Major League Baseball and its players union have had significant discussions in recent days over a series of proposals that would drastically change the game in 2019 and beyond. And according to reports in The Athletic and ESPN, one of the many thought-provoking suggestions was a universal designated hitter, meaning the National League would finally adopt the DH.
The American League brought the DH along in 1973, and, under the proposal, the senior circuit might (finally) follow suit. On this very website, Jeff Snider wrote about why he would be in favor of the DH in the NL, and you should read it because (in addition to the piece being a wonderfully written one) he is a lifelong supporter of an NL team.
But one part stood out to me. “The DH was added to the American League to boost offense. The same reason applies today, along with the added benefit of creating jobs for defensively challenged players (and it’s telling that it was the players’ union that suggested it this time around).”
There are quite a few players in the NL who are both offensive specialists and horrendously bad at playing in the field. If the DH is ever instituted in the NL, there will be a large crop of players in NL cities rejoicing over the decision, which helps them stay in the game and produce offensively without having to embarrass themselves on defense. Although the list of active players who would reap the benefits of a universal DH is a long one (without even accounting for free agent DH’s), I narrowed it down to five players who would greatly benefit from the rule.With talks of the designated hitter being introduced to the National League, @bytomdorsa takes a look at which NL players would benefit the most from the change.Click To Tweet
For all five of these players, it’s because they were and actively are horrible defensive fielders and would almost certainly be playing in the designated hitter spot if their respective NL teams had that option. Let’s jump right into the rundown.
5) Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Braun is 35 and blocking better outfielders from getting time in the Brewers lineup, even if he’s still a somewhat valuable offensive contributor. Slashing .254/.313/.469 with 20 home runs and 64 RBIs last season, you can see why, despite his defensive struggles, manager Craig Counsell and the Brewers would have him penciled onto the scorecard.
But Braun’s defense is worrisome, and as he continues to age, the former NL Most Valuable Player Award winner will only get worse. Braun posted a -0.3 Baseball-Reference defensive WAR, which isn’t even close to his worst season, but won’t really cut it for a team with World Series aspirations. As someone who came up through the system as a third baseman and shifted to the outfield to mask his defensive woes, Braun has nowhere else to go.
Except for the DH role.
4) Matt Kemp, Cincinnati Reds
First off, the fact that Kemp is still in the major leagues and playing a key role for a top-level team is incredible because the dude was dead in the water a few years ago, and here he is hitting a home run in the World Series. But the reason why he had fallen off was his defensive efforts, or lack thereof.
Kemp hit .290/.338/.481 with 21 home runs and 85 RBIs in 2018, and the Los Angeles Dodgers traded him. It wasn’t for no reason, because the former MVP finalist had -9 defensive runs saved (FanGraphs) and -1.7 defensive bWAR.
In each of the last three seasons, Kemp has been traded and now joins the Reds, where he will earn $21.5 million a year to be a utility outfielder and pinch-hitter because it’s too risky to let him play a nine-inning game in the outfield grass. Imagine how much better off he would be if he could play the DH spot.
3) Jose Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
As one of the most underrated players (if it’s possible to be underrated in St. Louis, where nobody shuts up about the Cardinals) in baseball, it feels like nobody knows just how good Martinez is at hitting. On the flip side, Martinez is a truly awful defender and that goes unnoticed as well.
Martinez slashed .305/.364/.457 with 17 home runs and a 131 OPS+ in 590 plate appearances in 2018, leading the Cardinals in hits (163) and batting average. However, he was worth -2.1 defensive bWAR, -11 defensive runs saved, and -3.2 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Already 30 years old, Martinez is not going to improve considerably on defense and might even get worse.
As an added gut punch for Martinez, who played first base and right field last year, the Cardinals acquired Paul Goldschmidt, a Gold Glove Award winner and perennial MVP contender, to play first base. With Marcell Ozuna, Harrison Bader, and Dexter Fowler holding down the fort in the outfield, it isn’t likely the Cardinals will give Martinez much playing time out there. He would be a perfect DH in a league without one.
2) Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
Schwarber’s identity was a fat dude who could rake but looked lost in the outfield, then he slimmed down and became a respectable defensive player. His throwing arm has evolved into a major weapon in a solid Cubs outfield defense, as has his increased foot quickness and ball-tracking.
But he isn’t exactly a good defender, even if he is a reputable one. Schwarber posted just two defensive runs saved and had a -0.4 defensive bWAR rating in left field. In addition, if he were to play DH in the future for the Cubs, he could focus more on his craft as a slugger; he hit just .238 in 2018 and knocked only one of his 26 home runs off of left-handed pitching.
Schwarber is a decent defensive player, but is better suited to play designated hitter.
1) Daniel Murphy, Colorado Rockies
Murphy is one of the most talented contact hitters in the sport and will be a valuable addition to the powerful Rockies lineup after signing with the team this offseason. He is also probably the worst everyday defensive player in baseball.
Murphy slashed .299/.336/.454 in his 91 games in 2018 with the Cubs and Washington Nationals, right on par with his near-.300 career average, which puts him in elite territory. But the second baseman is unbelievably bad at defense, recording -18 defensive runs saved, -1.2 defensive bWAR, and -5.5 UZR in 2018. Murphy now sits at a -83 DRS for his career.
It has been discussed that Murphy will play first base for the Rockies in 2019, which helps hide his defensive struggles. But with DJ LeMahieu signing with the New York Yankees, Murphy has been rumored to play second base. Everything would be simpler if he could hit as a DH.