How will the Los Angeles Dodgers and the other NL West Teams Use the DH in 2023?
One of the major changes in Major League Baseball last year was the Designated Hitter coming to the National League on a permanent basis. It had previously been used in all MLB ballparks during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, then not used in NL ballparks in 2021 before returning last year.
With the DH coming to the National League for good in 2022, we can analyze how different teams used the lineup spot last season, the production they received, and what they might do in the upcoming season. We can start by looking at team totals.
The Philadelphia Phillies had the most productive DH spot based on weighted runs created plus (wRC+, where 100 is league average, above 100 is better than average and below 100 is worse). The Phillies’ 132 wRC+ meant their DH spot was 32 percent better on offense than the league average hitter. The Washington Nationals had the least productive DH spot, with a 74 wRC+, or 26% below league average.
With one eye on last year and the other looking ahead to next season, here is a breakdown of each NL West team’s use of the DH in 2022 and what to expect in 2023.
Arizona Diamondbacks—2022 DH Usage
The Diamondbacks spread the love around at the DH spot last year. Ketel Marte had the most plate appearances at the spot and hit well when he was in there. His ongoing injury issues contributed to his playing so often at DH. He was also below average in the Statcast fielding metric Outs Above Average for second basemen. Number two on the list is Seth Beer, who was used as a DH because he’s not very skilled on defense. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, he didn’t hit much as a DH (48 wRC+). It was a similar story for Pavin Smith (54 wRC+). Along with his DH games, Daulton Varsho started 18 games at catcher and 103 in the outfield. His time at DH was to give him a partial rest from playing in the field and he took to it, with a 112 wRC+.
Arizona Outlook for 2023
The FanGraphs Depth Charts expect more of the same from the Diamondbacks at the DH position. They don’t look to have one main DH. Instead, the Depth Charts project Emmanuel Rivera to have 175 PA and Evan Longoria with 140 at DH. Kyle Lewis could figure in the mix if he can stay healthy for five minutes. He was the AL Rookie of the Year with Seattle in 2020, but has only played in 54 games over the last two seasons, hitting .215/.301/.366 (92 wRC+). Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo has shown the same pattern in the two years he managed the team with the DH in place in the NL (2020 and 2022). He didn’t settle on one player for the position. Instead, the DH plate appearances have been spread around the roster under his management.
Colorado Rockies—2022 DH Usage
Charlie Blackmon was one of just six NL players to have 300 or more plate appearances at the DH spot in 2022, so it’s likely that his days as an outfielder are numbered as he plays out the final year of his contract with the Rockies. His 93 wRC+ as a DH was not impressive, but it was better than his overall 89 wRC+ and better than the team’s 88 wRC+ from the DH spot last year. The team numbers were driven down by the ugly performance of C.J. Cron when he was in the lineup at DH (.170/.233/.396, 51 wRC+). He was much better in his starts at first base. Connor Joe rounded out the top three in DH plate appearances for the Rockies in 2022 and his 95 wRC+ was the best of the three. Colorado was one of five NL teams with three players with at least 100 plate appearances at DH.
Colorado Outlook for 2023
It should be more of the same for the Rockies at DH in 2023—a copious helping of Charlie Blackmon, who will try to extend his streak of barely-above-replacement-level play to four straight seasons. Blackmon has spent the last three years struggling to keep his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) above 0.0 and is projected by ATC for 0.1 WAR in 2023.
When Blackmon isn’t in the lineup at DH, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more C.J. Cron in that spot. Connor Joe has been traded, so he’s out, but the Rockies could also use the DH spot to keep Kris Bryant healthy and productive.
Los Angeles Dodgers—2022 DH Usage
The Dodgers had the second-highest wRC+ in the NL from the DH spot, with three players accounting for nearly 70 percent of the team’s plate appearances. Justin Turner and Max Muncy were slightly above average at DH, while Will Smith thoroughly crushed the ball when he was in the lineup at the position. In fewer plate appearances, Edwin Rios and Jake Lamb hit well when they were in the lineup but not in the field.
Los Angeles Outlook for 2023
Free agent signee J.D. Martinez is ready to be the Dodgers’ primary DH in 2023 after not playing a single game in the outfield for the Red Sox last year. Justin Turner is off to Boston and a healthy Max Muncy shouldn’t need much time at DH, so Martinez will be the main man. This is likely to cut into the DH time for catcher Will Smith, who had 107 plate appearances there in 2022. The ATC projections at FanGraphs have him with about 50 fewer plate appearances than last year.
San Diego Padres—2022 DH Usage
In the first half of the season, Luke Voit was the most often used DH for the Padres and was essentially their primary DH when he was healthy. At the trade deadline, he was dealt to the Nationals in the Juan Soto trade that also brought back Josh Bell, who then became the main DH for San Diego. Both Voit and Bell were slightly above average, while Manny Machado and Brandon Drury were way above average at the DH position but in fewer plate appearances.
San Diego Padres Outlook for 2023
The Padres signed a couple of veterans in the offseason who should get plenty of time at DH for them in 2023. At 42 years old, Nelson Cruz is coming off his worst offensive season since 2007. It was reported in October that Cruz struggled with an eye issue for the last year and a half. He had surgery to correct it and hopes to get back to being the incredible late-career hitter he’d been prior to last season.
Cruz has hit 437 home runs after his age-27 season, which ranks ninth all time behind such hitters as Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, David Ortiz, Jim Thome, and Willie Mays. As impressive as that is, he faces long odds to be an above average hitter with significant playing time at the age of 42. Since 1960, just seven players have had 300 plate appearances and a wRC+ over 100 in their age-42 season. They’re all Hall of Famers except for Barry Bonds and Ichiro (who will be when he’s eligible).
The other veteran signed by the Padres is 37-year-old Matt Carpenter, whose 217 wRC+ was the highest in baseball for hitters with 150 or more plate appearances. That’s obviously a small sample size, but his numbers were truly incredible–.305/.412/.727, 15 HR in 154 PA. He should get time at DH against right-handed pitchers when he’s not playing in the field.
Along with the veterans, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fernando Tatis Jr. get some time at DH because he’s coming back from wrist and shoulder injuries. And Juan Soto finished last in Outs Above Average among all MLB right fielders in 2022, which could mean some time at DH for him in 2023.
San Francisco Giants—2022 DH Usage
The Giant tied the Cincinnati Reds with 10 players with 25 or more plate appearances at the DH position. It was very much a “spread the wealth/spare the health” strategy for an older roster. Tommy La Stella had the most plate appearances at the spot and he was one of the worst hitters there. Behind him, Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf were second and third on the team in DH plate appearances and both were also below average in the role. The team salvaged a league-average 100 wRC+ thanks to terrific hitting from J.D. Davis, Brandon Belt, David Villar, and Lamonte Wade Jr. when they were the team’s DH.
San Francisco Giants Outlook for 2023
Joc Pederson had his best offensive season in 2022 (career high 144-wRC+), but he gave much of his value back on defense, where he ranked 37th among 40 left fielders in Outs Above Average. The Giants signed outfielders Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto in the offseason, which should push Joc Pederson to the DH spot for a good chunk of his time in the lineup, which will mostly come against right-handed pitching because of his career-long struggles against lefties. With their injury histories, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Haniger and Conforto also get time at DH in the hopes of keeping them healthy. Beyond those three, look for the Giants to once again spread some DH plate appearances around in order to maximize the production of the whole roster beyond the sum of its parts.
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