Fans have been waging debates on the designated hitter for as long as I can remember. Should the DH expand to the National League? Should the DH rule go away? Should we just enjoy the weird quirk of unique rules across the two leagues?
After 49 years of the American League flying solo with the DH, the National League appears to be on the verge of adopting the DH for 2022. That isn’t a given, of course. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start to prepare for how universal DH might change the fantasy landscape.
The biggest impact might be on pitchers. Trading hundreds of pitcher plate appearances for hundreds of DH plate appearances will increase NL ERA’s, decrease NL strikeouts, and more. The decrease in NL pitcher production will make AL pitchers relatively more valuable, as well.
But the rule also opens up 700 PA on each of the 15 NL teams. The rule would impact a few other hitters – expanding the market for free agents like Nelson Cruz and Kyle Schwarber, for example. Since there aren’t immediate fantasy implications for those players, we’ll focus on players that would become interesting fantasy targets with universal DH.
Below is a team-by-team analysis of players who would benefit from DH expansion, ranked from the team I am least excited about as a fantasy manager to the one I am most excited about as a fantasy manager.
The Phillies could benefit from the DH simply by moving some bats off the field. They were the worst team in baseball by Defensive Runs Saved (-54 DRS) last year. A big chunk of that was thanks to Alec Bohm, Didi Gregorius, and Rhys Hoskins (-30 DRS combined). The problem is they don’t really have any in-house candidates who are exciting replacements for fantasy managers.
Scott Kingery could benefit, but I am not drafting him even with a full-time job. Shortstop prospect Bryson Stott could move up quickly and perhaps moving an existing IF to DH speeds up his timeline. Matt Vierling is another possibility but he’s likely limited to the small side of a platoon.
I can’t decide if Milwaukee has no interesting candidates or a ton of interesting candidates. There isn’t an obvious DH on the roster, especially with Dan Vogelbach being non-tendered. But they have a bunch of former prospects and other fliers in the organization – Keston Hiura, David Dahl, Corey Ray, Jonathan Davis, Pablo Reyes, Jonathan Singleton, Tyler White, Tyrone Taylor, Mike Brosseau – who could benefit from more space in the lineup. They could also look outside the org to add a much-needed big bat.
For now, I don’t see anyone whose fantasy value immediately changes with the DH.
Put simply, I can’t imagine the Dodgers having a regular DH. They rotate players around the field as much as anyone and I imagine they would treat the DH the same way. Perhaps the DH gets Max Muncy back from injury sooner. Maybe it allows them to find room for another bat on the roster. More than likely, however, it provides extra rest for everyone and extra plate appearances for Matt Beaty, Edwin Ríos, Gavin Lux, Zach McKinstry, and others. I am not moving any Dodgers up my draft board due to the DH.
As is to be expected from a team that just went through a fire sale, the Cubs are loaded with possibilities and question marks. Any of Jason Heyward, Rafael Ortega, Michael Hermosillo, Harold Ramirez, and Clint Frazier could be in the outfield or on the bench. Adding a DH spot would get one more of those guys into the lineup. I am not jumping for joy about any of those five, though it would be fun to see Clint Frazier get healthy. Maybe being a DH could help him stay on the field.
If they don’t trade Willson Contreras, the DH might also be a way to get him more PA.
For the Cubs, I might nudge Contreras up the draft board a bit if he could get some DH PA. Frazier would be the OF I would be most interested in.
With the option to use a designated hitter, Atlanta would likely get Marcell Ozuna’s glove out of the outfield. Ozuna’s outlook doesn’t change much, as he will get his playing time regardless. Maybe he squeaks out an extra 15-20 PA if he doesn’t have to be pulled for a defensive replacement.
The big beneficiary, though, is probably some combination of Drew Waters, Cristian Pache, Guillermo Heredia, and Travis Demeritte. Once Ronald Acuña, Jr., is back, those four are stuck on the bench, behind an outfield of Ozuna, Acuña, and Adam Duvall. Pache and Waters are the most interesting of the group, but both are more watchlist guys than players to add in fantasy right now. Waters is probably the one I would move up my board, but my concerns with him are more about hitting MLB pitching than playing time.
A hidden benefit for fantasy managers might be Acuña getting back into the lineup earlier. As things stand, he’ll need to be able to play the field before he gets back in the lineup. Universal DH could let him get PA before he can play the field.
Michael Chavis looks to be the beneficiary here. The Pirates are still trying to build something and finding out what they have in some of their younger players will be a priority. Chavis should be in that group. He is still only 26, was a nearly-league-average bat at 23, and hasn’t had consistent playing time since. Chavis is currently the odd man out and a DH spot would remedy that.
I liked what I saw from Chavis in 2019, but he needed to make improvements in batted ball quality and strike out rate, and has done neither. Even with the DH, he is probably little more than a watchlist guy. If the Pirates can help him unlock his potential like they did for Tsutsugo, he could get interesting, but not yet.
You would expect to find Colorado pretty high on this list – an extra bat-first player in Coors?? Yes, please!
Then you look at the Rockies roster. Charlie Blackmon will have one OF spot, but the other two figure to be shared by Connor Joe, Sam Hilliard, Raimel Tapia, and Yonathan Daza. Maybe the DH allows them to get an extra one of those four into the lineup daily? D.J. Peterson was once a touted prospect and is now 30 and in this organization. Colton Welker and Elehuris Montero are both interesting prospects who may be ready to contribute.
Tapia is probably the name to watch. He stole 20 bases last year in 533 PA. He has a career .280 average. He doesn’t do much more, but there’s a lot of value in 20 SB, a high average, and a handful of HR. Without a full-time role, the low volume deflates his value, but if he has a clear path to a full workload, he is a lot more intriguing to me.
Welker might be worth tracking, as well. He got a cup of coffee in MLB last year and is a solid-bat, questionable-glove prospect who could fit in as a DH. His best position might be 1B, but that is locked down by CJ Cron. Welker is little more than a watchlist guy, but if you told me he was playing everyday in Coors, I would put him on the end of deeper rosters.
The Reds are sending guys out rather than bringing them in. What used to be a crowded outfield is getting less crowded and others might still be on the move. Assuming the team stays as-is, Aristides Aquino, Nick Senzel and Mike Moustakas will find themselves on the bench, and could be a factor at DH. The big question is whether they will continue to run Jesse Winker out in the OF, given his poor defensive performance. He seems like a natural DH, but using him at DH means playing Senzel or Aquino over Moustakas. However, Senzel can’t stay healthy and Aquino can’t stay productive.
Moustakas might be a better defender at 3B than Eugenio Suárez, so we could see him take over the hot corner if DH is an option. Moustakas is the guy I am interested in here, though I could see speculating on post-hype Senzel. I am not ready to write Moustakas off over a rough 206 PA in an injury-riddled season. He becomes an intriguing late-round flyer if he has an everyday spot in the lineup.
The Nationals have a semi-crowded OF and the DH could be a way to get an extra OF bat into the lineup on a regular basis. As of now, it looks like Lane Thomas will be in CF with Yadiel Hernández getting at least a strong-side platoon role in LF. In RF they have a 23-year-old named Juan Soto who appears to have a bright future. That leaves a former top prospect, Víctor Robles, on the outside looking in.
Robles, though, is not yet 25. By age 21 he had 710 MLB PA with 20 HR, 31 SB, 96 R, 79 RBI and a .258 AVG. The next 558 PA have been far less kind, and as a result, he has potentially played himself out of a job. I can’t imagine the Nats are ready to give up on him, but the addition of an extra lineup spot would make it much easier to get him regular PA. He likely wouldn’t serve as DH. Robles is easily the best defensive OF on the team, but slotting him into CF while Thomas or Hernández served as DH would be an option.
Robles is going outside the top 400 by ADP at NFBC, but this is a guy who could put up a 20/20 season. His performance has been bad enough that I would still rather wait and see, but he gets a lot more interesting if he has one more spot to compete for.
Garrett Cooper could be the beneficiary here. With Bryan De La Cruz, Jesús Sánchez and newly-signed Avisaíl García basically locked in as the starting OF, Cooper will be relegated to a bench or platoon role. Despite a rough 2020, here are Cooper’s per-600 PA stats since 2019: .282 AVG, 22 HR, 1 SB, 76 R, and 76 RBI. That is a pretty solid fantasy OF if he gets full playing time. While he has been better against LHP, his platoon split isn’t such that you have to bench him vs. RHP.
With a current NFBC ADP of 505.2, Cooper is basically free. If he were lined up to be a full-time DH, he should probably cut that ADP in half.
Lewin Díaz could also be a factor here, as he could displace Jesus Aguilar at 1B, pushing Aguilar to DH. But Cooper is a better hitter than either of those two.
Like the Dodgers, the Padres are built to move players around a bit. Fernando Tatis, Jr. is the SS, but played some OF last year. Jake Cronenworth has played multiple positions. Jurickson Profar is an IF by trade and likely primarily plays OF for the Padres this year. But, unlike the Dodgers, there is a potential clear beneficiary of the DH rule: Ha-Seong Kim.
In 2021, Kim played 2B, 3B, and SS and played them all well. His offense wasn’t particularly impressive, but he had 8 HR and 6 SB in less than 300 PA. Given his success in Korea, it’s easy to believe he could improve on that offensive output. Even so, he’s not a DH.
However, if Tatis and his shoulder are better served in the OF, letting Wil Myers DH, putting Tatis in the OF and adding Kim to the lineup could make a ton of sense. Whether that means Kim at SS or Kim at 2B and Cronenworth at SS doesn’t really matter. With a full season of playing time, Kim would be a defensive plus and could put up a 15/15 season. He’s currently going 385.2 at NFBC. With regular PA, that could easily jump 100+ spots, particularly since he qualifies at three spots.
The problem is the Padres presumably prefer to keep Tatis at SS. That makes this gets a lot murkier. Maybe non-roster invitee Nomar Mazara gets another shot to live up to his prospect pedigree? Perhaps Jorge Alfaro gets more time in the OF or at DH? If you promised me Kim would get the additional PA, I would be jumping at him in drafts. As it stands, I expect we see far less exciting names getting those plate appearances.
The Diamondbacks have two corner bats ready to face MLB hitting but without a position – Cooper Hummel and Seth Beer. Both crushed Triple-A. Beer posted a 128 wRC+ in 435 Triple-A PA; Hummel had a 148 wRC+ in Triple-A before he was traded to Arizona, and upped his game to 155 after the trade. Both would likely get a shot to earn the playing time opened up by universal DH.
Scouting suggests Hummel is the better bet to get on base while Beer features more power. Beer has the better prospect grades, but only barely. Beer got a cup of coffee last year and might be ahead of Hummel. That said, the Diamondbacks just traded for Hummel at the deadline and may have been giving him time in the new org before promoting him. I would watch this battle closely – I think they are both interesting if they get a job. I would bet on Beer, given the choice, but Hummel could very well get the first shot.
The Giants appear primed to use as many as four platoons in their lineup. That would mean that on any given day, their bench is a backup catcher and four guys who you would prefer to not have in the lineup, but are set to pinch-hit when needed. That could mean that DH plate appearances go to someone like Tommy La Stella, Darin Ruf, Austin Slater, LaMonte Wade Jr., or Brandon Belt, but without the platoon advantage.
This could be good for Belt, who managed only 75 PA vs. LHP last year, but had a 129 wRC+ and who hit lefties well for the first half of his career. Similarly, Darin Ruf had only 172 PA vs. RHP last year, but a 126 wRC+. Both of these two deserve more playing time, and the DH could effectively allow the Giants to turn their 1B platoon into a 1B/DH timeshare. If they continue to hit same-handed pitching well, that would be a nice boost for both Ruf and Belt. Particularly Ruf, as he is otherwise likely to be the small side of a platoon.
At NFBC, Belt has a 233.7 ADP; Ruf’s is 469.1. With the DH, I would move Belt inside the top 200 (he should maybe be inside the top 200 anyway) and Ruf would become a much more intriguing late-round flyer.
In 2021, Juan Yepez had a .289 AVG with 22 HR, 56 R, 63 RBI, and a SB in 357 Triple-A PA, good for a 154 wRC+. Meanwhile, Lars Nootbar tore up Triple-A, as well, with a 140 wRC+ before holding his own in the majors over 124 PA. And yet neither has a clear path to MLB PA in 2021. Yepez is a 1B stuck behind Paul Goldschmidt, while Nootbar is competing with Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson. The Cards also have a top prospect, Nolan Gorman, who is ready for MLB PA.
This is a team that would probably love universal DH. Gorman might be the most interesting from a fantasy perspective, given 2B eligibility; Nootbar might be the closest, given his 2021 cup of coffee; Yepez might be the most exciting bat, given his bat.
At this point, I would nudge all three up my rankings a bit with universal DH, but I would mostly be looking for signs in Spring Training pointing towards the Cardinals’ plans. If it becomes clear that any of these three are in line for regular PA, especially Gorman or Yepez, I would want them on my roster.
If I could take over as GM of any MLB team for a day, it would be the Mets, and I would immediately do what it took to make sure Dominic Smith, Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis have everyday jobs. As it stands, those three are on the bench, unless one of them displaces Robinson Canó. As it stands, they could all be beneficiaries of an extra lineup spot, either with the Mets or by creating 14 more places for them to land via trade.
Davis it the one who interests me most. A poor fielder, Davis has a 130 wRC+ over 893 PA from 2019-21. He hits for average, has decent power, and could do plenty of R/RBI damage in this lineup. But McNeil (124 wRC+ since 2019) and Smith (114) are not far behind, despite rough 2021 seasons. McNeil is actually the player I expect to benefit. I find it hard to believe Canó is still a 2B, so letting him DH with McNeil playing 2B is probably the optimal lineup for the Mets.
In deeper leagues, I am speculating on all three. I don’t believe Canó can hold 2B, creating space for McNeil; I think a second one could get regular PA thanks to DH, and I suspect the Mets are going to be looking to trade one of these bats for an arm. All three have a spot on fantasy rosters if they have regular jobs.
Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)