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How the Phillies should approach the DH position

Their options aren’t only the roster as it is now

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Let’s assume for a second that the owners and players agree to a deal that allows them to play a full 162 game schedule.

Let’s also assume that as part of the deal that has been consummated, the National League will mirror its younger sibling and debut the designated hitter full-time starting in 2022.

That of course means that all 15 teams will be left to fill that roster spot, some choosing a full-time option, others choosing to utilize it as a means to “rest” players from the normal, everyday pressures of their defensive home. Neither one is a bad option; it mostly just depends on roster construction. If you have a player like David Ortiz, there is no downside to having a full-time DH since the production the team would be receiving would literally be Hall of Fame worthy. If you have a bunch of players that are on the older, more injury prone side of their career, the occasional day off would probably help the most.

For the Phillies, it would be beneficial to have the spot available to them since they have some players that look destined for it anyway. Consider these issues that could plague the team in the near future:

  • Rhys Hoskins’ lack of progression defensively at first base
  • Alec Bohm’s lack of progression defensively at third base
  • Bryce Harper’s always worrisome back injury history
  • J.T. Realmuto’s importance to the lineup as a catcher

These are all very real reasons to make sure the DH spot stays open on a daily basis so that Joe Girardi can make sure that players are getting the rest they need.

Rumors prior to the lockout had the team interested in Kyle Schwarber, but he (wisely) didn’t choose a free agent destination since he wanted to make sure that all National League teams were going to be in need of a DH option, thereby keeping himself available for a bigger market. That means the possibility of his ending up elsewhere could become a reality that the team will have to adjust for.

But is acquiring designated designated hitter something that Girardi would be interested in doing? In the past, he has been open about his preference to use the DH spot as a way to have players get some rest from time to time without their bat having to leave the lineup. While his Yankees rosters have had some players where DH was their best spot, he has shown that he largely eschews the idea of one person for the spot.

DHs in the Girardi Yankee years

Year # of players Max wRC+ (AL rank)
Year # of players Max wRC+ (AL rank)
2008 9 Hideki Matsui (66) 110 (7th)
2009 11 Matsui (116) 127 (2nd)
2010 12 Marcus Thames (34) 114 (6th)
2011 10 Jorge Posada (82) 103 (10th)
2012 15 Alex Rodriguez (38) 114 (8th)
2013 14 Travis Hafner (63) 88 (14th)
2014 16 Carlos Beltran (76) 88 (12th)
2015 5 Rodriguez (135) 129 (3rd)
2016 10 Rodriguez (57) 122 (5th)
2017 13 Matt Holliday (89) 102 (t-4th)

The years in which one player seemed to occupy the spot more than others were obvious. By 2009, Hideki Matsui was no longer a real option for the outfield, not setting foot on the green for the entire season. He hit well enough, and they had enough regulars at the outfield spots, that he wasn’t actually needed there. In 2011, Jorge Posada occupied the spot the most since that was the year the Yankees signed Russell Martin, a far superior glove behind the plate to Posada’s, It was also Posada’s final year in the majors, so using whatever offensive firepower he had left as a DH was the best way to use him. In 2015, Rodriguez was coming off a suspension for PEDs, but was still 39 years old. That led Girardi to try and keep his bat in the lineup (which was still productive at a 129 OPS+), but his glove off of the field.

What does any of this tell us about how Girardi should approach the position in 2022?

It’s a crude way of looking at it, but from the example we see with Girardi’s Yankees, the best way to get production out of the DH spot is to have good hitters in the DH spot. You can see from above that when the better hitters were taking up the most amount of DH plate appearances, the Yankees’ production from that spot improved (Rodriguez, Matsui). In the years were the players who took up the most appearances not as good, the production suffered (Thames, Hafner). Were the Phillies going to rotate players at that position from their current roster, they have shown that that would be less than optimal. They have three above average players now in Harper, Hoskins and Realmuto that would give production from the spot, but lumping Didi Gregorius, Alec Bohm and others into the category of “good hitters” right now would not exactly be accurate. They have shown they can be productive in the past, but last year’s struggles raise some serious concerns about both players.

It’s why the team need to add some more offense, something that has been obvious the entire offseason. Adding someone like Schwarber would help them offensively were he to take the bulk of at bats as the DH. In his career, Schwarber does have a higher OPS as a DH (.911) than he does as a left fielder (.831) though we have to adjust for the almost 10:1 raio of plate appearances as a left fielder to DH. When you account for the fact that he has been a below average defender pretty much wherever he has gone, it makes all the more sense to make sure he gets added to the team.

Of course, there are other options out there to consider. Nick Castellanos is available and his defense doesn’t exactly scream “leave him in the outfield”. Adding Kris Bryant may not solve the DH position, but his versatility might allow others to get there first, whether that be Bohm or Hoskins. Even though Father Time might have something to say about him, Nelson Cruz just keeps hitting, though signing him means the DH position will not be rotated. There is also the trade market where bargains might be found like Carlos Santana who the team could see if a bounce back season is in order.

The best thing the Phillies could do, whether they go with a full-time DH or a rotation of bats, would be to get the best bat available at whatever the cost. The more offense they have, the better. Figuring out the defensive problem would almost have to become a secondary issue on a nightly basis. Still, for a team that we saw go through prolonged offensive struggles, making sure they have enough offense in the lineup should continue to be their priority.