Dec
30

By the Decade: More designated, less hitting

By

The offensive part of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective is coming to an end. After looking at the eight position players, we’ve landed on that catch-all designated hitter spot. Through the 2000s, the Yanks used 61 players at least one at the DH spot. From A-Rod to X-Nady, nearly everyone had a chance to DH. To whittle down the candidates, the chart shows those with at least 10 games as a designated hitter.

  AB Hits 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB HBP K GDP BA OBP SLG
Jason Giambi 1267 297 52 0 77 225 261 16 51 322 20 .234 .384 .458
Hideki Matsui 930 264 47 2 49 176 117 4 7 137 18 .284 .365 .497
Bernie Williams 430 111 22 0 11 62 57 3 1 78 22 .258 .343 .386
Ruben Sierra 409 97 13 1 20 81 27 3 0 77 11 .237 .280 .421
Johnny Damon 386 106 20 3 7 38 48 1 0 70 4 .275 .354 .396
David Justice 363 88 15 1 18 55 53 4 0 81 8 .242 .337 .438
Nick Johnson 294 77 11 0 12 46 50 4 10 77 13 .262 .387 .422
Gary Sheffield 191 61 8 0 13 42 30 1 2 26 4 .319 .415 .565
Jorge Posada 171 35 7 0 4 17 30 3 3 49 6 .205 .330 .316
Shane Spencer 165 37 5 4 5 19 19 0 1 27 2 .224 .302 .394
Chuck Knoblauch 164 47 8 1 2 21 27 0 10 31 3 .287 .412 .384
Jose Canseco 89 23 3 0 5 16 19 1 0 29 1 .258 .378 .461
Glenallen Hill 86 27 4 0 9 14 7 0 1 24 0 .314 .368 .674
Alex Rodriguez 82 24 2 0 9 24 17 0 2 21 3 .293 .417 .646
Derek Jeter 57 16 3 0 2 6 5 0 2 11 1 .281 .359 .439
Bubba Trammell 44 10 4 0 0 4 4 0 0 8 1 .227 .292 .318
Jim Leyritz 44 11 0 0 0 3 5 0 0 13 1 .250 .327 .250
Shelley Duncan 42 9 1 0 4 10 5 0 0 14 2 .214 .298 .524
Totals 5684 1448 253 12 263 920 824 45 94 1218 133 .255 .355 .442

What leaps out at me from this chart is how the Yanks’ designated hitters weren’t that great at hitting. Most of the regulars who DH’d hit well below their career averages, and the team never really had a true DH this decade either. Jason Giambi led the pack with 22.3 percent of all DH at-bats, and Hideki Matsui was second with 16.4 percent. Beyond those two, the Yanks used the DH spot to rest regulars and give aging stars a spot in the lineup.

Early in the decade, the Yanks went after sluggers for the DH spot. They used a Glenallen Hill/Jose Canseco tandem in the second half of 2000 to some stellar results. Hill, acquired on July 21, 2000, from the Cubs for Ben Ford and Oswaldo Mairena, turned in a 175 OPS+ in 143 at bats, and around half of those came as a DH. Canseco, acquired on August 7, 2000, in a waiver move designed to block him from going to the Red Sox, had a great power spurt too. The duo combined for 15 home runs in just 175 DH at-bats.

After that though, the Yankees used the DH as a spot of convenience. They tried Chuck Knoblauch there in 2001 and Nick Johnson to some success in 2002 and 2003. After Johnson was traded, the Yanks turned to Jason Giambi, and he surprisingly hit significantly worse as a DH than he did as a first baseman. As the first baseman of the decade, Giambi hit .280/.420/.567. As the DH, he hit .234/.384/.458. That’s a swing of .145 OPS points.

Back in my younger and more ignorant days as a rookie baseball blogger at Talking Baseball, I explored the differences amongst hitters when they DH and when they play the field. My study then confused causation with correlation, but I’ve always believed that many hitters are better when they play the field too. Giambi always said that he preferred to play first because it kept him more in the game. It kept him warmer and more ready to bat. The decade’s numbers seem to bear him out.

At the same time, though, Giambi DH’d when he wasn’t healthy enough to play the field, and he would, in all likelihood, hit better when healthy. He DH’d, when he could, in 2004, 2006 and 2007 when sapped by injuries, and he played first in the years he was healthy. Somewhere, somehow, it’s probably a mixture of both.

Beyond Giambi, the Yankees’ DH numbers really highlight their love for the concept of the rotation DH. Hideki Matsui took over with great success over the last two years, but the team has used A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada as the DH enough times to put them on this list. A-Rod, it seems, just loves to hit.

And so as Nick Johnson prepares to take over the DH mantle, I will anoint Jason Giambi as the Yanks’ DH of the decade. Had Hideki closed the playing time gap, he probably could have stolen this one from the Giambino; after all, he put up a better DH-only OPS this decade. But with over 300 at-bats, 28 home runs and approximately 43 runs created separating the two, Jason takes the crown but only barely.

Categories : Analysis

38 Comments»

  1. ADam says:

    Check out the splits on Glenallen Hill…. That was a crazy September 2000….

  2. Salty Buggah says:

    Remember that game against Seattle in 2007 when A-Rod was hurt and limped around before being sent to the hospital for a check-up before the game but came back in time to play DH? He hit 2 HRs that day in the same inning, with the 1st one coming with the Yanks down 2-1 (they went on to score 6 in the innings) . That’s my biggest memory from Alex DHing.

    Here’s the boxscore:

    http://www.baseball-reference......9050.shtml

  3. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    Did Bernie try to hit into DP’s when he DH’d?

  4. Jeff Levy says:

    What the hell was Ruben Sierra doing at DH with a measley .280 OBP in 409 AB?

    • keith says:

      professional hitter.

      • Jeff Levy says:

        LOL with a .237 average. Any guy who doesn’t hit at least .300 doesn’t deserve to be called a professional hitter.

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster) says:

          I guess Mark Texeira is not a professional hitter then. Or Hideki Matsui. Or Jorge Posada. Or Johnny Damon.

          Just to name a few Yankees.

          • Jeff Levy says:

            I was just thinking it would be more apt if a guy who is called a professional hitter is one of the elite hitters in the game like Ichiro or Jeter, a guy who regularly gets at least 200 hits a season or has a high average like .300+. Otherwise just call guys a professional slugger or batter. Its all semantics, but it wouldn’t make much sense to call a guy like Swisher a professional hitter when he has the lowest average of any regular.

            • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster) says:

              Ah, understood.

              So, to clarify: Mark Texeira is a professional slugger, Derek Jeter is a professional hitter?

      • I got it, keith. But you have to realize, to be called a “professional hitter”, you must be…over 35, a pinch hitter, white and have a some sort of facial hair. See: Matt Stairs.

  5. Jeff Levy says:

    Sheffield and Matsui were probably the best all around DHs.

  6. Jeff Levy says:

    Should the DH role be more about hitting or getting on base? I think most of us would agree OBP is more important than AVG. I’ve always thought being a DH was more about hitting for power and knocking guys in, but the guy better have a good enough OBP to be in that role.

  7. Mark L. says:

    Interesting and worrisome that Posada can’t hit from the DH spot

    • Can’t hit? You’re going to make a statement like that — that Posada cannot hit in the DH spot — based on a quarter season’s worth of at bats?

      • Mark L. says:

        IIRC, Posada was given DH starts usually in the midst of otherwise productive seasons – not when he was ailing. It does seem significant that his XBH almost totally vanish if he isn’t playing the field, even if it is over the span of less than 200 ABs. For whatever reason, DHing just doesn’t agree with some people.

  8. Mark L. says:

    In this particular case, I disagree. I suspect Posada will probably accrue 100 DH starts over the next two seasons, we’ll soon find out how he adjusts to extended exposure to that role.

    • I highly doubt that the Yankees will give Francisco Cervelli 100 starts as catcher. Therefore, Posada won’t get 100 DH starts. Maybe he’ll get 50.

      • Mark L. says:

        I think that this season Cervelli could get as many as 40 starts and giving 60 starts to Cervelli/Montero in 2011 wouldn’t surprise me either. I think that would put Posada close to 100 starts at DH for the next two seasons.

  9. Alan says:

    Wow, I remembered David Justice’s time with the club alot more fondly than he deserved apparently.

  10. Yazman says:

    So the guys with OPS > .800 were:

    Alex Rodriguez 1.063
    Glenallen Hill 1.042
    Gary Sheffield 0.980
    Hideki Matsui 0.862
    Jason Giambi 0.842
    Jose Canseco 0.839
    Shelley Duncan 0.822
    Nick Johnson 0.809

    Interestingly, only Matsui, Giambi and Nick Johnson had >200 ABs and >.800 OPS.

    Gotta love that Johnson’s been >.800 four years running.

  11. Bucksky619 says:

    I like that Johnson has pretty good OBP as a DH. Probably will get better as he gets accustomed to regular DH duty.

  12. mike c says:

    If we’re hypothetically putting together the all-time yankee lineup, I’m putting giambi in at DH

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