The Determinator: Designated Hitters: #1-5 + Honorable Mentions
Before every season, baseball minds across the sport test their skills with crunching numbers, diving deep into analytics, and reviewing game footage in order to determine who the best players are in the game. Often times they give their analysis fun names; one of the most notable being The Shredder from MLB Network.
Sometimes the results astound people- like in 2015 Hanely Ramirez was rated the top Left Fielder in the MLB before ever playing there. Other times, the results are unsurprising- spoiler alert, but Mike Trout was probably the best CF in baseball, and most likely will be again.
Welcome to The Determinator.
Today I will reveal the Top-5 Designated Hitters in the MLB, as well as explaining my methodology for these rankings. This will be the last iteration of The Determinator as we head into the 2020 season.
The Determinator: My General Methodology
The Determinator is a ranking system that is built upon the analyzation of 16 carefully chosen stats through a very simplistic system of comparisons. Some of these stats are more classical (Games Played, Home Runs, etc.), others are more advanced (wRC+, WAR, etc.). From this come 7 offensive stats, 4 defensive, 2 baserunning, and 3 general stats, set to contribute towards the importance of each part of the game.
The Offensive stats are: AVG/OBP/SLG, wRC, wRC+, HR, and Off (Fangraphs)
The Defensive stats are: Fielding, DRS, UZR (or Framing for Catchers), and Def (Fangraphs)
The Baserunning stats are: Stolen Bases and BsR (Fangraphs)
The Overall stats are: Games Played, Innings at Position, and fWAR (Fangraphs)
After determining this list of statistics, I then had to input each into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I sorted how each player did in each statistic from best-to-worst. If you were top 5 in a category, you got ranked as a ‘Green’. Top 6-10 was a ‘Yellow’. And, Top 11-15 was labelled as a ‘Red’. The number of each ranking was counted- so it was possible to come out with a score of zero- and given values of 5, 3, and 1 respectively.
Key Note: If player/s across a statistic had the same numbers across a border- for example the 5th and 6th players with the most Home Runs- then they would both be counted as the better ranking- in this case both ‘Green’ or 5 points- and replace one spot from the following ranking- in this case a ‘Yellow’ or 3 points. This could also stretch some statistics to include more ‘Red’ players who had equal stats to the 15th best.
Additionally, if no stats were recorded in a counting statistic that could fit into a ranking- as is seen with Catchers and Stolen Bases- then no ranking is given to those players. This would greatly increase the number of points given out, and lessen the value of each point. This is not true for advanced metrics that can produce negative values- as is seen with Catchers and BsR.
The results were then tallied, sorted from greatest to least, and a ranking was created.
Finally, player age, 2020 salary, and contract status, were all not considered in this experiment. This is entirely statistic-based.
The Determinator: Designated Hitter-Specific Information
To easily work through and cut-down the list of 37 different players who played any amount of time at designated hitter during the season, I set-up two separate boundaries for designated hitters:
They must’ve had at least 250 PA’s during the 2019 season as a DH.
No defensive-related metrics (Fld, Innnings, DRS, UZR, Def) were evaluated for DH’s.
This limited the number of designated hitters down to 20.
However, without further ado, let’s get to numbers 1 through 5:
If a player led a statistic for their position, it will be bolded.
Number 4 (Tied): Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers
Top-5: Games, OBP, SB, wRC, BsR
Top-10: AVG, HR, wRC+, Off, WAR
Total Score: 41Embed from Getty Images
In 2018, Shin-Soo Choo played into his first (and so far only) All-Star game in his career, ultimately played to a nearly identical level to that again in 2019. Choo’s stand-outs across the DH position come in his speed, as he led all DH’s in SB (15) and BsR (3.8). In 2019, Choo did accumulate 688.2 innings across both RF and LF, which takes away a little bit of his “true DH” standings, yet this wasn’t the most amount of fielding innings by a DH on this list. Add in his time in the Outfield, and Choo’s numbers look right in line for what a team would want out of a DH, with an offensive player who has better than average numbers across the board: 0.265/0.371/0.454, 24 HR’s, wRC/wRC+ of 102/112, and an Off of 13.8. Now going into his age 37 season, Choo’s career is definitely reaching it’s end, but up to this point he is the greatest Korean MLB player ever. And, unless Hyun-Jin Ryu’s 2019 is indicative of him being a new player, Choo should stand as the best Korean MLB player for a while.
Number 4 (Tied): Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins
Top-5: AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Total Score: 41Embed from Getty Images
Now, the perfect counter to me saying “Shin-Soo Choo is getting old, his career may be over soon” would be to look at the other DH he tied with: Nelson Cruz. However, the two have aged very differently, despite having pretty similar career outputs at this point (Choo’s 35.4 fWAR to Cruz’s 37.5, both over 15 seasons). Now, Cruz has the added benefit of using PED’s, being suspended for 50 games in 2013, which seems to have had a serious effect on his longevity (and increase in performance). Including his 2013 season, Cruz has made the All-Star Game in 5 of 7 seasons, along with 25.5 fWAR (27.9 fWAR) from his age 32 to 38 season, with nearly an average of 40 HR’s per season as well. Obviously, Cruz is an exceptional offensive talent (37.7) and this plays well into his accumulation of WAR (4.3)- both stats he led amongst DH’s- even in only 120 games. What to expect in 2020? Probably more of the same.
Number 3: Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays
Top-5: AVG, SLG, SB, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Top-10: Games, OBP, HR, BsR
Total Score: 47Embed from Getty Images
Austin Meadows is much the opposite of Nelson Cruz, as he is 14 years younger at 24-years old and still plays in the field (773 innings in the OF). Like Choo, he is an interesting player to consider a DH, but according to Fangraphs sorting according to The Determinator’s boundaries, Meadows makes the list and makes a case as one of the best in the MLB. While his value would seem to be heightened by his defensive values that he accumulated while playing on the field, it seems as though it didn’t play a major factor as he had a total Def of -10.3. His overall numbers show an above average hitter with solid power and ability to get on base, which led him towards the following: 0.291/0.364/0.558, with 33 HR’s, a wRC/wRC+ of 105/142, Off of 31, and fWAR of 4.0.
Number 2: J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Top-5: Games, AVG, OBP, SLG, HR, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Total Score: 48Embed from Getty Images
After a 2018 season where J.D. Martinez came close to the Triple Crown and won the Silver Slugger at two different positions (OF and DH), he had lofty expectations for his 2019 campaign. While a regression was imminent, Martinez still had great value as a DH (3.2 fWAR). He ultimately decided not to exercise an opt-out clause earlier this offseason, sticking with his remaining 3-Years at $62.5 Million contract, which was probably the right move for a primary DH. He did play 308 innings in the outfield during the 2019 season, but given his very poor defensive values (-18.1), it is probably best he sticks at the bat-only position. There honestly isn’t much to say about Martinez, as his value is pretty well cemented over the past few seasons, with expectations that he hits above .300 with around a .385 OBP and around a .570 SLG will continue to follow him until his peak is through. In 2019, Martinez just about replicated these numbers: 0.304/0.383/0.557, with 36 HR’s, a DH-leading wRC of 120 (wRC+ of 139), and an Off of 28.
Number 1: Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals
Top-5: Games, SLG, HR, SB, wRC, wRC+, Off, WAR
Top-10: AVG, OBP, BsR
Total Score: 49Embed from Getty Images
It’s almost as if I couldn’t have picked a better day to announce this list, as the city of Kansas City can now officially celebrate, as this may be a more important milestone than winning a Super Bowl: placing a player at the top of The Determinator’s DH list. (Obviously, I kid.) Jokes aside, Jorge Soler is a fantastic player, and at only 27-years old, should continue to see his production go up. Like many other players on this list, he wasn’t only a DH in 2019, as he played 447.1 innings in the outfield, of which produced very bad defense (-17.2). However, his offense was near the tops across his position, as he led in games played (162), HR’s (48), and wRC (120). Combine this with a triple-slash of 0.265/0.354/0.569 along with a wRC+ of 136, Off of 30.6, and fWAR of 3.6.
As there were only 20 total DH’s to evaluate in this selection, there are a fair amount of notable honorable mentions. Let’s see them:
Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros – DH Leader at AVG (0.313), OBP (0.412), SLG (0.655), wRC+ (178), Scored 37 Points, Ranked #6
Hunter Pence, Texas Rangers – Scored 32 Points, Ranked #7
Edwin Encarnacion, Chicago White Sox – Scored 29 Points, Ranked #8
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels – Scored 28 Points, Ranked #9
Luke Voit, New York Yankees – Scored 26 Points, Ranked #10 (see more about Voit in 1B #1-5)
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers – Scored 11 Points, Ranked #16
Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics – Scored 5 Points, Ranked #18
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.