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Positional Breakdown: Designated Hitter

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Is it worth doing this position? That’s for God to decide!

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next eleven days, we are going to take a look at the Red Sox depth chart to break down each position both in the short-term and the long-term. We’ll look at projected starters, bench pieces, depth options, top prospects, sleeper prospects, other prospects, where the starter fits in the division in terms of projected fWAR using FanGraphs’ Depth Chart system and an overall view. Today we move over to designated hitter.

A quick note

I wasn’t really sure if I was even going to do this position, not because I don’t believe in the DH — I mean, come on, I’m not 100 years old — but because there’s no minor leaguers that are coming up as a DH. I’m not going to include any prospect stuff here for that reason. I’m still doing the first few sections and the projections. I mean, what else am I going to write about right now, you know?

Starter

J.D. Martinez

The Red Sox have been set at the DH position for basically every year for almost two decades, and that is no difference here. I am a little worried about Martinez in the short-term for reasons I’ll get to, but the track record indicates nothing besides him being at least within spitting distance of elite at the plate. You don’t want to see him in the outfield too often, but at the plate he rakes, simple as that. Even last season, which was viewed as and seemed in real time to be a down year, Martinez still finished with a 139 wRC+. In other words, he was still 39 percent better than a league-average hitter in what seemed like a down year. For a little more context, that put him at number 16 in all of baseball, just ahead of Freddie Freeman, José Altuve and Marcus Semien.

He’s been in that tier for years now, but I did mention a little bit of concern. Martinez did play in 146 games last year and has been generally durable for a few years now, but don’t forge that he played through some back spasms last year that contributed to some of the quieter stretches that led to the idea that he had a downish season. It may not have cost games, but it did effect him. As he ventures further into his 30s it’s not hard to see the back issues getting worse instead of better. If he’s totally healthy or even mostly healthy, I have no doubt he’ll be elite yet again if they play baseball in 2020. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little worried about the back, though.

Bench

Michael Chavis, Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers

These aren’t really bench players (well, Chavis kind of sort of is), but the DH spot is being used more and more for a way to give players something like a half-day off. With Martinez and David Ortiz before him, that hasn’t really been in the cards for Boston, but it can be at times this year. I think Chavis gets the most time in this role, particularly after Bobby Dalbec would be called up. In those situations, it’s not hard to see both Kevin Pillar and Martinez in the outfield with Dalbec at first, José Peraza at second and Chavis in as the DH. Verdugo could also get some time here with Pillar sliding into the outfield, and Devers is a bat you don’t want to get out of the lineup and utilizing the DH spot in at least half of his days off wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Of course, that would involve Martinez either being in the outfield or on the bench, neither of which is ideal.

Depth

Josh Ockimey

Dalbec, mentioned above, would seem like a candidate here as a corner infielder with as much power as he has, but he is good enough defensively that whenever he gets called up he’ll likely get most of his time in the field. Ockimey is more of a longshot to get called up, of course, but he is a very good platoon player and if Martinez did get hurt and there was another injury or two elsewhere on the roster, I could see some sort of semi-platoon at DH between Ockimey and Chavis.

AL East Projection

  1. J.D. Martinez, BOS (3.4 fWAR)
  2. Giancarlo Stanton, NYY (3.4 fWAR)
  3. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, TB (1.8 fWAR)
  4. Derek Fisher, TOR (0.6 fWAR)
  5. Renato Núñez, BAL (0.5 fWAR)

Do I have any reason to put Martinez over Stanton here besides my own bias? I sure do not! It’s pretty clear these two are the top two in the class here. WAR is not a great metric for DH, particularly in these projections which do include some defense play as well. Stanton isn’t a great defensive player, but he’s certainly better than Martinez. I’m worried about Martinez’s health, but Stanton hasn’t been a picture of health of late either. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Stanton has a better season at the plate whenever baseball comes back, but if I have to pick one, give me Martinez. After that, Tsutsugo is intriguing, but an unknown coming over from Japan. Fisher and Núñez, well, they’re major-league players.

Parting Thoughts

Martinez has an opt-out after 2020 and 2021 and is getting older either way. As I mentioned before, the Red Sox have had an embarrassment of riches at the DH spot for almost two decades now. That could be over soon, but in the short-term we should be able to experience great hitting once again.