The Determinator: Desginated Hitters #5-1
The Determinator finishes it’s 2021 collection with the Top 5 Designated Hitters. With the NL not adopting the DH for the 2021 season, perspective DH candidates on NL teams were not included in this analysis.
The Determinator: DH-Specific Information
To easily work through and cut-down the list of 57 different players who played any amount of time as a DH during the past two seasons, I set-up two boundaries to keep it as close to having only starters:
They must’ve had at least 350 PA’s over the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
This limited the number of outfielders down to 19.
If a DH led a statistic, it will be bolded.
Number 5: Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays
Top-7: AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Top-12: Games, BsR
Total Score: 31Embed from Getty Images
It is hard in today’s game to find a “true” designated hitter, so we often run into issues where the players who fit our model have also spent a considerable amount of time playing in the field. This is the type of problem that we run into with Austin Meadows, who spent just 53 games at DH while also playing over 1,000 innings in the outfield and ranking #39 across all of them. However, this isn’t his first time being seen as a DH by The Determinator, as he was last years #3. Looking strictly on offensive output, though, Meadows did have a very good 2019 (+31.3) and a bad 2020 (-2.9) with wRC+’s of +143 and +87 respectively. Just 25 years old, one should hope Meadows isn’t destined to end up as a DH soon, but if that does end up happening, there is hope he’ll be able to produce.
Number 4: J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Top-7: Games, AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, SB, wRC+, Off, WAR
Total Score: 32Embed from Getty Images
Our #2 DH from last year, J.D. Martinez finds himself in a very odd place going into 2021. After two amazing seasons as a hitter in 2017 and 2018 (167 wRC+, +3.8 fWAR and 170 wRC+, +5.9 fWAR respectively), he came back down to a 139 wRC+, +3.2 fWAR season in 2019. Then, in 2020 he fell apart by going under a 10% BB-rate (9.3%) for the first time since 2016, nearly hit a 25% K-rate (24.9%), had his BABIP drop to .259 (career .341), all of which ultimately brought about a 77 wRC+ and a -1.0 fWAR. He has two years left on his 5/$110M deal, so he’s likely to still get playing time to show 2020 was a fluke (as we’d expect), but there are lingering doubts which helped bring him a step down.
Number 3: Michael Brantley, Houston Astros
Top-3: AVG, OBP, wRC+, Off, WAR
Top-7: Games, SLG, SB, wRC
Top-12: HR, BsR
Total Score: 39Embed from Getty Images
Our #11 outfielder from this year as well, Brantley is another example of a position player who spends considerable amount of time as a DH. (See: Austin Meadows). To read more, check out our blurp on him, here.
Number 1 (Tied): Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals
Top-3: Games, SLG, HR, wRC, WAR
Top-7: OBP, wRC+, BsR, Off
Total Score: 41Embed from Getty Images
Our #1 DH last year, Jorge Soler does have to share his crown under the new formatting of data for designated hitters. There is good reason to like Soler in this spot as he is a true DH, spending 142 games over 2019 and 2020 in the spot while producing positively on offense in both seasons (+30.4 and +2.6). He definitely is held up by a great 2019 where he earned +3.6 fWAR (just +0.6 in 2020), but there is still hope that Soler will play to the potential the Cubs saw in him years ago. It is increasingly unlikely the more he ages, but if 2020 (and his 34.5% K-rate) were a mere factor of small sample size, Soler is still an underrated DH in the AL.
Number 1 (Tie): Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins
Top-3: AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Total Score: 41Embed from Getty Images
And there is no doubt that Cruz should be the #1 DH in the game of baseball. While he positive days on the basepaths are left behind over a decade ago (+2.2 in 2010) along with his positive days of defense (+5.3), he is one heck of a great hitter. After putting up a 163 wRC+ in 2019, he did it again in 2020 (which I correctly predicted) which has helped bring him his DH-leading HR (57), wRC (153), Off (+53.8), and fWAR (+6.2). Now going into his age-41 season, Cruz is the “Tom Brady” of the MLB: the old veteran who continues to produce far longer than he should be. (Although, I don’t believe Tom Brady was ever hit with a PED suspension.) Regardless, if Cruz can continue to defy “old-age”, he is likely to stay a top DH in the game.
The Determinator is a way I used to determine the best players at each position. Like any metric or formula, I am sure it has flaws. No statistical compilation is perfect. That being said, The Determinator, seems pretty effective at assigning player values. I’m pleased with what I have found using this method and hope this is a conversation starter for many.