The importance of the Designated Hitter in 2020
By Ed Botti
The Yankees kicked off the abbreviated 60 game 2020 season last night, and right off the bat we saw a 2020 twist. Their season starts off with seven games against the National League.
They opened up in Washington DC against the defending world champion Nationals for a 3 game series, and then travel up the Turnpike for a two game series against Joe Girardi and his improved Phillies, then over the George Washington Bridge for two more games against the Phillies in the Bronx.
Two very good teams to start the season.
As we all know by now, there will be a universal designated hitter in 2020. What that means in 2021 is still unknown, but I think there is a very good chance we have seen the last of pitchers hitting in Major League Baseball.
Getting back to 2020, is the opening week an advantage of disadvantage for the Yankees.
Consider that five of the first seven games are in National League parks, where normally Yankee pitchers would have to hit.
Expand that to August 26, and 10 of the first 31 games (32%) will be played in National League parks.
Those are 40 + at bats that will go to the DH instead of the pitchers.
10 Games where a pitcher will not have to be pinch hit for and taken out of a game.
10 Games where the risk of injury to a pitcher is removed by not running the bases (remember Chien-Ming Wang in 2008).
I would have to say it’s an advantage, especially since the National League teams did not plan 2020 by bringing in a DH type to add to their rosters.
American League teams, particularly the Yankees, have a number of potent hitters they can plug in to DH at any time.
The Nationals, for example, will have their choice of Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames and Starlin Castro.
The Phillies? I’d have to say Andrew McCutchen if he can return from his torn ACL. If not, it looks like a spot for Jay Bruce.
On any given day the Yankees can dip into their pool of DH’s and have either Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Miguel Andújar or Gary Sanchez, among others hitting in the middle of the lineup.
Almost seems unfair, to a degree.
The Yankees are used to a DH and built their roster and offensive strategies with a DH lineup in mind.
National Leagues teams do not do that and will now be forced to adjust on the fly.
Obviously, a NL team adding another offensive player to the batting order and removing a .100 hitter from the order makes them better offensively.
The problem for the NL teams is that not every one of them has a player that is a typical DH type. In other words, a player that can sit on the bench for 2 innings or more, get up and hit effectively and then repeat that over and over again.
It’s not easy to do, and it takes time to adjust. Time is not on anyone’s side this season.
Digging into that pool of players for a DH each game helps the Yankees in other ways as well.
First and foremost is health.
This is the play that the Yankees believe resulted in the injury to Aaron Judge. (Frank Franklin II/AP)
Yes, injuries are hard to avoid and are a part of the game (as we all learned last year). They can happen at any time, and odds are they will this year. All it takes is a weird step, a hit by pitch or even a dive at a ball and a player can be shut down for weeks or even months.
In 2020, the Yankees will not have that time to recover. It’s now a full blown sprint to the finish line.
If you don’t have time, you need depth. The Yankees have plenty of depth.
The Yankees have to find a way to keep the key players on the field so they can do what they are so good at doing.
Looking back at the Stanton and Judge injuries of 2019, it is key to control the amount of time the two are in the field to diminish their risk of getting hurt.
Since both are coming back from injuries, it makes a lot of sense to DH them as often as possible this season.
The DH is an effective way to transition a player back into the daily routine of a season.
Aaron Boone will have that good fortune each and every game. He will need to form a strategy that has the key five of Stanton, Judge, LeMahieu, Torres and Sanchez in the same line up as often as possible.
Next up is opportunity, and there is nothing more valuable in life then an opportunity.
Stanton will DH more often than Judge since the big guy is a much more solid defender when healthy. But that needs to be monitored and managed by Boone, as Judge has been hurt parts of the last 3 seasons.
Playing only 60 games is tricky because it provides less margin for error. Every single inning and pitch is potentially critical.
Aaron Boone will have nine available spots each game to position players that he believes will give the Yankees their best chance to win that game.
By keeping a flexible and deep lineup fresh it will create chances for other players.
If Clint Frazier and Miguel Andújar are hitting well, while Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman are reliably producing, the DH will add an additional spot for them since they have an abundance of talented outfielders, and create opportunity.
I have always been a proponent of spreading the DH role throughout the order, and not having one set DH. It keeps key players rested on defense while sustaining their focus on offense, and keeps them in the lineup rotation.
We saw this all throughout the 2019 season with 18 different players getting at bats as the DH.
The 2020 National League teams are constructed to play the majority of their games without a DH. The entire roster architecture is different.
It does not seem like a level playing field. But, that’s for them to worry about. All the Yankees can do, is play by the rules.
With every game essentially having the impact of 3 games in a normal season, the DH position could be the difference in a game that decides a playoff spot, or playoff seeding.
That position is in very good hands when it comes to the Yankees.
The Yankees can take advantage of this opportunity in ways that not many other teams can. We will see right away the impact of their depth and DH player pool.