Most of you aren’t too worried about whether a player qualifies as a designated hitter for fantasy purposes, but knowing that there are a brave few of you out there who are in leagues where it’s a required position (I am actually in one of these leagues, somehow), I’ve compiled the top 15 designated hitters for fantasy.
Unlike all of the other rankings, I am going to use a 20-game threshold for qualifying as a DH as those of you in these formats likely require a higher threshold than Yahoo’s standard of five starts or 10 appearances to get the eligibility.
As with all of the position ranking articles, these blurbs and ranks come from my Top 300 Hitters for Fantasy Baseball 2024 piece that also debuted today! Check that piece out for more on my rankings philosophy and, well, all the rest of my rankings.
Check out the Hacks & Jacks podcast featuring Scott Chu and Joe Gallina, which also happened to be a finalist for Best Baseball Podcast of 2021 by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA)!
I also host an AMA in the r/fantasybaseball subreddit every Friday (starting sometime in late March) starting around noon ET that lasts through the rest of the day and into the weekend, so feel free to join the fun and ask questions or make comments.
1. Aaron Judge (OF/DH, NYY) – If Judge plays 140 games, he’s going to hit 45 home runs or more. It’s a given at this point, considering he walloped 37 of them in just 106 games in 2023. The only real concern with Judge is the health, which is a bummer after he spent all of 2021 and 2022 in the lineup. That said, ranking Judge eighth is only happening because of that risk, so don’t take the bait of a “double penalty” and drop him out of this tier in your ranks. The upside is way too high to make that kind of blunder, as there is no better bet to lead the American League (and all of baseball) in home runs than a healthy Aaron Judge.
The addition of Soto to the lineup should also mean more counting stats as the 2023 Yankees were simply dying for a hitter other than Judge (and to a lesser extent, Torres) to help carry their offense.
2. Shohei Ohtani (UT, LAD) – His elbow surgery shouldn’t scare you too much—Ohtani played nearly every game in 2019 after he returned to the lineup in May, and his surgery was so early that he should be ready to go for Spring Training in the batter’s box. Now that Ohtani is a Dodger, I feel comfortable penciling in 38 or more home runs and an obscene number of runs and RBI—both Betts and Freeman had over 230 combined runs and RBI and even if you see a bit of dilution with Ohtani being added, all three are sure to clear 200 with upside for much more.
3. Yordan Alvarez (OF/DH, HOU) – Talent isn’t the issue here—his career-to-date 162-game average is 43 home runs, 109 runs scored, 128 RBI, and a .295/.390/.588 line. Even with no stolen bases, that’s a Tier 1 player. The issue, of course, is that 162 games is a tall order for a guy with two bum knees. Alvarez managed just 114 games in 2023, though he still managed to hit 31 home runs and drive in 97 runners. You might move him slightly down your board if you took Judge in the first round (yes, you should consider adjusting your board even after your very first pick as you’re no longer “in a vacuum”), or if you’re in a deeper format like the NFBC where the replacement level is very low, but in shallower standard formats you needn’t hesitate to scoop up this husky slugger.
4. Bryce Harper (1B/DH, PHI) – Arguably, moving strictly to first base improves Harper’s value, as first base is not nearly as deep as outfield in standard formats—especially those requiring just three in the outfield. Harper missed time early in the season (though not as much as we thought he might) due to elbow surgery in the offseason, and it rather predictably led to a bit of a slow start in terms of power. As he continued to get further from his surgery date, Harper’s power began to return and by the end of the season, he was back to normal, as you can see in the rolling chart below. Durability will continue to be a concern until he strings together a few healthy seasons again, but when healthy, Harper is still one of the best run producers in baseball.
5. José Ramírez (3B/DH, CLE) – Oddly, Statcast felt that Ramírez was a better hitter with significantly more power in 2023 than he was in 2022 despite the downturn in home runs. We didn’t see anything from J-Ram in 2023 that we didn’t expect—as many walks as he had strikeouts, plus power, nearly 30 stolen bases, and excellent ratios. I think there are more home runs in here based on the history and Statcast data and the counting stats should improve by dumb luck and some better health in Cleveland, so I’m expecting better numbers in 2024 than he did in 2023.
6. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B/DH, TOR) – It was a very disappointing season for Vladito as he failed to reach 30 home runs, 80 runs scored, or 95 RBI along with a lower-than-expected .264 batting average. Oddly, the Statcast data suggests he made better contact in 2023 than he did in 2022 despite the dip in actual production. Guerrero should bounce back from the rough campaign, though the further we get from his 2021 breakout, the more we have to question what to reasonably expect from a full season. He should put up numbers that are equal to (or better than) guys like Riley or Devers, but until he does it a second time, we have to have a bit of caution.
7. Manny Machado (3B/DH, SDP) – A down year for Machado is 30 home runs, 91 RBI, and a .258 batting average, it seems. The highly dependable third baseman has been a strong contributor at third base for nine consecutive seasons, and it’s hard to imagine Machado not doing it again in 2024. There are some questions about how much talent will be around him during the season with Soto being traded and Tatis having a worrisome injury history plus a bit of a downturn in performance. Even if the Padres aren’t a high-powered offense in 2024, Machado has shown he can produce in just about any environment. He’s not getting younger, but he should be a high-floor option who bats in the heart of the order on a team that, at worst, should still be pretty decent at the top half of the order.
8. Kyle Schwarber (OF, PHI) – Two seasons in Philly, two straight seasons of setting career highs in home runs (46 in 2022, 47 in 2023). It comes with a .200 batting average, unfortunately, but he’s second in home runs, seventh in runs scored, and ninth in RBI in all of baseball since the start of 2022. If you’re intentionally punting batting average or are in an OBP league, you could argue he’s in Tier 4.
9. Christian Yelich (OF/DH, MIL) – Yelich appears to have figured out his chronic back issues after years of struggling and it led to his best season since 2019 as he hit 19 home runs, scored 106 runs, and swiped 28 bags with a .278 batting average and .370 OBP. The stolen bases might come down just a bit due to the aging curve, but another season with close to 20 home runs and 25 stolen bases is certainly in the cards, and the healthier back should help keep those ratios up a little higher than years past as well.
10. Paul Goldschmidt (1B, STL) – The plate discipline is still there and Goldschmidt should still be locked into the heart of the Cardinals order, but age may finally be catching up to the 36-year-old after posting his lowest 162-game season home run total since 2016. I think there’s a good chance to clear 25 home runs in another full season (Goldy hasn’t missed more than 11 games in a season since 2014), but we should probably recalibrate our expectations for batting average and stolen bases as he posted a 27th percentile speed according to Statcast. I don’t think he’ll be a dud in the ratio department, but it isn’t easy to hit .300 when you start to slow down physically.
11. Adley Rutschman (C/DH, BAL) – Rutschman finished as the second-best fantasy catcher in 2023 thanks to his positive contributions across the board (except for stolen bases, but he’s a catcher so that doesn’t count). He’ll be just 26 years old at the start of 2024 and Rutschman has already proven he has elite plate discipline and contact ability. His rolling chart for contact ability (below) shows that every single 200-swing sample we have for Adley was in the 90th percentile or better, which is a truly remarkable accomplishment for a backstop in his first full season in the majors.
Rutschman can’t challenge Smith or Contreras in the power department, but thanks to Rutschman’s everyday presence in the lineup (he had 76 more plate appearances than any other catcher in 2023), he has the highest floor at the position and more than enough upside to lead all catchers in every fantasy stat except for home runs and stolen bases.
12. Josh Naylor (1B/DH, CLE) – A drop in strikeout rate and groundball rate helped unlock more of Naylor’s potential, particularly when it comes to batting average. Runs may continue to be hard to come by with the extreme lack of depth in Cleveland (though the development of Bo Naylor and Manzardo could alleviate this to some extent), but 90-100 RBI should be in reach hitting fourth for this top-heavy lineup. Those counting stats plus about 20 home runs and a .285 or better batting average would be a nice addition to any fantasy squad.
13. Josh Lowe (OF/DH, TBR) – Lowe started hot, got very cold, and then was hot again, which makes projecting for him a frustrating endeavor. I think the 20 home runs seem about right based on his minor league track record and scouting grades, and the Rays are so aggressive on the base path that 32 stolen bases are certainly attainable. The strikeout rate is the number to watch, as the prolonged slump for Lowe was closely tied to strikeout issues over the summer. Lowe was never a good decision-maker at any point in 2023, but he did manage to improve his ability to make contact against lefties towards the end of the season and also against breaking pitches (see below), and if that continues then we can expect another strong season. If he regresses with the contact against breakers, though, it could be a bumpy ride with a low floor.
14. William Contreras (C/DH, MIL) – Seeing the strikeout rate drop to 20.6% in 2023 was a good sign, as the 29.3% and 27.7% he posted in 2021 and 2022 were big red flags that indicated there might be a low floor. Contreras only hit 19 home runs in his 141 games after hitting 28 in his 149 games across 2021 and 2022, and that’s largely due to his extreme ground ball tendencies as his 55.0% groundball rate was the third highest in the league among qualified hitters. There’s 25 home run power here if he can bring that number below 50%, if not more, and the Brewers seem committed to playing him every day. I think some will place Contreras at the top of their catcher rankings or projections based on the upside, and I wouldn’t blame you for it. These top catchers are tough to separate.
15. Anthony Santander (OF/DH, BAL) – Santander is unlikely to surprise us in 2024, but the improved Baltimore offense means his 30 home runs and .250 batting average should come with close to 100 RBI. He won’t steal many bases, but his floor and ceiling are pretty close together, making Santander an excellent choice for those who have already taken a few gambles on offense.
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter/X)