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Wednesday, August 21, 2013
The sad state of designated hitting

By David Schoenfield

It is a sad day for the DH. Both Rays and Orioles DHs are hitting 9th. @karabellespn @dschoenfield @klaw @jasoncollette

— Jeff Good (@lowguppy) August 20, 2013

The American League is hitting .256/.321/.405.

American League designated hitters are hitting .246/.325/.409.

Only four teams -- the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Royals and Mariners -- have an .800+ OPS from their DHs. Seven have an OPS under .700 -- the Twins, Rays, White Sox, Orioles, A's, Yankees and Astros. Astros DHs are hitting .197. Yankees DHs are hitting .204 with 29 extra-base hits and 49 RBIs. The Orioles and A's are in playoff chases even though their DHs are hitting .213 and .212 with OBPs under .300 and slugging percentages under .400 (well under .400 in the case of Oakland).

Of course, few teams have a "designated" hitter these days. It's mostly used as a position to give players a day off from the field, or to rotate bench players into the lineup. As a result, the difference between what DHs produce and what the average AL hitter produces has declined in recent years. Here is the spread between DHs and the AL average in OPS over the years:

2013: +.008
2012: +.027
2011: +.040
2010: +.024
2009: +.016
2008: +.029
2007: +.041
2006: +.043
2005: +.023
2004: +.020

1993: +.012
1992: +.025
1991: +.045

1983: +.044
1982: +.028

1975: +.011
1974: +.004
1973: +.010

Not since the early days of the DH -- when teams mostly relied on past-their-prime veterans like Tony Oliva or Harmon Killebrew -- has the margin been so small.

I don't see this changing. With teams carrying 12 or 13 relievers, your bench players have to be able to play the field, so teams are reluctant to carry a bat-only player. Teams don't want to pay a high salary for a DH; they can save money by carrying a utility guy.

I do believe there is an advantage to be gained here. The Orioles have certainly hurt themselves by not acquiring a good bat to fill that role. Until teams realize that carrying a third LOOGY is a waste of roster space, we're going to continue to see marginal production from DHs -- and more situations where they're batting ninth.