The Devolving Role of the DH

by Bill Chuck on February 8, 2013

Ken Rosenthal has had a terrific offseason and he continues to stoke the hot stove with a tweet that indicates that his sources say that the Indians are no longer pursuing Jim Thome as they do not want to commit a roster spot to a DH. Thome is healthy, working out, open to other clubs.

My question is, and has been, why would any team commit to a full-time DH?

As I previously wrote, Billy Butler was the  2012 DH of the Year, but Butler was the only DH with the minimum 502 plate appearances to be eligible for the batting crown

Here are the players who were DH for at least 80% of their 2012 playing time

Rk Player PA Tm G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Billy Butler 679 KCR 161 614 72 192 32 29 107 54 111 .313 .373 .510 .882
2 David Ortiz 383 BOS 90 324 65 103 26 23 60 56 51 .318 .415 .611 1.026
3 Luke Scott 344 TBR 96 314 35 72 22 14 55 21 80 .229 .285 .439 .724
4 Travis Hafner 263 CLE 66 219 23 50 6 12 34 32 47 .228 .346 .438 .784
5 Jim Thome 186 TOT 58 163 17 41 7 8 25 22 61 .252 .344 .442 .786
6 Nick Johnson 102 BAL 38 87 9 18 4 4 11 11 26 .207 .324 .391 .714
7 Luis Jimenez 18 SEA 7 17 0 1 0 0 0 1 4 .059 .111 .059 .170
8 Brad Eldred 17 DET 5 16 1 3 1 0 1 1 6 .188 .235 .375 .610
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/4/2012.

When you look at the best seasons for designated hitters, you’ll see that very few have been in recent seasons.

Players must have been a DH for at least 85% of their games

Home Runs

Rk Player HR Year Tm
1 David Ortiz 54 2006 BOS
2 David Ortiz 47 2005 BOS
3 Travis Hafner 42 2006 CLE
4 Jim Thome 42 2006 CHW
5 Frank Thomas 39 2006 OAK
6 Edgar Martinez 37 2000 SEA
7 David Ortiz 35 2007 BOS
8 Jim Thome 35 2007 CHW
9 John Jaha 35 1999 OAK
10 Dave Kingman 35 1986 OAK
11 Dave Kingman 35 1984 OAK
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/11/2013.

RBI

Rk Player RBI Year Tm
1 David Ortiz 148 2005 BOS
2 Edgar Martinez 145 2000 SEA
3 David Ortiz 137 2006 BOS
4 Hal McRae 133 1982 KCR
5 Rusty Staub 121 1978 DET
6 Dave Kingman 118 1984 OAK
7 David Ortiz 117 2007 BOS
8 Travis Hafner 117 2006 CLE
9 Edgar Martinez 116 2001 SEA
10 Andre Thornton 116 1982 CLE
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/11/2013.

Hits

Rk Player H Year Tm
1 Paul Molitor 225 1996 MIN
2 Paul Molitor 211 1993 TOR
3 Billy Butler 192 2012 KCR
4 Hal McRae 189 1982 KCR
5 Hal McRae 183 1983 KCR
6 David Ortiz 182 2007 BOS
7 Edgar Martinez 182 1995 SEA
8 Tommy Davis 181 1974 BAL
9 David Ortiz 180 2005 BOS
10 Edgar Martinez 180 2000 SEA
11 Willie Horton 180 1979 SEA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/11/2013.

Batting Average

Rk Player BA Year Tm
1 Edgar Martinez .356 1995 SEA
2 Paul Molitor .341 1996 MIN
3 Paul Molitor .341 1994 TOR
4 Edgar Martinez .337 1999 SEA
5 David Ortiz .332 2007 BOS
6 Paul Molitor .332 1993 TOR
7 Edgar Martinez .330 1997 SEA
8 Edgar Martinez .327 1996 SEA
9 Edgar Martinez .324 2000 SEA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/11/2013.

Stolen Bases

Player SB Year Tm
Gary Sheffield 22 2007 DET
Paul Molitor 22 1993 TOR
Paul Molitor 20 1994 TOR
Johnny Damon 19 2011 TBR
Paul Molitor 18 1996 MIN
Don Baylor 17 1983 NYY
Mitchell Page 17 1979 OAK
Hal McRae 17 1978 KCR
Jose Canseco 15 1994 TEX
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/11/2013.

In 2012, we saw a multitude of players for each AL team serve as the DH

There are a number of reasons that has led to the demise of the dedicated DH.

  • These include the season-long interleague play which eliminates a potent bat when an AL team plays in a NL venue.
  • Versatility is considered a virtue as teams look to maximize their payroll flexibility. Teams look for players who can play first and third or the outfield and first or catcher and other positions.
  • The DH slot provides a good way to rest a veteran player without removing his bat from the lineup.
  • As originally created, the DH was seen as a way to get a well-known veteran name into the lineup to increase attendance, that is a day long past. Young stars who also make web gems and run the base paths are much more potent draws than the Dinosaur-Hitter.
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