The Dynasty Guru’s Designated Hitter Comments & “Rankings”
Spring (winter) baseball is underway and rankings season at The Dynasty Guru is coming to a close. For the last two-plus months of winter, our group of 20+ mostly grown men have been huddled up in the warmth of our lively Slack group ranking and arguing if and where players should land on various rankings lists.
For 2019, we added a “Where they would rank” addendum at the bottom of any rankings list where a player didn’t quite make the cut for eligibility or was ranked at a more valuable position. Javier Baez, for example, we ranked at third base, shortstop, first base coach, juggler, hairdresser, exfoliating loofah, and then ultimately settled on him being #2 on the second base list.
At the end of all of the rankings we found a sad list of lost hitters with no home. So today we salute the leftovers, the forgotten, the homeless. This is the list of the players that clog up your designated hitter spot and provide zero roster flexibility but can still provide major value from top 50 bats to power off the bench. (consensus DH rankings based on 12 TDG rankers)
For rankings on other positions see our 2019 dynasty baseball rankings page.
1) Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels, (Age: 24, Previous Rank: SP18)
The Shohei Kid, ShoTime, and the Japanese Babe Ruth are really the best nicknames the internet can come up with for the most unique fantasy (and real!) baseball player we’ve ever seen? Give it a couple of years but Shohei may end up being the dynasty GOATani. Here we are just ranking his bat at DH, but you can go read my consensus starting pitcher number 20 write-up for him here.
Heralded as a starting pitcher and perhaps the second best arm in the world, his bat was what we got to see the most of last year. Ohtani hit 22 home runs and stole 10 bags with a .285 average and .925 OPS in a solid 367 plate appearances. That’s stellar on its own and would project out to 106 runs, 40 home runs, 110 RBI and 18 stolen bases if given Pujols’ 660 PA average from 2013-2017. That is top 5 overall bat numbers! From a pitcher!
The underlying data show the bat is real. Ohtani was seventh in MLB in SLG, ninth in OPS, eighth in ISO, eight in wRC+, 12th in wOBA, 12th in Exit Velocity, seventh in Barrels, and sixth lowest Soft Hit %. Shohei’s numbers live only in the company of the very best sluggers in the league.
Speed isn’t an issue like it is for the rest of this DH list. Ohtani ranked #56 on the Statcast Sprint Speed leaderboard. That’s really fast for a pitcher! He clocks in as easily the fastest DH and the 10 stolen bases is evidence that he can and will steal a bag when he wants.
Going into his age-24 season he might miss two months while recovering from Tommy John surgery but he’ll be able to focus solely on the batting side while he rehabs his arm all this year. The Angels will likely tell him not to steal any bases to protect from injury but don’t completely count out an athlete like that from stealing a few. The future is bright and if you are in a daily league where you can use Ohtani at SP and UT, he’ll likely have a few number one overall fantasy seasons in the future.
2) Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics, (Age: 31, Previous Rank: OF22)
He freaking hit .247 again last year, are you kidding me?! Make it 4 straight years of .247 after a 2014 where he hit .244. Davis also increased his home run total for the 5th straight year to 48. He is right up with Stanton, JD Martinez, Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo as the biggest locks for elite home run totals.
Krush hits the ball hard and hits it hard often. His Launch Angle on batted ball has gone up each of the last three years from 12.5 degrees in 2015 all the way to 18.0 degrees in 2018 resulting in those 48 homers.
And now like most athletes, his career has all built up to this moment: Contract Year Khris Davis. He’ll have one last shot to improve before he hits the open market. He’s probably in line to make as much in 2020 as he has made in his entire career, so this season means a lot.
Oakland has always been known as a pitcher’s park but three out of the last four years Khris’ OPS has been substantially better at home. He and the A’s staff have tailored his swing and approach to their ballpark, so don’t expect a huge boost if he goes elsewhere. At age-31 his perceived trade value goes down precipitously each year in dynasty but he could have a late career like Nelson Cruz. Speaking of…..
3) Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, (Age: 38, Previous Rank: NA)
For the last 4 years you could basically lock in Cruz for 90 runs, 40 homers, 105 RBI and a .280 average. The crazy thing is, entering his age 38 season he still has a chance to do that again. He’s moved over to the Twins to potentially end his career surrounded by a very interesting (and weirdly constructed) team.
“Age is just a number” whispers the creepy voice in your head. Well, okay, but in baseball it also usually means your body is slowing down. Cruz’s Sprint Speed in 2016? 26.1 feet per second. 2017? 25.5 ft/sec. 2018? 24.9 ft/sec. He has gotten much slower and it has hurt his average and OPS. His BABIP has followed that same trend from .320 in 2016 to .264 in 2018 so don’t expect too much positive regression on his average and OPS. Cruz is still a valuable piece to any contending dynasty team but should be immediately traded away if you are still in rebuild mode.
4) Kendrys Morales, Toronto Blue Jays, (Age: 36, Previous Rank: NA)
Coming up just three games short of 20 game eligibility at first, he may have a shot to earn mid-season eligibility which would help with roster flexibility. But he’ll have to fight Smoak for first base reps and maybe eventually Vlad Guerrero Jr. for DH reps. If the third base Vlad Jr. experiment fails and he falls to full-time DH, Morales will lose a ton of at-bats.
If Kendrys does somehow get a full complement of at-bats between first and DH his bat definitely plays in most leagues. He was in the first percentile of all batters in Hard Hit %. Add to that he was top six percentile for Exit Velocity at 92.3 miles per hour. He also had the third worst wOBA-xwOBA, meaning he may have been one of the unluckiest players in the MLB given his quality of contact.
However, this can also be attributed to his speed, which is atrocious. You’ll find him 541st out of 549 batters (Pujols last) in Sprint Speed. This hurts his average a lot (.250 last two years) but won’t hurt his mid-20s home run power and decent counting stats in a lineup that could surprise some people once Vlad Jr. is up. Own with caution. Morales’ stats can generally be replicated with replacement level at most positions that don’t hurt you with roster flexibility. Likely a bench contributor in most leagues.
5) Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles, (Age: 33, Previous Rank: OF112)
It’s a tale as old as time: Man finds team. Man hits 47 homers and 108 RBI in a contract year. Man gets shiny new three-year contract. Man coasts for two years. Man enters contract year. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Here we go again! Trumbo’s 2016 gave us one of the greatest fantasy surprises we’ve seen this century, and then the bottom almost completely fell out for two years once he got paid (most believe it was an under-market deal). After his 47 Trumbombs in 159 games in 2016 he has only hit 40 total in 236 games since.
According to Statcast in 2016 his Exit Velocity was 92.7 mph and his Hard Hit rate was 45.4%. He showed signs of resurgence in 2018 improving on both with 92.8 mph Exit Velocity and 48.2 % Hard Hit rate. The only difference is his Launch Angle dropped from 14.7 degrees to a much less optimal 10.3 degrees. If he can make adjustments to recapture that 2016 launch angle he can pop back to be a valuable power source.
There are some other things going for him as well. Trumbo had 19 games in the outfield, so he may have eligibility there in your league or he may have a shot at it mid-way through this year. Over half of his at-bats came batting fourth, and most others were fifth and sixth so he’ll provide major RBI if given the same opportunity. He battled through a quad injury and knee injuries before eventually opting for surgery on his knee. He’ll be ready for opening day but if he is healthy and can find some contract year magic he has a chance to be valuable to your bench and DH spot. Look for the Orioles to give him lots of at bats to pump up his value before the trade deadline on an expiring contract.
6) Ji-Man Choi, Tampa Bay Rays, (Age: 28, Previous Rank: NA)
Sent over from the Brewers for Brad Miller last year, Choi had a solid showing for the Rays in 2018. After hitting .291 with 7 homers and a .886 OPS between Colorado Springs and my local Durham Bulls in Triple-A he was promoted to Tampa. In 46 games in the second half he hit .275 with 21 runs, eight homers, 27 RBI, and a .906 OPS. Projecting those 149 at-bats to 600 puts Ji-Man into very solid contributor category.
In 2018 Choi had an expected wOBA of .352, which is based on quality of contact based on his batted ball profile. That ties him for xwOBA with Trevor Story, Andrew Benintendi and Justin Upton and puts him directly below Jose Abreu, Jesus Aguilar, Matt Olson and Marcell Ozuna on that same leaderboard. This is obviously good company to be in no matter the sample size.
He only played three games at first, so fighting for DH at-bats seems to be his long-term fate and even the creative Rays probably fall short of ever giving him a full complement of at-bats. Keep an eye on playing time because Choi could end up being an interesting sleeper in dynasty leagues.
7) Evan Gattis, Free Agent, (Age: 32, Previous Rank: C12)
The legend now known as El Oso Blanco had a rough start to his career. After quitting baseball entirely, he found himself working as a valet, a ski operator and even a janitor. Now a free agent, he’s is back on the job hunt once again and has only made $16.6 million dollars through his age-31 season.
He should probably be able to find a team after hitting 25 homers and driving in 78 runs in only 450 PA, but this late into spring training he probably won’t find a spot that can offer him nearly that many at-bats. Gattis was a solid source of power at catcher up until this year but now he clogs up your Utility/Designated Hitter spot and probably doesn’t have much of a chance of playing a whole week of games, making him a difficult start in any weekly league.
If a miracle (or injury) happens he might fall into 500 at-bats as someone’s DH and then would be a useful bench bat in deep leagues.