The designated hitter “position” is old, with most of the players over 30. Two of the three best current designated hitters are over 35. So with their even further advanced age, it’s hard to keep them in the top three for the long-term. These guys will all play some in the field this year, but by and large, they will be at DH. With only half the league using the position, I will do the top five at the position with honorable mentions at the end.
1. J.D. Martinez
J.D. Martinez is an elite hitter, and still just 30 years old. This gives him a few years on the other elite guys at the position, so he should have a lot more value left in him. Since Martinez changed his swing heading into the 2014 season, he has been one of the best hitters in the game. One of the first to buy into hitting the ball in the air more, Martinez has averaged 40 home runs per 162 games played over these past four seasons. This has not come at the expense of getting on base, as Martinez has batted .300 during that span as well. His .574 slugging percentage during that time bests even Giancarlo Stanton.
As for the claim that playing in Arizona helped him? He had three excellent seasons prior to last year, and hit 38 home runs in 2015. Yes, Arizona probably helped some, but he only played a partial year there. Sixteen of his 45 home runs last year came at Chase Field, leaving 29 hit elsewhere. Take away Arizona, he likely still would have approached and possibly reached 40 homers.
2. Khris Davis
I have Davis no better than the fourth best DH in baseball, but factoring in age, I have to elevate the 30 year old above guys who are 35 and 37. He’s not going to get on base a ton, but not many players in baseball have more power. Davis has batted exactly .247 for three consecutive seasons, with his rate of getting on base ranging between .307 and .336. Not great. However, in his two years playing in Oakland, one of the best pitcher’s parks in the game, Davis has hit 85 home runs. His slugging percentage has been above .500 for three straight years and in four out of five total. Pencil him in for a .250 average and 40 home runs.
3. Edwin Encarnacion
Encarnacion is one of the elite hitters I was referencing. At 35 years old, he has five years on both guys ahead of him, which is why he’s down at the three spot. However, he is still good enough that I would prefer his two or three seasons of scaring pitchers at the plate to the four or five years of solid play others might provide. His average won’t be great, but it should be much better than Davis’. Unlike Davis, Encarnacion also walks a lot to give him a good on-base percentage.
Since becoming a full-time player in 2012, Encarnacion has averaged 38 homers per season. His lowest total in that six year stretch was 34, in a season he only played 128 games. Leaving the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre last year, Encarnacion still crushed 38 home runs for Cleveland. Despite his .258 average he had a .377 on-base percentage thanks to walking over 100 times.
4. Logan Morrison
After years of underperforming, Morrison bought into the “fly ball revolution” and broke out. He still hit just .246, but with his 81 walks he got on base at a .353 clip. The big win was Morrison’s 38 home runs. This came after he had his 31 home runs the previous two years and 42 over the previous three. Morrison hit by far the most fly balls of his career last season, but also a career high 18% of them went for home runs. That likely won’t happen again, but if he keeps hitting the ball in the air he could be a threat for 30 home runs.
5. Nelson Cruz
Cruz will be turning 38 by mid-season, but he’s just as good now as he ever has been. He is quite remarkable; consistently putting up better stats in the second half of his 30’s then he did his entire career before then. Not that he wasn’t good; Cruz broke out in 2009 when he was 29. However, Cruz had never hit 40 home runs and only reached 30 in that 2009 season before 2014. Since, Cruz has hit 39 or more home runs in all four seasons.
Cruz is easily number two for just this season, with an argument for the top spot. But turning 38 this year, he just has too many years on the other guys for me to put him higher for the long-term. Given his 42 home runs per season and .908 OPS from his age 34 through 37 seasons though, I am not betting against this guy until he shows some decline.
Mark Trumbo, Evan Gattis, Kendrys Morales, Shin Soo-Choo
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