Rankings preview: Designated Hitter

BY foxsports • February 1, 2011

Producing a ranking sheet for the DH position is always a difficult proposition.

There are the straight DHs, such as David Ortiz and Travis Hafner, but more often than not, teams play a mix-and-match and give players a quasi-off day on occasion.

As such, this list will be expanded to include players with positional eligibility at other positions, such as Victor Martinez, Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn, among others. If only there were clones of Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines to slot into the position ...

25. Andruw Jones, New York Yankees

Jones produces solid power numbers and not much else. He’s not the player of years past, as his batting average has sunk in the past several years. Jones hit 19 home runs in 278 at-bats for the White Sox last season. He hit 17 home runs in 281 at-bats in 2009. Jones will see irregular at-bats in the loaded New York lineup, but he’ll thrill the crowd a few times along the way.

24. Mike Carp, Seattle

Carp will have an opportunity to compete for a role this spring. He batted .257 with 29 home runs, 17 doubles and 76 RBI at Triple-A Tacoma last season. The former prospect in the Mets organization has moved up the ladder and now appears ready to make a splash at the next level.

23. Willie Aybar, Tampa Bay

Aybar has posted solid numbers in parts of five seasons. He appeared in games for both the Dodgers and Braves before beginning his run in Tampa. He’s hit a total of 28 home runs and 42 doubles with 118 RBI in the past three years. Aybar doesn’t receive regular at-bats, but he does possess gap power and can pick up at-bats from all over the infield.

22. Jake Fox, Baltimore

The former third-round pick of the Cubs demonstrated decent pop in an extended run with Chicago in 2009. Fox hit 11 home runs with 12 doubles and 44 RBI in 216 at-bats.

He then produced strong power numbers while splitting time between Oakland and Baltimore last season. Fox hit 18 extra-base hits (including seven home runs) with 22 RBI and 21 runs. Alas, he batted a dismal .217. He’ll give solid power numbers with regular at-bats, but not much else.

21. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto

Encarnacion is another two-category producer at the position. He hits for power with little else (has a .258 career batting average). Encarnacion owns a streak of five consecutive seasons with 13 or more home runs despite appearing in 117 or fewer games during three of those five campaigns. He averaged 61.2 RBI in this period.

20. Jack Cust, Seattle

Cust produced a surprising .272 batting average in 112 games for the A’s in 2010. He generated 32 extra-base hits (including 13 home runs) with 52 RBI. Cust had hit 25 or more home runs in his previous three seasons with Oakland.

His move to Seattle shouldn’t impact his power numbers markedly, as the change in ballparks isn’t dramatic. Cust strikes out a ton (with 127 or more strikeouts in each of his full seasons), which will help drag his batting average down.

19. Kila Ka’aihue, Kansas City

Ka’aihue hit 24 home runs with 78 RBI while drawing more walks than strikeouts in 94 games at Triple-A Omaha last season.

He translated some of the power to Major League Baseball immediately, producing 15 extra-base hits (including eight home runs) with 25 RBI in 180 at-bats last season. Ka’aihue only batted .217 in 52 games, so there’s still tremendous room for growth.
 

18. Travis Hafner, Cleveland

Hafner’s rise to superstardom has been derailed by injuries in the past three seasons. He’s appeared in 118 games or fewer in each of these campaigns.

Owners can find some solace in the fact that Hafner was driving the ball more effectively in 2010 than he had since 2007. He hit 29 doubles with 13 home runs and 50 RBI last season. If he can stay healthy, Hafner may generate 20 home runs and 80 RBI. He just carries a lot of risk at this point.

17. Austin Kearns, Cleveland

The well-traveled outfielder/DH returns to Cleveland for 2011. He’d batted .272 with 27 extra-base hits (18 doubles) and 42 RBI in 84 games for the Indians before joining the Yankees.

He did produce several straight solid power seasons in the middle of the decade (2005-07) before seeing his at-bats diminished for several years. With regular at-bats, Kearns will produce 15-20 home runs and 70-80 RBI.

16. Magglio Ordonez, Detroit

Ordonez remains a solid contributor to the batting average category (hit .303 or better in four consecutive seasons, though his batting average has dropped in three consecutive campaigns). He’s no longer a strong power producer, and his health issues are well-documented.

Ordonez has missed more than 100 games in the past two seasons, thereby sapping his power numbers. If he can shake off the checkered injury history, Ordonez will have ample RBI opportunities with Cabrera and Martinez in the heart of the lineup. I don’t expect to see Ordonez rediscover his 2007 stroke (when he hit 28 home runs and 138 RBI), but a return to 17-20 home runs and 80-90 RBI is possible. Unfortunately, he’s a high-risk proposition.

15. Jim Thome, Minnesota

“Mr. Incredible” returns to Minnesota for another season and will welcome Justin Morneau back to the fray following his injury-shortened campaign. Thome hit 25 home runs last season, his 16th season with at least 20 home runs in his past 17 years (he played 59 games in 2005). He continues to get on base at a high rate (.404 on-base percentage) and will contribute power numbers.

14. Jorge Posada, New York Yankees

With Russell Martin onboard for 2011, Posada will take to the DH role. That should keep the stress off his knees and back and allow him to log a higher number of at-bats. Posada has hit 18 or more home runs in 10 of the past 11 seasons, a run that includes eight seasons of at least 81 RBI. The New York lineup is loaded once again. Take the power numbers and a batting average perhaps back in line with his .275 career mark (he batted .248 in 2010).

13. Johnny Damon, Tampa Bay

The veteran outfielder seeks to rebound from his lone season in Detroit, which was an unmitigated disaster. He batted .271 with eight home runs, 51 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Damon’s home runs and RBI count marked his lowest production in those categories since 2001.

Damon joins a strong and rebuilt Tampa Bay offense (see the Manny Ramirez analysis below). I don’t anticipate a bounce-back to his 2009 power heights (of 24 home runs and 82 RBI), but he should generate decent five-category production as a late-round selection.
 

12. Jason Kubel, Minnesota

Kubel has established himself as a solid power producer in Minnesota. As you’d expect given the way Target Field played, Kubel’s power numbers did dip in 2010. However, he logged his third consecutive 20-home run season and drove in 92 runs (with 78 and 103 in the previous two seasons). Justin Morneau returns from injury, and Jim Thome is back in the mix as well. Both of those guys know how to get on base, and that’ll give Kubel RBI opportunities.

11. Michael Young, Texas

Young represents a consistent option for fantasy owners that eschew the selection of one of the top options at the position. He’s a lifetime .300 batter who has hit .284 or better in eight consecutive seasons (including six seasons at .306 or better).

In the past two seasons, Young has ripped 43 home runs and 72 doubles with 159 RBI (had 91 last season). Young has averaged 89.7 RBI in the past seven years. This lineup is loaded and ready for another run. He’ll slide to the everyday DH role with Adrian Beltre onboard to play third base.

10. Hideki Matsui, Oakland

The threat of “Godzilla” has been tamed, but Matsui remains a solid contributor to the power categories. He’s hit at least 21 home runs with 84 RBI in each of his six full major league seasons (which were his 2010 totals).

The move to Oakland certainly represents a challenge to his power output, as some flyballs will go to die in the cavernous outfield of the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. Take the gap power and solid RBI total with 15-20 home runs.

9. Luke Scott, Baltimore

Scott’s position for 2011 is obviously impacted by the potential arrival of Vladimir Guerrero. Given his power numbers, he’ll find his way into the lineup. Scott has averaged 23.3 home runs and 69.5 RBI in the past four years.

Scott’s .284 career batting average established a new career high. I’m not expecting a repeat in that category (.268 lifetime batter), but you can bank on the power numbers.

8. Manny Ramirez, Tampa Bay

The former fantasy hero reportedly signed a bargain-basement contract in Tampa. He seeks to put the power outage and accompanying rumor, conjecture and speculation of 2010 behind him. Ramirez batted a composite .298 last season with nine home runs, 16 doubles and 42 RBI.

I’m cautiously optimistic about a quasi-comeback year for Ramirez this season. I understand that the questions of PEDs are there, and that he appeared broken down and missed significant time in in 2010. There is no chance that he’s running back to his dominant totals of 37 home runs and 121 RBI from 2008. However, a healthy Ramirez can post a high batting average and hit 20-25 home runs with 80-90 RBI.

7. Billy Butler, Kansas City

Butler’s batting average improved by 17 points last season, although his power numbers experienced a moderate dip (with six fewer home runs and 15 fewer RBI). He improved his contact and walk rates while slamming 45 doubles in 2010. Butler shan’t become a 30-home run producer, but he possesses strong gap power and offers support to the batting average category that other corner options can’t (has a .299 lifetime batting average).
 

6. Adam Lind, Toronto

Lind’s strikeout number jumped in 2010, thereby helping to drag down his batting average a full 68 points. His power numbers also decreased in the process. Lind generated 23 fewer extra-base hits and 42 fewer RBI last season.

The potential for a huge bounce-back season in the power categories is there. Unfortunately, his free-swinging style will weigh down his batting average (he walked 38 times in 607 plate appearances). I don’t anticipate a return to his .305 batting average of 2009 (he batted .375 on balls in play), but a run back to .260-.270 is possible.

5. Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox

Forget about the batting average and his short-lived desire to become a stolen-base threat. Dunn’s game is all about power, and few have been as consistent in this decade. He’s hit 38 or more home runs in seven consecutive seasons while averaging 101 RBI. Dunn will enjoy setting off fireworks at U.S. Cellular Field alongside Carlos Quentin and Paul Konerko.

4. Bobby Abreu, Los Angeles Angels

Abreu batted .255 last season, the lowest mark in his 14 full major league seasons. He still produced strong numbers in the other four standard categories. Abreu hit 20 home runs with 78 RBI, 88 runs scored and 24 stolen bases in a difficult season for the Angels.

Los Angeles brought in support in trading for Vernon Wells, and Kendry Morales returns from the freak injury that ended his 2010 season. As such, there’s optimism that he’ll see better support in the lineup and boost his batting average in line with his .296 career mark, along with his normal power and speed contributions.

3. Victor Martinez, Detroit

Martinez has played two full seasons since his injury-shortened 2008 season, so fears about his health have been allayed. When you look at the breadth of his work, Martinez has been remarkably consistent.

In six full seasons, Martinez has averaged 35.5 doubles, 21.2 home runs and 97 RBI. The 32-year-old backstop also owns a nice, even .300 career batting average. He and Miguel Cabrera form a dynamic duo in the heart of Detroit’s lineup.

2. David Ortiz, Boston

He may not be the beast of years past, but Big Papi can still mash. Ortiz followed up a terrible April with a monstrous May (he hit 10 home runs and 27 RBI), and finished the season with 69 extra-base hits (including 32 home runs) and 102 RBI. It was his sixth major-league season with at least 31 home runs and 101 RBI.

The improved Boston offense puts Ortiz on the map for a huge RBI output if he stays healthy. Those added at-bats may help boost his batting average.

1. Vladimir Guerrero, Free agent

Rumors of Guerrero’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The veteran outfielder batted .300 with 29 home runs, 27 doubles and 115 RBI for the loaded Texas lineup last season, the 10th 100-RBI season of his career.

Regardless of where he signs, Guerrero will mash. He is an injury risk, but Guerrero has never batted worse than .295 in his career.


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