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National League DH: A Look at the Central

The universal DH is here. Here's what to expect from teams in the NLC.

 

Here’s part two of a three-part series. Today we will look at teams in the NL Central and how they will utilize the new universal DH. We will be using Depth Charts, as well as some of my own thoughts and speculation, to project each team’s DH and how each team may take advantage of the new position.

 

Cincinnati Reds

 

Best Option: Jesse Winker

The hitter I write about it half my pieces, Jesse Winker is the clear favorite to see time as the Reds’ DH. Although he has always struggled to hit versus left-handers, he is a clear-cut above average hitter against righties. In his 855 career plate appearances, he boasts a .307/.396/.511 slash line and a 137 wRC+. He pairs these numbers with an 11.7% walk rate and 15.0% strikeout rate. Winker has shown the ability to produce at the plate, while also making adjustments throughout the course of a season. At age 26, he could be on his way of finally finding his consistent swing. Batting him at DH could give him consistent at bats while helping to maintain his health. Consistent playing time would make him a steal in OBP leagues, while giving him high upside in the batting average and runs departments.

 

Other Options

Unless Winker displays an improvement versus left-handed pitchers, the Reds could deploy a platoon at DH. Right-handed hitters Aristides Aquino and Phil Ervin are potential options. Aquino displayed elite power during the early phases of his 2019 season, but finished the season extremely cold. In his first 115 plate appearances, he mashed 14 homers, slugged .767, and produced a 185 wRC+. But in his last 110 plate appearances, he mustered just five homers, a .382 slugging, and 52 wRC+. Ervin has a 197 plate appearances versus LHP, where he posted a 135 wRC+ and .907 OPS. The DH may grant Ervin more opportunity for consistent at bats, however if they only come from a platoon role, he won’t be of much fantasy value.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 LF 4 Shogo Akiyama L
2 1B 19 Joey Votto L
3 3B 7 Eugenio Suarez R
4 DH 33 Jesse Winker L
5 RF 2 Nick Castellanos R
6 2B 9 Mike Moustakas L
7 CF 15 Nick Senzel R
8 SS 3 Freddy Galvis S
9 C 16 Tucker Barnhart L

 

VS. LHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 CF 15 Nick Senzel R
2 1B 19 Joey Votto L
3 3B 7 Eugenio Suarez R
4 RF 2 Nick Castellanos R
5 DH 6 Phil Ervin R
6 2B 9 Mike Moustakas L
7 LF 4 Shogo Akiyama L
8 SS 3 Freddy Galvis S
9 C 12 Curt Casali R

 

Milwaukee Brewers

 

Best Option: Ryan Braun

At age 37, Ryan Braun has health concerns that may remove him from seeing time on the field. Luckily, the DH grants him a chance to stay in the lineup. Braun is still has plenty of talent at the plate. In his 508 plate appearances last season, he produced a 117 wRC+. His walk rate has been on a steady decline, but a .285 average and 22 home runs still give Braun plenty of value.

 

Other Options

Avisail Garcia and Justin Smoak are two other viable DH options for the Brew Crew. García shows steady 20-homer power, but doesn’t display much on-base skill. He held a 112 wRC+ and .796 OPS last season with only a 5.8% walk rate. Smoak had an average offensive season in 2019, but was heavily affected by some poor batted ball luck. Smoak finished in the 72nd percentile in average exit velocity, 53rd percentile in hard hit rate, and 86th percentile in xwOBA. His wOBA underperformed his xwOBA by .043. Smoak still hit 22 homers, walked at a 15.8% rate, and produced a 101 wRC+. If he doesn’t see most of his playing time at first base, Smoak will probably receive his at bats from the DH position.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 3B 7 Eric Sogard L
2 CF 6 Lorenzo Cain R
3 LF 22 Christian Yelich L
4 2B 18 Keston Hiura R
5 1B 12 Justin Smoak S
6 RF 24 Avisail Garcia R
7 DH 8 Ryan Braun R
8 C 10 Omar Narvaez L
9 SS 2 Luis Urias R

 

VS. LHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 CF 6 Lorenzo Cain R
2 LF 22 Christian Yelich L
3 2B 18 Keston Hiura R
4 1B 12 Justin Smoak S
5 RF 24 Avisail Garcia R
6 DH 8 Ryan Braun R
7 3B 5 Jedd Gyorko R
8 C 10 Manny Pina R
9 SS 2 Luis Urias R

 

St. Louis Cardinals

 

Best Option: Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter took the biggest step back of his career in 2019, leaving people wondering if at age 34 he is on the decline. After having one of his best seasons in 2018, hitting 36 homers and finishing with a 140 wRC+, Carpenter held just a 95 wRC+ in 2019 and slashed just .226/.334/.392. The walk rate dipped, strike out rate increased, and hard-hit rate was in the 16th percentile. Nonetheless, Carpenter will probably get the first crack at DH. If he can get back to making hard contact, Carpenter should offer power, runs, and RBI. He can still play defense well, so the DH grants him extra security in playing time.

 

Other Options

The next best options would be Tyler O’Neill and Brad Miller. O’Neill has yet to accrue more than 200 plate appearances in a single season, but he owns a 103 wRC+, .454 slugging percentage, and 70-grade raw power. He has serious hole in his swing, striking out 35.1% of the time in 2019 and a 20% swinging-strike rate, but can be a viable source for power if he makes his batted balls count. Miller only registered 170 plate appearances in 2019, but put up some of his best numbers. He slashed .260/.329/.565 with a 126 wRC+ and 13 home runs. After hitting 30 home runs in 2016, Miller has struggled to find everyday playing time. The DH could allow for him to get back towards the 25-30 home run range if he gets enough playing time.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 2B 16 Kolten Wong L
2 DH 13 Matt Carpenter L
3 1B 46 Paul Goldschmidt R
4 SS 11 Paul DeJong R
5 LF 41 Tyler O’Neill R
6 C 4 Yadier Molina R
7 RF 25 Dexter Fowler S
8 3B 19 Tommy Edman L
9 CF 48 Harrison Bader R

 

VS. LHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 3B 19 Tommy Edman S
2 2B 16 Kolten Wong L
3 1B 46 Paul Goldschmidt R
4 SS 11 Paul DeJong R
5 DH 41 Tyler O’Neill R
6 C 4 Yadier Molina R
7 RF 25 Dexter Fowler S
8 LF 35 Lane Thomas R
9 CF 48 Harrison Bader R

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Best Option: Jose Osuna

The Pirates don’t have much offensive depth, but Jose Osuna probably provides them with the most value. Last season, Osuna hit to the tune of a .320 wOBA and 97 wRC+. There isn’t much fantasy value there . He isn’t a huge power threat, on-base machine, or high-average guy. But, Osuna did hit 10 home runs across in about half a season last year. He could push the 20-homer range if he’s given enough at bats. Nonetheless, the DH will be his to lose.

 

Other Options

The other Pirates option is Will Craig. Craig is a 25-year-old prospect who has yet to make his major league debut. At Triple-A he slashed .249/.326/.435 with 23 taters. He has a 50-grade hit tool with 55-grade game power. In the case that Osuna fails to meet expectations, Craig could get the call and slot in as the DH. His tools are good, but definitely not worth waiting on. Adding the DH really exposes how weak the Pirates position player depth is.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 SS 27 Kevin Newman R
2 LF 10 Bryan Reynolds S
3 2B 26 Adam Frazier L
4 1B 55 Josh Bell S
5 RF 25 Gregory Polanco L
6 3B 19 Colin Moran L
7 DH 36 Jose Osuna R
8 C 58 Jacob Stallings R
9 CF 6 Jarrod Dyson L

 

VS. LHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 SS 27 Kevin Newman R
2 LF 10 Bryan Reynolds S
3 2B 26 Adam Frazier L
4 1B 55 Josh Bell S
5 RF 25 Gregory Polanco L
6 3B 2 Erik Gonzalez R
7 DH 14 Jose Osuna R
8 C 58 Jacob Stallings R
9 CF 5 Guillermo Heredia R

 

 

Chicago Cubs

 

Best Option: Kyle Schwarber

Kyle Schwarber, aka the modern day Babe Ruth, was practically born to be a DH. He can definitely hit and he definitely can’t field. The college catcher has failed to make a solid adjustment to the outfield and, with Anthony Rizzo locked at first base, doesn’t have any where else to go. Last season Schwarber produced a 120 wRC+, 38 long balls, an 11.5% walk rate, and .250 batting average. The big guy can really swing it. He was set to get full playing time in the outfield before the announcement of the DH, but the DH could possibly give him an offensive boost since it allows him to focus less on defense. Even if not, the offense is still worth buying.

 

Other Options

David Bote and Steven Souza Jr. are the two other options for the Cubs’ DH. Bote was handed a decent amount of playing time last season and certainly held his own. In 356 plate appearances, he hit 11 home runs, walked 12.4% of the time, and produced a .336 wOBA and 106 wRC+. He’ll likely see time in the infield, but if second base does not work out, he could see time at DH. Souza missed 2019 with an unfortunate ACL tear. His 2018 wasn’t much to rave about, but he did hit 30 homers in 2017 and owns a career 10.6% walk rate. The leash might be a bit shorter for the 31 year old, but the DH should help him get his fair shot. If health is of any concern to the Cubs, the DH should help keep Souza healthy.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 3B 17 Kris Bryant R
2 1B 44 Anthony Rizzo L
3 SS 9 Javier Baez R
4 DH 12 Kyle Schwarber L
5 C 40 Willson Contreras R
6 CF 8 Ian Happ S
7 RF 22 Jason Heyward L
8 LF 21 Steven Souza Jr. R
9 2B 13 David Bote R

 

VS. LHP
Order Pos # Player Bats
1 3B 17 Kris Bryant R
2 1B 44 Anthony Rizzo L
3 SS 9 Javier Baez R
4 DH 12 Kyle Schwarber L
5 C 40 Willson Contreras R
6 LF 8 Ian Happ S
7 RF 21 Steven Souza Jr. R
8 CF 5 Albert Almora Jr. R
9 2B 13 David Bote R

 

Winners and Losers

 

I came across an interesting gain/loss concept from Fangraph’s Craig Edwards that attempted to project how much WAR the National League teams would either gain or lose from the implementation of a DH.  Since the NL roster is designed to account for a DH, some teams may not have a hitter well-fit for the spot. If you want to see the projections, then you should check out his work. Here we will be using his WAR projections per 600 PA, but only rank the teams in the Central by the lone projection of their projected DH.

Team Projected DH Projected WAR
Cubs Kyle Schwarber 1.8
Reds Jesse Winker 1.6
Cardinals Matt Carpenter 1.5
Brewers Ryan Braun 1.1
Pirates Jose Osuna 0.2

 

It is important to remember that these are just based on Depth Chart projections and can be wrong. It’s also worth noting that the DH is always less valuable, in terms of WAR, than a position that can benefit the team defensively. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for the NLC team projected to gain the most from the universal DH, it’s the Chicago Cubs.

 

Winker: (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire) Bell: (Photo by /Icon Sportswire) | Feature Graphic Designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram & Twitter)

Kyle Horton

Kyle is a former Division 1 baseball player and Quinnipiac University alumni. Please follow him on Twitter @Hortonimo, he already told his mom that you did.

  • Dave says:

    Kyle,

    1. I heard the Cubs were looking at Nico Hoerner as their long-term 2nd baseman and he had a good shot at starting this season before ST was cancelled. If so, I’m guessing that would put Bote as a utility/DH player. Have you heard anything on the subject?

    2. I agree Winker is the obvious choice for the Reds to DH. However, if they platoon (and I think they would be better served if they did), it seems like Aquino would be a better option to play RF and have Castellanos DH against LHPs. Aquino is a solid defender with a strong arm in RF. Castellanos is a weak defender with a… not so strong arm (and significant splits vs RHPs and LHPs).

    Thanks

    • Kyle Horton says:

      I used RosterResource’s depth charts projections and they have Kipnis (NRI) filled in at 2B, I swapped him with Bote since Bote is on their bench and Hoerner is not. But I also overlooked Hoerner. He’s a legitimate candidate for the position.

      I agree Aquino would be better in the field, but 1) I truthfully don’t believe in him as a hitter and 2) I just don’t think the Reds will DH Castellanos (although they should!)

      • Kevin says:

        Any thoughts on where Dylan Carlson might fit in? Thanks!

        • Kyle Horton says:

          I’m not really sure where he fits in a shortened season or what the Cardinals 2020 plans were for him. They have a handful of OF’ers but hypothetically none are good enough to gate-keep Carlson from getting his chances (esp. if he puts up numbers like he did in AA/AAA last season).

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