The designated hitter is a topic that creates a clear line between its supporters and detractors. You can champion the fact that it erases wasted at-bats for pitchers who are not paid to (or fun to watch) swing a bat. Conversely, you can argue that the game requires more strategy (fun!) when a DH isn’t available. However, regardless of how you feel about the DH, its a part of baseball in the American League.
But despite being a fixture on AL rosters since the early 1970s, there is still a shortage of high-impact, full-time DHs. Right now, Nelson Cruz is the closest player to that categorization. The Seattle Mariners’ basher started 151 games last season, with 147 of those at DH. He slashed .288/.374/.550 with 39 home runs overall, and his numbers were a bit better when you take out his 17 plate appearances as an outfielder (.293/.378/.933).
There are very few hitters as good as Cruz in baseball, let alone ones that put in the majority of their time at DH. After him there’s Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales, Victor Martinez and a handful of others. Only Encarnacion can currently compare to Cruz and the rest are solid, but flawed batters. If you need proof, then how about the fact that only five players were considered above replacement level at DH last season, and only three were worth more than one win (Cruz, Encarnacion, Corey Dickerson).
You’ll notice that the list of above average DHs is a little short compared to the number of teams in the AL. Such a scarcity means there is a great advantage to be had when you can put a Cruz-like batter in to supplement a lineup with solid contributors from positions 2 through 9.
The Boston Red Sox certainly know that since they employed the greatest DH in MLB history (sorry, Edgar Martinez) for 14 years. Last year, the first without David Ortiz for the franchise since 2002, the Red Sox found out just how much a luxury a top notch DH is. In 2016, with Ortiz swatting balls all over Fenway Park, the Sox hit 208 home runs and slugged .461 as a team. Those numbers dropped considerably in 2017 (168 and .407).
So what did the Red Sox do? Well they went out and signed the best free agent hitter on the market in J.D. Martinez. You already know this. Martinez still wants to play some outfield, but we all know that his primary role is going to be as DH. Luckily there is a certain former Red Sox DH from whom he can take inspiration.
Last season, Martinez hit more home runs than Cruz and also produced superior numbers in wRC+ (166 vs. 146) and wOBA (.430 vs. .385), while tying him in fWAR (3.8). That brings us to a simple conclusion. Regardless of how much Martinez plays in the outfield, he’s going to be at DH a lot more, which means the Red Sox once again have arguably the best one in the league.
With the regular season rapidly approaching, here’s how Jason Mastrodonato thinks the opening day roster will break down. (Jason Mastrodonato; Boston Herald)
In each of the last two seasons, Jackie Bradley Jr. has surpassed five base running runs, but he’s only stolen 17 combined bags. That number should go up this year. (Joshua Schrock; NESN)
David Price got in some work against minor league players while working with a controlled pitch count. (Jen McCaffrey; MassLive)
It’s part of a new plan with Price. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)
Which Price is all about. (Sean McAdam; Boston Sports Journal)