Why is the DH Undervalued?

The August 8th edition of Sports Illustrated had this blurb about the decline of the Designated Hitter:

A new low in th 32-year history of the DH: When the A’s (Dan Johnson) and the Indians (Jason Dubois) batted their DHs ninth on July 25, it marked the first time DHs hit at the bottom of the lineup in the same game. Only Boston (David Ortiz), Cleveland (Travis Hafner), and Seattle (Raul Ibanez) emply prototypical DHs regularly. Measured by batting average, eight of the 14 AL teams were geting below-league-average production from the DH spot.

As a designated hitter, the league checks in at .271 with 10 HR. That’s pretty terrible. As a whole, the league average OPS is .752, and as you can see by the chart below, five teams fall below that in terms of DH. As SI notes, eight of the 14 are below in terms of batting average. Any significant production out of DH doesn’t start being seen until #6’s Tampa Bay.

1 Boston .300 .402 .586 .988
2 Cleveland .293 .387 .526 .913
3 NY Yankees .273 .391 .499 .890
4 Kansas City .260 .346 .462 .808
5 Detroit .283 .332 .463 .795
6 Tampa Bay .265 .337 .454 .791
7 Chicago Sox .240 .308 .472 .780
8 Toronto .269 .353 .412 .765
9 Seattle .274 .344 .410 .754
10 Texas .242 .337 .412 .750
11 Minnesota .255 .328 .409 .737
12 Oakland .248 .325 .357 .682
13 Baltimore .217 .287 .372 .659
14 LA Angels .243 .312 .333 .645

The question is why do so many teams undervalue the DH? Is it that they see the DH differently than Boston does? Do they see it like I do, that it’s a secondary position? I have been agitating for a while that David Ortiz should be starting at first base or at the very least, be the backup. This would free up more time for Manny Ramirez to DH, and get someone else in left field. While I still am in favor of this, I am advocating David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez sharing the DH duties, not Garrett Anderson (.187/.229/.231 as DH), Jeff Davanon (.267/.360/.302) and Juan Rivera (.220/.281/.305).
What I’ve now done is tried to find a player for every team after Tampa Bay that’s currently wasting away in AAA who should be up and at the very least, sharing DH duties. My feeling that Ortiz should play the field notwithstanding, they are only one of three teams who realize that having a consistent DH who while isn’t the world’s greatest fielder, hits the ball very well, is extremely useful to the club. Perhaps if more teams used the DH as a position, not as a filler, I’d stop agitating Ortiz at first. I just feel Ortiz is more than adequate at first base, and it would allow us to get more pop in the lineup if we put Manny at DH and slotted another outfielder in left field. When Nixon comes back, it’d be nice to see Ortiz at first, Kapler in left, and Millar on the bench. In addition, we could then think about moving Nixon to left field to protect his legs. These are the options (good ones, too!) that we get if we play Ortiz at first.
Anyways… below find the list. I’ve included the team, who is their primary DH, the number of At-Bats they have gotten as a DH (note that Ortiz has 397 AB as DH), their overall stats on the year, and then an AAA hitter and their stats that would be better served as DHing for that team. In reverse order of where they placed in the table above… (sorry if this table is screwed up…)

Primary DH
AAA hitter
Garrett Anderson
Nick Gorneault
Kotchman would’t be bad, either…
Jay Gibbons
Napoleon Calzado
For such a good offensive team, they have terrible DH production.
Erubiel Durazo
Jack Cust
Hurt, but Hatteberg has same line… isn’t Cust the perfect A?
Lew Ford
Kevin West
They need offense. So get West up!
David Dellucci
Adrian Gonzalez
Nevin now DH (.206/.254/.365), not Dellucci, who plays OF.
Raul Ibanez
Plays OF now. Other DHs terrible. Once Bucky Jacobsen returns…
Shea Hillenbrand
Kevin Barker
Hillenbrand sharing w/Aaron Hill comprise a punchless DH slot.
Carl Everett
Ross Gload
Gload already has MLB success… or Joe Borchard. But Crazy Carl?

There are some exciting options in Triple-A for some teams, such as Gonzalez and Gload, who are hitting the cover off the ball. Jack Cust really should be up in the majors, he is a prototypical A’s hitter and would fit in nicely with the offense. The loss of Durazo really hurt them, for he was .321/.396/.523 for them last year. Barker is hitting the ball hard, but this is his first true success in AAA, so it’s understandable why he isn’t up, and he’s old, as well. The Angels and Orioles have such anemic production, however, I wonder why they don’t give these two people shots. It is also comical that the Twins have so much offensive trouble, and Ford logged the most time at DH. With Torii Hunter out, Matt LeCroy is getting the bulk of the time. While he’s better at .271/.363/.463 I’d still call West up and have a better option off the bench in West. It can’t hurt their offense.
Texas is paying Phil Nevin a lot of money (and next year too) but if they want to compete, they need to make their offense the best as possible, because their pitching isn’t getting it done. Adrian would help, and Nevin is not.
If you factor in Nevin’s previous success, Ibanez hitting fine with Jacobsen due back soon, and LeCroy holding the fort down, that’s still five AL clubs with anemic production. Tampa Bay isn’t even anything special as well as they have Josh Phelps hitting at .266/.328/.424, but the two next batters that have logged the most time at DH (Aubrey Huff and Jonny Gomes) have really boosted their offense. Next year, when the Devil Rays have an team of 1B Aubrey Huff 2B ? (whoever they get in a trade for Joel Gathright) SS Julio Lugo 3B BJ Upton LF Crawford CF Baldelli RF Young and DH Jonny Gomes, they will be a force. They’re on the way up in DH production. Detroit has Dmitri Young as their primary DH, which is fine. The Royals check in with Mike Sweeney and the Yankees have Giambi, and the Indians Hafner.
During this research, I’ve noticed that a lot of teams (only the Red Sox and the Indians do not do this) spread around their atbats for DH. This is generally not a bad idea, because I’ve been advocating this very thing to split time with Manny and Ortiz. But the issue here is that too many of these spread out at-bats on other teams are going to non-productive players who play at DH when someone needs a day off, or someone switches to DH to get a day off in the field. I don’t think the DH should be treated as a primary position like it is with the Red Sox and the Indians, but I don’t think it should be viewed as a place to stick someone, either. I like the way the Tigers have it, with Dmitri Young logging 238 AB, and Rondell White 121. Neither of them are gifted in the field, so it makes sense to split DH between them. This is exactly what I want the Red Sox to do. You could even start playing David Ortiz 50% of the time at first base,with Kevin Youkilis at DH.
Actually, I just got off on a tangent there. The point is that teams aren’t using the DHs as much as they should. The DH is there for someone who creates offense. It’s not there to give someone a rest, to play a bench player. It’s there for hard hitters. In general, most hard hitters are not that hot on defense, so if you have a hard hitter on your team with no viable DH (Angels, Orioles, etc.) then perhaps you should look into making them a DH and bringing up a hot fielder to take over the fielding duties. Instead, we’re seeing teams stick with thumpers in the field and going to not-so-good options at DH. I could create a whole other list, that would be vastly superior to the list created above, for other options at DH who are on the team but not DHing. Manny Ramirez. Aubrey Huff, to name a few.
The question here isn’t really usage of the DH as compared to at-bats, which I ranted about above. The question here is usage of the DH as compared to efficiency. Is there really any gain for the 25th man on the team, who logs one at-bat a week and is above average defensively, but terrible offensively, to a team? Why not call up a bonafide powerhitter to be the DH on the team? If you anoint someone, or two people the primary DH, as Boston, Cleveland, New York, Kansas City, Detroit, and Tampa Bay have done, you might find yourself with a better offense and some more options in terms of substitutions. Teams don’t seem to take the DH seriously enough and realize it as an option, a great option, that they should use … for a great hitter who is stuck behind other people at other positions or levels to showcase their abilities.
Kevin Youkilis fits this profile. Roberto Petagine fits this profile. Heck, even Kelly Shoppach fits this profile. Casey Kotchman (LAA), Ryan Howard (PHI), Lance Niekro (SF), Ryan Shealy (COL), Andy Marte (ATL), Hee Seop Choi (LAD), Prince Fielder (MIL – he could smash right now in the majors), Xavier Nady (SD) or one of Cincinatti’s four outfielders … they all fit the profile. They can hit but for one reason or another, they’re not getting their shot. Vast offensive potential, no playing time. The NL is a breeding ground for these kind of hitters, and it’s a shame the AL doesn’t take advantage of this more often. Toronto has a .412 slugging percentage out of the DH slot. It is entirely feasible that they’d be in second place ahead of the Yankees if only they had a home-run hitter in the DH slot.
All my agitating for David Ortiz to get more playing time in the field aside, at least the Red Sox realize how valuable a DH is and maximize that value.

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