing down, hitting .331/.412/.636 with 19 home runs and 65 RBI in 73 games so far this season. Before all is said and done, he has a great chance of claiming the top spot, but for now that still belongs to someone else.
1. Edgar Martinez
A member of the Mariners for all 18 of his big league seasons, Edgar Martinez spent the first six seasons of his career primarily as a third baseman, but his career really took off after he made the move to DH.
In 6,218 plate appearances as a DH he hit .314/.428/.523 with 243 home runs. His best season was his first full year as a DH in 1995, as he won the batting title with a .356 average and also had AL highs of 121 runs, 52 doubles and a .479 OBP to finish third in AL MVP voting.
Overall, he finished his career with a .312/.418/.515 stat line. Larry Walker and Martinez are the only two eligible players to finish their career with a .300/.400/.500 line and not make the Hall of Fame, and in my opinion Martinez belongs in Cooperstown.
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