One of the most consequential changes amongst the many that have been implemented in 2020 is the introduction of the Designated Hitter in the National League.
A controversial but inevitable change that has been brought forward by the pandemic, it will clearly have a big impact on the line-ups of many teams in the league, particularly without an offseason to prepare for the big change.
The abruptness of the implementation of the universal DH has left some teams more prepared than others. There will be a mixture of excitement as well as relief in NL front offices, as teams who have accumulated poor defensive players will be able to hide them, and teams with great depth will have more at-bats to give to otherwise unlucky bench players.
The five teams the change benefits the most are…
The universal DH will be a huge relief for the Mets, who have multiple defensively challenged outfielders, as well as two MLB first basemen on the roster.
Pete Alonso, Dom Smith, JD Davis, Yoenis Cespedes, Wilson Ramos and Robinson Cano can all be above average hitters whilst playing mostly average or below defence. It shows how little the team have cared about defence in acquiring players, and have been saved somewhat by the new rule, since Davis and Smith were going to be high-quality bench players back in March.
The main reason the Mets top the list is the presence of Yoenis Cespedes. Two heel surgeries and a run-in with a Wild Boar have led to two years without a plate appearance, and the new DH means he can play almost every day in hope of rediscovering his MVP calibre bat.
Whilst the Mets have too many defensively challenged players, the Dodgers just have too many good players.
Fangraphs playing time predictor has Edwin Rios (31 HRs in AAA in 2019), Matt Beaty (102 wRC+ in 2019) and Joc Pederson sharing time at the position, whilst there will likely be some rotation to rest key players. The National League favourites have become even stronger with the new rules.
More Mets than Dodgers, the Reds have accumulated multiple below-average defensive outfielders who can rotate between DH and left/right field.
Big off-season acquisition Nicholas Castellanos has never had a defensive home to go with his above-average bat, and both Jesse Winker and Aristides Aquino (if he is recalled to the roster) figure to spend time at DH.
Another variable is Mike Moustakas who has been signed to play second base after just 360 big league innings at the position. If that experiment fails, he could spend time at DH.
Like the Mets and Cespedes, there is a ready-made DH already in Milwaukee in franchise icon Ryan Braun. He has never been a particularly good defender, below average in all of his big-league seasons, but he still had an OPS of .849 in 2019 showing he can still be valuable as a hitter.
Minor League invite Logan Morrison offers an option to platoon with Braun, and this combination will likely be among the strongest in the NL.
Many teams have decent DHs who will play every day, and the Nationals are no exception. Veteran Howie Kendrick hit .340 in 370 PAs, and with him pencilled in at DH, the hope is the lack of toll taken on his body playing defence will allow him to play every day.
Eric Thames will split time with Kendrick at first and DH, after Ryan Zimmerman’s decision to opt-out of the season. He offers power from the left side to complement the contact-oriented right-hander Kendrick.