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Who should be the Phillies’ designated hitter?

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If we have a 2020 season, the Phils will need a DH.

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Philadelphia Phillies v New York Yankees Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

As any of you who read this blog or listen to my podcast Hittin’ Season on a semi-regular basis knows, I am a firm advocate of the DH being a full-time part of National League baseball.

I outlined my thoughts on the subject a few years ago after listening to something Kyle Kendrick said after he made yet another predictable out in a key spot, and I still believe the benefit of ending the grotesque practice of requiring pitchers to hit from the NL equation greatly outweighs the negative effects of implementing the DH — specifically the loss of some aspects of strategy.

We’ll all get over it.

But no matter what the longterm future of the DH in baseball is, if there is a 2020 season, it will likely be one that does away with the traditional National and American Leagues and instead, features a mix of those teams in newly created divisions based on geography. So the Phillies would likely play in a division with the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Rays and Blue Jays in any scenario, which would mean the league would implement a universal designated hitter.

Craig Edwards of Fangraphs wrote about what kind of an effect that would have on the National League teams, concluding that it would still clearly give the American League an advantage.

In a season where teams are not normally equipped with a designated hitter, but using a designated hitter every day and competing for a playoff spot against teams prepared for the DH presents a pretty significant disadvantage. It is an advantage that teams might just have to live with in a very unusual season, but a universal DH would most definitely confer an advantage on the traditional AL teams against their NL counterparts.

As part of his calculations, he guessed as to who the most likely DH would be on the 15 NL rosters and, for the Phillies, he rested on Jay Bruce. Using projection systems, Edwards speculated that Bruce would increase his plate appearances from about 265 to 600 if he became the full-time DH and that his fWAR would increase from 0.5 to 0.6. The Phils would also stand to gain/lose with the trade off of Bruce moving from the fourth outfielder to full-time DH with other players who would have to assume that role. As a result, he calculated the Phillies would gain 0.4 fWAR on the whole, tied with the Nationals and Diamondbacks for 6th-best in the NL.

That’s not bad when compared to other National League squads, but still not nearly as good as AL teams, who came into the season knowing they’d have a DH and constructed a roster with that in mind.

That being said, is Bruce the best candidate to be the Phillies’ full-time DH? Would a platoon situation be a better idea? Or perhaps there is someone better to take many/most of those at-bats away from Bruce?

I agree with Edwards that Bruce is the obvious choice. There’s nowhere for him to play in the outfield, assuming Andrew McCutchen, Adam Haseley/Scott Kingery/Roman Quinn and Bryce Harper are all starting most of the time. Bruce has a big bat, but is also prone to slumps, as we saw last year. In his first 19 games after being traded from Seattle to take over for the injured McCutchen, Bruce hit seven home runs, drove in 20 and had a slash line of .294/.319/.662. In the 14 games that followed he fell off a cliff, with a .204/.204/.429 slash line, three home runs and nine RBIs. He then went on the DL until August 8, played one game, went on the DL again until September 1, then hit .080 in the team’s final 17 games, mostly as a pinch hitter (25 PAs), with two hits in the final month of the season.

Incredibly, Bruce is still just 33 years old, and perhaps getting off the field will improve his production. But there are other, more intriguing options should manager Joe Girardi go a different route.

If rosters expand by an extra 2-5 spots, it’s virtually a lock that Alec Bohm will start the season with the big league team. After all, no one has any idea if there will be AAA baseball this year. If there isn’t, there’s no reason whatsoever not to have him on the big league roster. Given that, Girardi should consider using Bohm as the DH, maybe just as one-half of a platoon with Bruce. That would give him meaningful at-bats in advantageous situations at the Major League level. Or, he could play full-time and split time with Rhys Hoskins at first base, which would allow Hoskins to DH some.

One other possibility is Kyle Garlick, who was added to the 40-man roster after being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers this off-season. Garlick hit for a lot of power in AAA last season, with a .314/.382/.675 slash line and 23 HRs. Of course, he did all that as a 27-year-old, but he doesn’t strike out a ton (59 Ks in 304 PAs), and was perhaps lost in a numbers game where he couldn’t penetrate a loaded big league Dodgers squad. The Phillies haven’t had a Max Muncy-like breakout from a player since Jayson Werth, and perhaps Garlick deserves a shot at regular DH plate appearances to see if he’s got the juice.

Regardless, the Phils aren’t necessarily locked into Jay Bruce as their full-time DH in 2020. On the latest edition of Hittin’ Season, I talked more about the DH possibilities, and interviewed Joan Ryan, author of an outstanding new book, “Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry,” which you can find on Amazon right here.