2011 AL East Positional Analysis And Ranking: Designated Hitter
I am finally at the end of my series examining the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams in the AL East, on a position-by-position basis. The players at each position have been ranked in relation to their peers within the division, with each team being assigned points based on where their player ranks in comparison to the other players.
Today, the series concludes with a look at the Designated Hitters.
The best player will earn 10 points for his team, with the remaining players being assigned points as follows: 7-5-3-1.
On Sunday, I will accumulate all of the points for each team and create a divisional power ranking.
Analysis / Ranking:
Here are the 2010 statistics for each of the five projected starters entering the 2011 season. The chart presents the five basic stats used in fantasy baseball, plus OPS+ and Runs Above Replacement (RAR).
The rankings contained herein are based on these stats, plus projections as to what the upcoming year may have in store.
1. David Ortiz, BOS
Ortiz had his best seasons in 2006 and 2007, and then struggled in both 2008 and 2009. The entire baseball world knows that he got off to brutal starts in each of the last two years; regardless, he hit 60 HR and drove in 201 runs in those two campaigns.
He started last season by hitting just .143 in April (with 1 HR and 4 RBI). Then, just as the vultures started calling for the Red Sox to trade him, Big Papi got blazing hot and quieted all the doubters. He hit .363, with 10 HR and 27 RBI, in Mayâ€¦ and overall hit .286, with 31 HR and 98 ribbies during the last five months of the season.
For fantasy owners: Ortiz, now 35, retains elite power, though last yearâ€™s hr/f (19%) was on the high side. Over the last few years, his contact rate has fallen from 82% to 72% and he has had increasing difficulty with left-handed pitchers. Assuming good health from teammate Mike Cameron, it seems likely Red Sox manager Terry Francona will give Ortiz additional time off against tough southpaws. The reduced exposure to lefties will help sustain his batting average and home run rate, but it will result in fewer chances for run production. No worries, though, as he has not been able to take advantage of those opportunities anyway. It seems likely he will hit .275, with 27 HR and 90 RBI, in the upcoming season.
2. Vladimir Guerrero, BAL
Guerrero was unable to secure the kind of contract he sought during free agency this winter, and it seems likely he will feel he has something to prove to the other 29 front offices around the league. His cause will be aided by the fact heâ€™ll play half of his home games at Camden Yards, one of the better hitterâ€™s parks in the league this year.
He had an excellent first half last year, but appeared to wilt in the heat of the long Texas summerâ€¦ but, even then, his numbers were not disastrous (.270, 11 HR, 45 RBI in the 2nd half). He will not have to worry about the intense heat or prolonged summer in Maryland, so he should remain strong throughout the 2011 campaign.
Guerrero maintains an elite contact-rate (85-90%) and solid hit-rate (30%+), especially for a power hitter. He has hit .295 or better on fourteen occasions in his careerâ€¦ and he has hit at least 25 HR and knocked in 100 runs in ten different seasons.
For fantasy owners: Assuming good health, it seems likely Guerrero will be able to capitalize on his new home park. Year-in and year-out, fantasy owners worry that heâ€™ll be unable to remain in the lineup, but year-in and year-out he has typically been able to accrue 500+ at-bats. Historically, he has performed well against the other teams in the AL East (.292 v Boston, .312 v NYY, .342 v TB and .334 v Toronto), so it seems likely he wonâ€™t suffer as a result of the change in divisions. Donâ€™t be surprised to see another in the neighborhood of .295, 30, 115 from Vladdy.
3. Jorge Posada, NYY
In a division of aging DHâ€™s, Posada is the senior statesman (he will be 40 years of age in May). There are a number of pundits who are writing him off due to his age and his increasingly â€œslowerâ€ bat, but I am inclined to think he still has a couple of good years left in the piece of lumber he swings.
First and foremost, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has said that he will be used primarily as a Designated Hitter in 2011, with the goal of saving wear and tear on his legs and keeping him in the lineup (he had just 934 ABs in the last three years combined). Second, he plays half of his games in the New Yankee Stadium Softball Field. Third, his batting metrics are (generally) still pretty solid â€“ his contact rate remains in the mid-70s and his walk rate has been 13% in three of the last four years. Lastly, his low batting average last season was the result of an exceptionally low hit-rate (29%) and a lower-than-normal BABIP (.287).
For fantasy owners: The one glaring statistical concern nestled among the positives is that his strikeout rate has jumped to 22-23% over the last two years. The fact that the contact rate and K-rate have gone in opposite directions suggests he may be guessing more at the plate, as a form of compensation for his age. The splits reveal that, over the last few years, his performance has suffered in the second half of the season, so expectation is the move to DH will help keep him on the field and stronger throughout the season. The assumption here is that his hit rate will trend upwards towards his normal threshold (33%). In consideration of all of the above, I expect he will hit .275, plus-or-minus, with 18-20 HR and 70-75 RBI.
4. Manny Ramirez, TB
Of all the Designated Hitters in the AL East, Ramirez is the player who has had the greatest trouble staying healthy â€“ he has had as many as 500 AB only once since 2005 (552 AB in 2008).
He is no longer the offensive force he once was and, as a result, he wonâ€™t be the â€œheart-of-the-orderâ€ producer we have been accustomed to seeing, but he can still be a productive offensive contributor. Last year, he may have hit only 9 HR in 265 AB, but he had the second-best OBP (.409) among outfielders in either league (Josh Hamilton, .411).
For fantasy owners: Health will continue to be the big issue for Manny â€“ he canâ€™t contribute to your offensive stats if he isnâ€™t on the playing field. The fact he is back in the American League and that heâ€™ll primarily serve as the Raysâ€™ DH should help keep him in the batterâ€™s box and taking his cuts. He will post a well-above-average batting average because he still makes solid contact (77%) and compiles a plus hit-rate (35% +/-). Depending on where he hits in the lineup, he could have plenty of rbi-opportunities and score a fair share runs. It seems safe to plan on .290, 18 HR, 75 RBI and 75 R.
5. Edwin Encarnacion, TOR
Encarnacion is slated to get the majority of his at-bats at DH in 2011, but that will be largely dependent on whether Jose Bautista stays at third base or moves into the outfield. Either way, heâ€™ll get 500+ at-bats, assuming good health.
He has regressed as a hitter in terms of batting average, but should continue to be a solid source of power. While his contact rate remains a solid 80% (+/-), his hit rate has been a brutal 25-27% for three consecutive seasons. I would love to say that his low BABIP (.235) offers hope for a significant improvement in his batting average, but he hasnâ€™t posted a BABIP of more than .264 since 2007. So, there seems little hope in a rescue there. Combine these facts with a low walk rate and you should expect his batting average to remain in the neighborhood of .250.
He has good raw power and regularly posts a fly ball rate in the vicinity of 50%, so he should be good for 20-25 home runs.
For fantasy owners: Depending on your fantasy leagueâ€™s rules, Encarnacion will qualify at both 3B and DH. He is a decent option at both positions, especially if you can get him cheap in your auctions or later in your draft.