Drafting a player to fill in your utility spot may seem easy. Why not make it easier by not drafting someone who plays the field, but a designated hitter?
Other positions: Catcher (10-1); First Base (20-11), (10-1); Second Base (15-11), (10-1); Shortstops (15-11), (10-1); Third Base (20-11), (10-1); Outfield (50-21), (20-11), (10-1); Starting Pitcher (50-21), (20-11), (10-1); Relief Pitcher (30-21), (20-11), (10-1)
The designated hitter is an interesting position. It’s only available in the American League, so National League-only owners are shafted from getting another power hitter in their lineup. If you play in a mixed league, the DH adds about eight more batters into the pool, but when do you draft them? I think, depending on who you traget, they can be drafted within the first 10 rounds in a snake draft. Some of them can hit 30 to 35 home runs and drive in 100-plus runs. Those are very valuable hitters to have on your team.
I use a couple of different of criteria when developing my rankings. I look at their 2015 performance, where they finished on the Player Rater, their career performance and if this past season was an outlier, their surroundings (lineup support) and where I think they project this season. Some of it may be subjective, especially the projections, but I try to keep it in line with other fantasy sites.
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The stats I use for the projections are runs, home runs, RBI, steals and batting average. I know there are leagues that use OBP or OPS instead of average, but they are in the minority. I will keep it for the majority that use ESPN standard five categories. I do factor in hits though because it more or less affects average (or OBP).
Before I get into my top five, here are two players worth mentioning.
Alex Rodriguez: He served a 162-game suspension in 2014. When he returned, many questioned how he would fit into this New York Yankees lineup. He settled in as the team’s designated hitter. He played, or hit, in 151 games and crushed 33 home runs (most since 2008), drove in 86 runs and hit .250. He was the fourth-best DH and 100th player overall.
I ranked A-Rod as my No. 3 designated hitter in October. That obviously changed, but why? At 40 years old, I don’t see Rodriguez repeating his 2015 season. The team is also getting older, with the likes of Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira, so Rodriguez may not play as many games. I think he’ll play 130 games with 25 home runs, 65 RBI and .240. He’ll be a late-round draft pick in standard leagues.
Victor Martinez: Martinez dealt with knee problems throughout the season. He played in only 120 games, the fewest since 2008 (not counting missing the 2012 season). He hit 11 home runs, 64 RBI and .245. His strikeout rate went up over four percent and his walk rate dropped 4.5 percent. His batted ball percentages stayed around the same, but his hard hit rate dropped almost nine percent.
The Detroit Tigers made some improvements to the lineup and look to be healthy for Opening Day. If V-Mart can stay healthy, he could be a top-five DH again. I just don’t see him playing in 150 games again. He is more of a 120-130 games played guy. He should hit 20 home runs, though.
Now, let’s get into my top-five DHs.
Next: No. 5: Kendrys Morales
Kendrys Morales had his best season since 2009. He played in 158 games and hit 22 home runs, 106 RBI and .290. He was the No. 3 DH in the league. In the good-hitting Kansas City Royals lineup, I feel good about Morales getting close to his 2015 numbers.
He had a 16.1 strikeout and 9.1 walk rates, but improvements from 2014. He had a 34.7 fly ball and 13.5 HR/FB rates. Morales made great contact with the ball, 35.3 hard hit hard. He was primarily a pull hitter, 40 percent, but was able to post a .362 on-base percentage.
His increased walk rate was due to him becoming a little more patient at the plate. His O-Swing and first pitch strike percentages went down by 1.7 and eight percent, respectively. He was able to wait for his pitch and make the most of it.
Morales hits in the middle of a good lineup. The Royals don’t have that superstar hitter opposing teams are afraid of, but they are dangerous as a group. He should play in another 145 games and hit 20 home runs, 85 RBI and .275.
Next: No. 4: Evan Gattis
The Houston Astros traded for Evan Gattis last season, but it didn’t seem to work out. He’ll enter his second season with the team, but I think we know what to expect from Gattis. He hit 27 home runs, 88 RBI and .246. He struck out 119 and walked just 30 times. He’s Chris Carter-lite. If you need that for your team, then go for it, but I’m looking elsewhere.
He is currently 29, but only entering his fourth season of play. The timeline for Gattis to have his All-Star season is shrinking. His strikeout rate did drop, but it takes into account plate appearances, which went up for him in 2015. His ground ball and fly ball rates regressed by seven percent.
The only reason I rank Gattis as my No. 4 designated hitter is because of the 30-home run potential. He will get you a low batting average, but the power is there. I think 135 games is the maximum and he’ll hit 25 home runs, 75 RBI and .250 in the process. He’s a late-round pick at best.
Next: No. 3: Miguel Sano
Miguel Sano was called up on July 2. In 80 games, he hit 18 home runs, 52 RBI and .269. While he struck out 119 times, he was able to record a .385 on-base percentage. Scaled to a full season, 150 games, he would hit 33 home runs and 97 RBI. With a little more patience at the plate, he will be the best hitter on this list at the end of the season.
Sano was aggressive, posting a 35.5 strikeout rate. He was able to walk 15.8 percent of the time, though. He had a 33.3 ground ball, 42.0 fly ball and 26.5 HR/FB rates. I do see those regressing a bit over a full season, but the power is clearly there. He had a 43.2 hard hit rate. Sano swung at 40.8 percent of the total pitches he saw. He kept his swing in the strikeout with a 25.8 O-Swing percentage.
The Minnesota Twins offense was not good. Having Sano in the lineup for a full season definitely makes everyone around him better. He is currently listed as the Twins’ right fielder, so he will gain outfield eligibility after 10 games. That increases his value greatly. Until then, he’s just a designated hitter.
I expect him to play in 145 games and hit 32 home runs, 85 RBI and .260 in his first full season.
Next: No. 2: David Ortiz
This will be David Ortiz‘s last season, so what can you expect from him? He’s been one of the most consistent hitters in the league, playing in at least 142 games in four of the last six seasons. He has three straight 30 HR/100 RBI seasons. He hit 37/108 with a .273 average last season. With the offense the Boston Red Sox had last year, there’s no reason to expect anything different.
Ortiz is a very smart hitter. He makes pitchers work to strike him out. He had a 15.5 strikeout and 12.5 walk rate last season. His ground ball rate was roughly the same and his fly ball rate dropped four percent, but his HR/FB rate went up almost three percent. Of the 2,488 total pitches he saw last season, 1,037 (42 percent) of them were balls.
Ortiz’s swinging strike percentage went up 1.7 percent, but he swung at more pitches in the zone. His O-Swing percentage went down from 30.2 to 28.8 percent. If you play in an OBP league, Ortiz is the best DH in the game.
I project him to play in 140 games and hit 30 home runs, 101 RBI and .270 in his final season.
Fair well, Big Papi.
Next: No. 1: Prince Fielder
Prince Fielder transitioned from first base to DH last season. This will help him stay healthy and become a better hitter, if that’s even possible. In 158 games, he hit 23 home runs, 98 RBI and .305 with a .378 OBP. With the Texas Rangers having one of the best lineup in the league, Fielder will produce top-50 numbers again.
Fielder made big strides at the plate. His strikeout rate was below 13 percent for the first time since 2012. His walk rate did drop below 10 percent as well, but it didn’t affect his overall performance. He brought his fly ball rate back up to his 2012-2013 numbers, and his ground ball rate dropped four percent.
His hard hit rate, 32.3 percent, did not reach the same plateau, but it was close. He did a good job spreading the ball around, 32.5 pull, 39.6 center and 27.9 opposite field hit percentages. Fielder became a little more free swinging last season. He had a 34.4 O-Swing percentage, but made had a 66.9 O-Contact percentage. So, at least he was hitting some of those pitches out of the zone.
If he was eligible at first base, he would just be outside my top 10. But, he only played 18 games, so that’s not the case. His power isn’t where it was five years ago, but 25 home runs with 85 RBI and .285 average is still a good hitter.
Next: Wrap Up
All of my 2016 position rankings are done. The designated hitter list was the last one, but still a tough one. These hitters provide you with one thing – power. All of these hitter can hit 30 home runs with ease. They may hurt your batting average, so it’s up to you to have the right roster construction to own one of these guys.
One designated hitter that I want to watch is Sano. How does he hit in his first full season? Does he regress or does he explode? I think he’ll do the latter, but am a little hesitant to draft him before Fielder and Ortiz. He is likely the best hitter on the Twins, so the opportunities should be there.
Whichever player you draft will likely slide into your utility spot, until they gain eligibility elsewhere. It does hinder your flexibility throughout the season though. But the numbers are too good to pass up.
Is there a designated hitter I overrated? Underrated? Let me know in the comments.
The rankings are done, so let’s get ready for Opening Day.