B/R MLB 500: Top 10 Designated Hitters

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 17, 2013

B/R MLB 500: Top 10 Designated Hitters

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    The B/R MLB 500 has tackled all the offensive positions that require players to spend half their time on the field. Now it's time to look at the one that doesn't.

    All designated hitters have to do is hit, so the scoring system we came up with for DHs is the same as the one we came up with for first basemen, sans the 15-point defense portion. It goes: 30 points for hitting, 35 points for power, 10 points for baserunning and 10 points for health.

    Add it all up and you get a max score of 85. That's as high as we're willing to go with DHs, as they're just not as valuable as two-way players.

    As always, hitting entails more than just what happens after the ball leaves the bat. Results do count for something, but so does the process. Each player's approach will be taken into account.

    Power is less complicated, but results will be taken into account just as much as scouting reports. A player may have tremendous natural power, but his score will be lowered if he has a hard time making it show up in games.

    For baserunning, it's all about whether a guy can steal bases and how well and whether or not he can get around the bases better (or worse) than the average player.

    For hitting, power, baserunning and defense, keep the following in mind: A score that's, say, 15 out of 30 is not a failing score. That's an "average" score. Anything better is above average. Anything worse is below average.

    As for health, that's basically 10 free points unless there's a reason(s) to dock points. The scoring is subjective, but the general rule of thumb is that a player is only getting fewer than five points if he has a potentially career-altering injury.

    Lastly, here's a reminder that the whole idea is to round up guys we'd want on a team in 2014. And if there are any ties, the edge goes to the player we'd rather have.

    That about does it, so let's give it up for some professional hitters.

Sources

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    The statistics that made the following analyses came from all over, so we'd certainly be remiss if we didn't dish out some shoutouts.

    Baseball-Reference.com was the go-to site for basic statistics. FanGraphs provided more complex data, most notably the numbers concerning plate discipline. Brooks Baseball also helped with that, and the site's tracking of spray charts for hitters is another thing that came in handy. 

    And if you're wondering where all of the injury information comes from, the credit is owed to databases kept by Baseball Prospectus.

10. Ryan Doumit, Minnesota Twins

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    Note: Doumit is technically a catcher, and he can play a little outfield too. But because he’s a lousy defender at both spots and he’s played DH plenty of times since joining the Twins, he goes here. 

    Hitting

    12/30

    Doumit has been working sligjtly longer at-bats in 2013, and that can be chalked up partially to the fact that he hasn’t seen as many pitches in the zone. He deserves to be credited for showing off better discipline this year than he did in 2012, and that’s bought him a few extra walks. Nonetheless, he’s not whiffing any less often, and he’s inconsistent against any pitches that aren't straight. Doumit has also seen his line-drive percentage go down after a nice couple of years while seeing his ground-ball rate shoot up to near 50 percent. His BABIP has suffered the consequences.

    Power

    18/35

    When you’re hitting more balls on the ground, you’re going to have a hard time coming up with extra-base hits. Doumit can vouch, as he’s seen his power production drop quite a bit in 2013. He’s not getting the ball in the air often and is hitting balls over the fence at a rate below his career norm. His power production has been hurt by Target Field, but that's what you would expect once you notice how much his power has become warning-track power. His score here is essentially banking on the notion that issue will correct itself in 2014.

    Baserunning

    3/10

    As a catcher and part-time outfielder, Doumit doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a great baserunner. And he’s not one. The past two seasons have been the worst of his career in terms of making outs on the basepaths, with the bulk of the outs he's made this year coming at second and third. He doesn't steal enough bases or take enough extra bases on balls in play to make up for this treachery.

    Health

    7/10

    Doumit has been on the DL nine times since 2006, which is more than once per season. You name it, he’s had it: leg problems, hand and wrist problems and, most recently, a concussion that put him on the seven-day DL in August. If there's a bright side, it's that he hasn't needed the 15-day DL since 2011.

    Total

    40/85

    This has been a subpar season for Doumit's bat, as he's gotten away from some of the things that made him a quality hitter in the past and has also seen his power take a sharp decline. But even with these trends taken into account, his bat isn't entirely useless. Also, he's certainly a better option for these rankings than Travis Hafner.

9. Seth Smith, Oakland A's

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    Note: Smith has also played in the outfield in 2013, and it was the same story in 2012. But he’s played more than 40 percent of his games at DH over the past two seasons, and he definitely fits as a DH better than he does as an outfielder.

    Hitting

    13/30

    Smith is, and always has been, a platoon player, as the vast majority of his career plate appearances have come against right-handed pitchers. Regardless, he was more patient than ever in his first season in Oakland in 2012 and has been even more careful in 2013. Smith’s plate discipline has gotten sharper too, though he’s had a tougher time making contact out of the zone, which has upped his strikeout rate. His walk rate is down, and his BABIP is only high because he’s had some good luck on ground balls. 

    Power

    17/35

    The 2013 season has been the worst power season of Smith’s career. His HR/FB is down below his career norm, in part because he’s developed a very real case of warning-track power. He’s hit a lot of fly balls to deep right-center, and he plays in the wrong home ballpark for that sort of habit. But considering his career track record and just how pitcher-friendly O.Co Coliseum is, Smith deserves a pass.

    Baserunning

    7/10

    Smith stole 10 bases in 2011 when he was with the Rockies, but he’s generally not a base stealer. However, don’t sleep on Smith’s baserunning abilities. He’s a very smart baserunner, as he regularly takes extra bases and doesn’t run into outs. He’s quietly been one of Oakland’s better runners over the past two seasons.

    Health

    10/10

    Smith has been on the DL once in his career: in 2012 with a hamstring injury. That was a minor issue, though, and there’s nothing else in his injury history that makes one think twice.

    Total

    47/85

    This hasn’t been such a great year for Smith’s bat. But his power is better than he’s shown, and he’s a guy who can run the bases better than most DHs. 

8. Luke Scott, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Hitting

    17/30

    Scott was eaten alive by southpaws to the tune of a sub-.500 OPS against them in 2012. That’s changed in 2013, as he’s actually been more productive against lefties as he’s been against righties. That may be related to the simple fact that he’s rescued his approach from the depths it sank to in 2012, when he was more aggressive and fishing outside of the strike zone more than usual. He’s cut down on his whiffs and strikeouts as a result and has swapped some ground balls for line drives to aid his BABIP. He’s undeniably a pull-first, ask-questions-later hitter, but he makes it work well enough.

    Power

    21/35

    Though he’s been hitting a few more line drives this year, Scott’s game is still all about getting the ball in the air, preferably with authority out to right field. However, he hasn’t been able to recapture the HR/FB efficiency he enjoyed in 2009 and 2010 and has in fact watched his HR/FB sink well below his career norm in 2013. Without that, his power isn’t that far above average for a DH.

    Baserunning

    5/10

    Scott stole five bases in 2012, but he has otherwise never been much of a base stealer. He is, however, a guy who knows his limits. Scott doesn’t push his luck on the basepaths and has been very good about not running into outs over the past few years.

    Health

    7/10

    Scott has been on the DL four times since the start of the 2012 season, including twice with a bad back. And at the age of 35, it can be taken for granted his injury troubles probably aren’t going to get better.

    Total

    50/85

    Scott has experienced a turnaround from his poor 2012 season in 2013, in part because he's fixed up his approach and in part because he's done better against lefties. But as far as DHs go, he's really not much more than a slightly above-average hitter.

7. Kendrys Morales, Seattle Mariners

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    Hitting

    21/30

    Morales hasn’t been as good from the right side of the plate in 2013, and that’s indeed the story of his career. The best way to neutralize him is to put a lefty on the mound. The other thing to do is throw him pitches outside of the strike zone because he will expand and he has a very hard time making contact when he does so. Yet he doesn’t strike out much, and this is the second year in a row he’s had a solid BABIP despite a decidedly ground ball-heavy approach. He makes it work because he’s able to spread them around. He'll do for a solid-hitting DH.

    Power

    19/35

    With many more ground balls than fly balls and line drives, Morales should be a well below-average power hitter. He’s not because of how he’s maintained an ability to drive the ball well enough when he puts it in the air to salvage a decent HR/FB, and it should be noted that Safeco Field has hurt his HR/FB rate just a little bit. And whether he uses line drives or fly balls, he can still get the ball over the outfielders’ heads. His isn't great power, but it's serviceable.

    Baserunning

    2/10

    Morales is down there among the slowest baserunners in the game, and it shows on the basepaths. He’s actually done a decent job of going first to third in 2013, but he’s also run into too many outs for a station-to-station guy, and those first-to-thirds are the rare exception when it comes to taking extra bases. Put him on the bases, and they're officially clogged.

    Health

    8/10

    Morales basically lost two years of his career after breaking his leg jumping on home plate in 2010. He’s been largely healthy since then, however, and he isn’t yet deep into his 30s.

    Total

    50/85

    Morales' quietly excellent 2009 season is a distant memory at this point, but he can still hit. His numbers will only go so high, but he can do a .330-.340 OBP and a slugging percentage in the mid-.400s.

6. John Jaso, Oakland A's

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    Note: Jaso has played catcher more than DH in 2013, but it was the opposite in 2012. And given his poor defense behind the plate and the concussion he suffered back in July, it's possible he's headed for life as a full-time DH.

    Hitting

    24/30

    Jaso’s is going to put together long at-bats, as he likes to see pitches and he has outstanding plate discipline. Put those two things together, and you get a terrific walk habit. He’s been a line-drive machine to the opposite field in 2013 and has been one in general over the past two seasons. And in 2013, he actually has a BABIP he deserves. The catch is that Jaso is a platoon player who plays almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. That makes his job easier.

    Power

    12/35

    Jaso has been hitting the ball in the air more often in 2013, but his HR/FB has plummeted from the rate it was at in 2012. That was bound to happen, as he wasn’t much of a home run hitter before last season. He’s more of a doubles guy, and he hasn’t hit enough of those in 2013 to qualify as even so much as an average power hitter. Take away last year’s fluky home run power, and there’s not much there in terms of power with Jaso.

    Baserunning

    6/10

    Jaso is capable of stealing a base. He stole five in 2012 and has added a couple more this year. But his real talent is taking extra bases. He’s gone first to third more often than ever before even in a modest sample size, and he’s been OK at avoiding outs. For a catcher/DH hybrid, Jaso is a quality baserunner.

    Health

    9/10

    Jaso was healthy in 2012, but 2013 has been a different story. He’s missed a handful of games with a bad left hand and has been out ever since late-July with a concussion. That's obviously an injury that you hope doesn't linger, but concussions have been known to do that.

    Total

    51/85

    There’s no question that Jaso makes for a better DH than he does a catcher. And while one would prefer more power, his talent for getting on base is absolutely commendable.

5. Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox

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    Note: Dunn has played first base more than DH in 2013, but that wasn’t the case in either 2011 or 2012. And frankly, he's a subpar defender at first base anyway. We still consider him to be a DH.

    Hitting

    10/30

    Dunn has always seen a ton of pitches when he goes to the plate, and that habit has been a double-edged sword for him. Because he has a terrific understanding of his big strike zone, he’s always been able to draw walks. But since he gets himself in a lot of two-strike counts and has a serious tendency to swing and miss at all pitches, he obviously strikes out a lot. And because his swing is geared to hit the ball in the air, he’s not, and generally has never been, a BABIP merchant. He’s been more of one this year, but not to a point where he's actually passing himself off as a solid hitter.

    Power

    30/35

    Dunn certainly should be trying to get the ball in the air every chance he gets, of course, as he’s been good for a HR/FB over 20 percent year after year. He hasn’t lost this ability in 2013, and not surprisingly, has crossed the 30-homer plateau for the ninth time in 10 seasons. The catch is that Dunn is no longer mixing in doubles with his homers like he used to.

    Baserunning

    2/10

    The 2013 season has been one of Dunn’s very best in terms of avoiding outs on the basepaths. He deserves credit for that. All the same, he’s still about as useless on the bases as you’d expect of a guy nicknamed “Big Donkey.” Dunn’s footspeed is basically nil, so traffic definitely slows down when he's running the bases.

    Health

    10/10

    The last time Dunn went on the DL was in 2003. He’s stayed in remarkable health throughout his career, and he doesn’t even miss that many games with nagging injuries. Even with his 34th birthday coming up, it’s easy to count on him staying healthy.

    Total

    52/85

    Whether or not Dunn will even be back in 2014 is up in the air. But seeing as how he’s still very much useful as a power specialist, there’s still a place for him in MLB if he wants to stick around.

4. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers

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    Hitting

    28/30

    It took some time for Martinez to get back into the rhythm of things after missing 2012 with a torn ACL. He had trouble in particular hitting fastballs, as his timing was all out of whack. But ever since the beginning of June, Martinez has been murdering fastballs and has generally looked much more like his 2011 self. He’s still fairly patient at the plate with good discipline to boot, and he rarely swings and misses or strikes out. He's been hitting well over .300 since the start of June, and could definitely do so over a full season's worth of games in 2014.

    Power

    19/35

    Martinez couldn’t hit for a lick of power in the first two months of the season. But ever since that magical June 1 date, his power has basically been the same as it was in 2011. He’s not a big-time home run hitter from either side of the plate, but he can definitely hit them, and he has plenty of doubles power via his line-drive habit. These things are good enough to salvage a decent power score.

    Baserunning

    2/10

    Martinez can get on base well enough. But once he’s there, it’s not pretty. He was a horrid baserunner even before his torn ACL, very rarely taking extra bases and running into too many outs for such a cautious player. He’s been better about not running into outs this year, but he’s still one of the most hopeless baserunners in the business.

    Health

    7/10

    Martinez missed all of 2012 recovering from an injury. He’s been able to stay largely injury-free in 2013, but his age (35 in December) and the degree to which he got beat up before his ACL tear means we have to play it safe with this score.

    Total

    56/85

    More power would be nice, and it’s a good idea to avert your eyes when Martinez is running the bases. But after a very slow start to his season, he’s done nothing but make it clear that he can still hit with the best of ‘em.

3. Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals

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    Hitting

    27/30

    The man they call “Country Breakfast” hasn’t gotten a chance to feast on many pitches in the zone this year. Pitchers have been shying away from him. Butler deserves credit for adjusting well, as he’s not expanding the zone more often and has seen both his walk and his strikeout rates benefit from that. His BABIP is down from where it was in 2012, however, and that can be traced to the fact that the career-best line-drive rate he enjoyed has come back down to earth. It’s a good thing he’s cashed them in for ground balls rather than fly balls, as those have a better chance of getting through the defense. Short version: Yeah, the guy's a pro hitter.

    Power

    18/35

    Butler hit a career-high 29 homers last year, but that success hasn’t carried over into 2013. It was always unlikely that it would, as last year’s success was built on a high HR/FB rate balanced with a low fly-ball rate. Hitting home runs just isn’t really Butler’s thing. He’s more apt at making outfielders run by spraying line drives all over the yard. That said, he really has average power for the position.

    Baserunning

    4/10

    Butler is hardly fleet of foot, so it’s not fair to expect him to be great on the basepaths. But he deserves some credit for the work he’s done this year, as it’s been easily the best season he’s had in terms of avoiding outs. In fact, he’s only made one out on the basepaths all year, and it was at home.

    Health

    10/10

    Butler’s next trip to the DL will be his first. Since he came into the league as a DH, he should continue to avoid the wear and tear other players are subjected to for quite a while longer still.

    Total

    59/85

    It’s a shame Butler hasn’t been able to maintain the power he found in 2012, as it's obviously preferable to have a DH who can hit the ball a mile. However, Butler's still one of the best hitters at any position, not just DH.

2. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

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    Hitting

    29/30

    How do you become a yearly candidate for a .300 average and .400 on-base percentage? In Ortiz’s case, it’s simple. He’s always been one to work counts, and he has a much better eye than the average player. When it comes to hitting, the whole field is in play when Ortiz is at the plate, and he makes enough hard contact on his ground balls to beat the shift on a consistent basis. The catch this year is that he hasn’t maintained the effectiveness that he had against southpaws in 2011 and 2012, but he's still the best pure hitter the DH position has to offer.

    Power

    32/35

    Anything in the air off of Ortiz’s bat has a good chance to go, and he certainly has power to all fields. And while he is indeed a good fit for Fenway Park with the Green Monster looming in left field, he’s actually hit for more power on the road both in 2013 and throughout his whole career. He’s up there among the best power hitters in the game…though he’s not quite on the next guy's level.

    Baserunning

    4/10

    Ortiz’s power hasn’t been quite as explosive in 2013 as it was in 2012. Maybe that explains the career high for stolen bases this year. There’s not much to speak of outside of those, as Big Papi is definitely a station-to-station guy. He can get moving pretty well when he has to, but he hasn’t been pushing himself on the basepaths more than necessary this year. And he shouldn’t, given that that's how he hurt his Achilles last year. 

    Health

    7/10

    The Achilles injury that ended Ortiz’s 2012 season and delayed his return to action in 2013 hasn’t cropped up, but there are times when he still seems to be favoring the leg/foot in question. Aside from that, he’s got a body with a lot of miles on it and it’s just not fair to expect him to be 100 percent healthy at any given moment.

    Total

    72/85

    Left for dead a few years ago, Big Papi provides seemingly daily reminders that he’s still an elite hitter. If hitting were the only thing that mattered for all position players, he’d be up there among the game’s very best.

1. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Note: Encarnacion has played the field more than he’s DH’d in 2013, but it was the opposite in 2012 and 2011. He's also not much of a defender no matter where he's playing in the field. We still consider him to be a DH.

    Hitting

    26/30

    In light of how powerful he is, it's remarkable how hard it is to strike out Edwin Encarnacion. Most players strike out around 20 percent of the time these days. He does so about half that often, and that’s a habit made all the more remarkable by the fact that he’s a patient hitter who lets counts go deep. He owes his lack of a strikeout habit to outstanding discipline and a good old-fashioned ability to make contact with anything. When he does make contact, however, he tends to favor fly balls. Those aren’t so great for BABIP.

    Power

    33/35

    Though not on the level of Chris Davis or Miguel Cabrera, there’s no question that Encarnacion is one of the game’s elite power hitters. He doesn’t have much home run power the other way, but he doesn’t need to given how consistently he crushes the ball to his pull side. And because he has a line-drive rate well above his career norm in 2013, he’s found himself hitting a few more doubles.

    Baserunning

    8/10

    Encarnacion’s not just some lug. He can run better than most power hitters. He stole 13 bases in 2012 and has kept stealing this year while rarely getting caught. He’s also a DH who can round the bases well, and he’s been much better about avoiding outs than he was in 2012.

    Health

    8/10

    Encarnacion’s last trip to the DL happened in 2010 when he sprained his left wrist. He's recently dealt with more pain in that same wrist, which now has quite a history of bothering him. UPDATE: According to Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com, it's been decided that Encarnacion is going in for surgery on his left wrist. He's expected to be fully recovered by spring training, but the surgery will cost him a couple points here.

    Total

    75/85

    With all respect to the great David Ortiz, Encarnacion is just as dangerous at the plate, is a better baserunner and a better bet to survive a season in one piece. If it's a DH you're looking for, he's the guy for the job.