National League DH: A Look at the NL East

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

It’s about time that pitchers put down the bat for good! Now that the designated hitter will be used in the National League, teams will have a lot of flexibility in how they utilize it. This will be part one of a three-part series. We will be using Depth Charts, as well as some of my own thoughts and speculation, to project each team’s DH. Let’s take a look at every team in the NL East, who their prime DH candidate is, and how each team may take advantage of the new position.

 

New York Mets

 

Best Option: Dominic Smith

Smith is projected to find the most plate appearances at DH. Before the announcement of the DH, Depth Charts had him projected for 105 plate appearances through interleague games. The updated projection gives him 273 plate appearances. That projection leads Mets hitters who aren’t projected to have a starting position on the field. In 2019, Smith delivered with a slash line of .282/.355/.525 in 197 plate appearances. His 9.6% walk rate and 11 home runs helped deliver a 133 wRC+. Albeit a small sample size, Smith had near identical production splits, with a 133 wRC+ versus RHP and 132 wRC+ versus LHP. Coming off of his best season yet, Smith should be a lock at DH for the Mets.

 

Other Options

Although Smith might be a clear first choice, the DH still gives Mets other lineup options. Yoenis Cespedes is another candidate to fill in at DH, especially versus LHP. However, that always comes with questions regarding his health. If Cespedes is healthy in the shortened season, you can expect the Mets to make use of him. Robinson Cano and J.D. Davis may also see some time at DH, allowing the Mets to play Jake Marisnick, their strongest defender, in the field.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1CF9Brandon NimmoL
23B6Jeff McNeilL
31B20Pete AlonsoR
42B24Robinson CaL
5LF28J.D. DavisR
6DH2Dominic SmithL
7RF30Michael ConfortoL
8C40Wilson RamosR
9SS1Amed RosarioR

 

VS. LHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1CF9Brandon NimmoL
23B6Jeff McNeilL
31B20Pete AlonsoR
42B24Robinson CaL
5LF28J.D. DavisR
6DH2Yoenis CespedesR
7RF30Michael ConfortoL
8C40Wilson RamosR
9SS1Amed RosarioR

 

Atlanta Braves

 

Best Option: Austin Riley

Riley got off to a hot start in May, but quickly cooled off the rest of the season. He finished his first MLB season hitting a modest .226/.279/.471 with 18 homers. Although his 88 wRC+ may not be eye-popping, Riley has 70-grade raw power that was on display throughout his first season. He doesn’t walk much (5.4%) and strikes out at an alarming rate (36.4%), but his power makes him attractive in an overall solid lineup. Riley was an average defender in left field, but the off-season acquisition of Marcell Ozuna makes the Braves’ outfield a bit more crowded. Luckily, the DH gives Atlanta a place to put his bat in the lineup.

 

Other Options

Outside of Riley, another DH option is Adam Duvall. Duvall performed quite well last season, posting a 121 wRC+, but it’s likely that he will only get at bats if outfielder Ender Inciarte shows the same offensive struggles that he showed in 2019. This would push Ronald Acuña Jr to center field, Riley to a corner outfield spot, and give the DH role to Duvall. The 31-year-old may also see some time versus LHP, who he has hit better against in his career. Riley and Duvall are the two main DH options for Atlanta. If Marcell Ozuna continues to be a poor defender, he could also see some time in the DH spot.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1RF13Ronald Acuña Jr.R
22B1Ozzie AlbiesS
31B5Freddie FreemanL
4LF20Marcell OzunaR
5DH27Austin RileyR
6C16Travis d’ArnaudR
7CF11Ender InciarteL
8SS7Dansby SwansonR
93B17Johan CamargoS

 

VS. LHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1CF13Ronald Acuña Jr.R
22B1Ozzie AlbiesS
31B5Freddie FreemanL
4LF20Marcell OzunaR
5RF27Austin RileyR
6C16Travis d’ArnaudR
7DH23Adam DuvallR
8SS7Dansby SwansonR
93B17Johan CamargoS

 

Philadelphia Phillies

 

Best Option: Jay Bruce

The DH couldn’t come at a better time for the Phillies and veteran Jay Bruce. At this point in his career, the 33-year-old is primaryily a DH.  He was roughly a league average hitter last season, hitting 26 home runs with just a measly .216 batting average. His 98 wRC+ wasn’t spectacular, but he’s always a candidate for 30 home runs if he can accumulate enough trips to the plate. The new position should give him plenty of plate appearances, as well as give the Phillies lineup some extra thump.

 

Other Options

The Phillies could also give Neil Walker a shot at the DH role, but he hasn’t hit lefties as well as he can right-handers. In 2020 Walker is projected a .243/.327/.397 slash line with just three home runs. With that weak of a slash line, Logan Forsythe then becomes an option. He was slashing .348/.464/.826 in Spring Training and had a good shot at making the roster out of camp. There aren’t many other options for the Phillies, but if they really wanted to, they could push top prospect Alec Bohm to the majors, where he would probably see most of his time at DH.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1LF22Andrew McCutchenR
23B2Jean SeguraR
3RF3Bryce HarperL
41B17Rhys HoskinsR
5C10J.T. RealmutoR
6DH9Jay BruceL
7SS18Didi GregoriusL
82B4Scott KingeryR
9CF40Adam HaseleyL

 

VS. LHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1LF22Andrew McCutchenR
23B2Jean SeguraR
3RF3Bryce HarperL
41B17Rhys HoskinsR
5C10J.T. RealmutoR
6DH9Logan ForsytheR
72B4Scott KingeryR
8SS18Didi GregoriusL
9CF24Roman QuinnS

 

Washington Nationals

 

Best Option: Howie Kendrick

The postseason hero that helped lead the Nationals to their first ever World Series title, Kendrick is the clear front-runner to take up most of the time at DH. In 2019, Kendrick hit an absurd .344 with a 146 wRC+. He hit 17 home runs and struck out just 13.2% of the time. The Nationals will want him in the lineup as often as possible, so look for Kendrick to rack up plenty of plate appearances as the DH.

 

Other Options

Eric Thames will probably see a lot of time as the Nationals first basemen, but could see time as the DH if he needs a rest day. Ryan Zimmerman is also a candidate to platoon some time at DH if there is a need for another right-handed hitter.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1SS7Trea TurnerR
2RF2Adam EatonL
3DH47Howie KendrickR
4LF22Juan SotoL
51B9Eric ThamesL
63B13Asdrubal CabreraS
72B14Starlin CastroR
8C10Yan GomesR
9CF16Victor RoblesR

 

VS. LHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1SS7Trea TurnerR
2RF2Adam EatonL
3DH47Howie KendrickR
4LF22Juan SotoL
51B11Ryan ZimmermanR
62B14Starlin CastroR
7C10Yan GomesR
83B8Carter KieboomR
9CF16Victor RoblesR

 

Miami Marlins

 

Best Option: Garrett Cooper

Cooper is likely Miami’s go-to hitter for DH. I’ll outline his ability at the plate, but if you want a deeper look into Cooper, I highly encourage you to check out a recent article by Pitcher List’s own Matt Wallach. In 2019, Cooper hit .281/.344/.446 in 421 plate appearances. On top of that, he hit 15 home runs and 16 doubles. Cooper’s offensive game doesn’t jump off the page, but last year he did pretty well in every aspect. His 111 wRC+ and lack of a position should give him plenty of time as the Marlins’ DH.

 

Other Options

The Marlins have a few other options to try at DH if Cooper does not fare well. Veterans Matt Joyce and Matt Kemp are both options for low-cost offense. Both are 35-years-old, but coming off of recent years of success. Last season with Atlanta, Joyce produced a 128 wRC+ with a 16.0% walk rate, primarily against right-handed pitchers. He has struggled in his career versus left-handed pitchers, but has always been an above average hitter against righties, making him a viable platoon candidate. Kemp got cut from the Reds last season after a few injuries to start the season, but in 2018 he had a 122 wRC+ and 21 home runs with the Dodgers. If a healthy Kemp can find that swing again, he could be a huge upgrade to the Marlins’ lineup at DH. The last possible DH is Harold Ramirez. Ramirez doesn’t offer much outside of batting average, but if he can boast a big average, he might see some time at the position.

 

Projected Lineups

VS. RHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1CF2Jonathan VillarS
23B15Brian AndersonR
3LF23Corey DickersonL
4DH26Garrett CooperR
51B24Jesus AguilarR
62B1Isan DíazL
7C38Jorge AlfaroR
8RF25Lewis BrinsonR
9SS19Miguel RojasR

 

VS. LHP
OrderPos#PlayerBats
1CF2Jonathan VillarS
23B15Brian AndersonR
3LF23Corey DickersonL
4DH26Garrett CooperR
51B24Jesus AguilarR
62B5Jon BertiR
7C38Jorge AlfaroR
8RF25Lewis BrinsonR
9SS19Miguel RojasR

 

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 East by the lone projection of their projected DH.

TeamProjected DHProjected WAR
NationalsHowie Kendrick1.4
PhilliesJay Bruce0.7
BravesAustin Riley0.6
MarlinsGarrett Cooper0.3
MetsDominic Smith0.0

 

It is important to remember that these are just based on depth chart projections and can be wrong. For example, if Smith repeats his success from last season, he will be worth more than zero wins. 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 NLE team projected to gain the most from the universal DH, it’s the Washington Nationals.

 

Duvall: (Photo by /Icon Sportswire) Bruce: (Photo by /Icon Sportswire) Smith: (Photo by Patrick Gorski/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 Cincinnati Reds fan. Please follow him on Twitter @Hortonimo, he already told his mom that you did.

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