One of the significant 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 East team’s use of the DH in 2022 and what to expect in 2023.
Atlanta—2022 DH Usage
Marcell Ozuna was the primary DH for Atlanta in 2022, but he didn’t do the team any favors with his below average bat (75 wRC+). His 11 home runs were fine, but they came with an ugly .259 OBP that greatly cut into his productivity. Ronald Acuña Jr. was used quite a bit at DH because he was still recovering from offseason knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. He hit slightly better at DH than when he played in the field. William Contreras hit so well at catcher that he picked up significant time at DH just to keep his bat in the lineup. Those three players accounted for 82 percent of the DH plate appearances taken by Atlanta hitters in 2022.
Atlanta Outlook for 2023
Ozuna has two years and $36 million left on a big contract he signed prior to the 2020 season, so he’ll get another shot playing left field and DH even though he’s been a below-average hitter in each of the past two seasons (a combined .222/.278/.397 in 715 PA, 84 wRC+). A fully-healthy Acuña should spend most of his time in right field, which will open up the DH spot to one of the team’s two catchers, Sean Murphy or Travis d’Arnaud, when they aren’t behind the dish and Ozuna is in left field or on the bench. Unlike many teams, Atlanta did not have their regulars--Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson (now with the Cubs), Austin Riley, or Michael Harris II spend time at DH when not in the field.
Miami Marlins—2022 DH Usage
Garrett Cooper and Jesús Aguilar split first base and DH duties for the Marlins last season, with Cooper being 23 percent above average on offense and Aguilar being 21 percent below average on offense when each was in the lineup as the DH. They combined for 64 percent of the team’s DH plate appearances. Outfielders Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García also picked up some DH time, with wildly different results (Soler—good; García—bad). Cooper is back with the Marlins in 2023, while Aguilar has moved on to Oakland.
Miami Marlins Outlook for 2023
The Marlins are expected to play Jazz Chisholm Jr. in center field this year. Should the move take, it will push Jesus Sanchez and Bryan De La Cruz to left field, with Avisaíl García in right field, leaving the DH spot for Jorge Soler. In his career, Soler has hit .253/.348/.541 in 969 plate appearances as a DH, which is significantly better than he’s hit as a left fielder or right fielder. For a player who doesn’t shine on defense, it would probably be best if the Marlins just plug him in at DH and let him play. If he can reach the 113 wRC+ he’s projected for by ATC, it would be a great improvement on the 87 wRC+ by Marlins’ DHs last season, which ranked 13th among the 15 NL teams.
New York Mets—2022 DH Usage
After joining the Mets in a trade with the Pirates in July, big Dan Vogelbach started 46 of the Mets’ last 67 games and hit well in the DH spot. Before Vogelbach arrived in the Big Apple, one of the regulars at DH was J.D. Davis, but he was traded to the Giants about a week after the Vogelbach deal. Davis was also above average in the role. Pete Alonso, not known for his glovework, had 27 games and 115 plate appearances and tied for the team lead in home runs as a DH, while hitting .250/.330/.500, which was slightly worse than his overall .271/.352/.518 batting line.
New York Mets Outlook for 2023
Dan Vogelbach, with his career 127 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, is slated to be the Mets’ primary DH against north paws. He makes a good platoon partner with Tommy Pham, who has a career 132 wRC+ versus lefties. If the two of them can continue to hit well against opposite-handed pitchers, the Mets will have one of the most productive DH spots in the league. Others who may get time at DH include Pete Alonso, Darin Ruf, and young Francisco Álvarez.
Philadelphia Phillies—2022 DH Usage
The Phillies had the most productive DH spot in the National league thanks to Bryce Harper’s injured elbow, which prevented him from playing in the field other than eight games in April. The injury meant Harper was the team’s primary DH when he was healthy. When Harper was on the IL with a fractured thumb from late June to late August, Darick Hall took the bulk of the playing time as the team’s DH and he was also above average on offense in the role. Harper and Hall combined for roughly three-fourths of the team’s plate appearances at DH, with a few of the team’s regulars getting some time there as well.
Philadelphia Phillies Outlook for 2023
The big unknown in Philadelphia is how soon Bryce Harper can get back in the lineup after having elbow surgery in the offseason. He’s expected to be out for most of the first half. Will he return in early July? At the All-Star break? In early August? We just don’t know yet. When he does return, though, he will likely be the team’s DH in order to protect the elbow. Before Harper gets back from the IL, the DH spot is expected to be split between Darick Hall, who hits lefty and will face righties, and Nick Castellanos, who hits righty and will face lefties. Castellanos will also play in the outfield when he’s not at DH. Once again, a few of the team’s regulars will get some plate appearances there as needed.
Washington Nationals—2022 DH Usage
The Nationals had by far the lowest wRC+ from their DH position of all the NL teams. They also had the fewest hits, fewest runs scored, and lowest slugging percentage from the DH spot. Sadly, Nelson Cruz was a big part of the problem, as he had his worst season in 15 years. He signed with the Padres in the offseason and is optimistic that eye surgery will help him get back to the basher he’d been before last year’s difficulties. Luke Voit was second on the Nationals in DH plate appearances last year and was even worse than Cruz. He’s also gone now, currently a free agent still hoping to sign somewhere. The team has a ton of playing time available at DH with the departures of Cruz and Voit.
Washington Nationals Outlook for 2023
One of the few bright spots in a dismal season for the Nationals was the incredible performance of Joey Meneses. This was a guy who originally signed with Atlanta and played his first professional season in 2011. It took him five years to reach AA, then another two years and a new organization (Philadelphia) to reach AAA. The Phillies released him in October of 2018, so he played with the Orix Buffaloes in the Japan Pacific League in 2019 until he tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended. The Red Sox signed him before the 2020 season and he played AA and AAA ball over the next two seasons before he was granted free agency in November of 2021. The Nationals signed him last January and sent him to AAA Rochester, where he hit 20 homers in 96 games. After the team traded away Juan Soto and Josh Bell, the 30-year-old Meneses was brought up to the big leagues for the first time and went on to hit .324/.367/.563, with 13 homers in 56 games. His 156 wRC+ was right there with Freddie Freeman and Manny Machado, although in about 400 fewer player appearances. He should get plenty of time this year to prove he wasn’t a total fluke, with many of his plate appearances coming at DH. Of course, if he flames out the way 2021 fluke Frank Schwindel did, then the Nationals will be looking for DH playing time from Dominic Smith, Stone Garrett, Alex Call, and other players many people have not yet heard of.
via Off The Bench https://www.offthebenchbaseball.com/2023/02/27/the-designated-hitter-in-the-nl-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-designated-hitter-in-the-nl-east
Louis DeTitto is a Philadelphia-based security management expert and sports fan.