The designated hitter spot presents American League teams with an opportunity that their NL brethren don’t get to take advantage of. This seems like an advantage that every team should exploit, but as we've seen so far in 2010, that doesn't always happen.
Thus far this season DHs are hitting a combined .246/.336/.412 in 1,228 plate appearances, which is pretty much league average. In terms of batting average, only catchers have fared worse. The DH spot ranks fourth in OBP, behind right field, left field, and first base, and ranks fifth in slugging, behind those same positions plus center field. Shouldn't players who have no responsibilities other than to hit perform better than their two-way counterparts? Theoretically this is the case, but in practice, a number of teams end up featuring former stars with big contracts in the DH role, because they have no other place to play them.
The A's, Red Sox, and Indians have suffered their most from their designated "hitters." Eric Chavez ranks the best among the three with a .236/.279/.345 line. The other two, David Ortiz and Travis Hafner, have combined for a .180/.273/.324 mark, not much better than what those teams would get if they let their pitchers hit. Normally players who produce these numbers would sit on the bench, but these three players will make a combined $36 million in 2010. While continued poor production might force Ortiz and Chavez from the lineup since their contracts expire after this season, Hafner has two years and $28.75 million left on his deal. The Indians will probably give him every chance to revert to his former self.
A few years ago, Ortiz and Hafner received big-money deals to exclusively serve as DH, but as baseball puts a greater emphasis on defense, we'll see if players with no value in the field continued to be paid like stars. Considering Jermaine Dye hasn't been able to find a deal to his liking, it seems unlikely.
Joe Pawlikowski is a writer for FanGraphs.