Designated hitter may be the clearest job description in all of the work force: hit the ball, every time. And hard. You have no other job or responsibility, just go up and rake every time. But at the same time, such a clear job comes with some fairly heavy expectations as well. And those that do it better than most usually find themselves among the very best hitters in the game.
That rings true with the best of the AL’s top specialty bats headed into this year. Among the best of the current group of DH’s includes a runner up for MVP honors, the league’s reigning top home run producer, the active (and returning) home run king and arguably the greatest player to ever frequent the position as well. The competition is thick, but the elite is still somewhat easy to pull apart.
With that said, here is the finale of the year’s Top 10 rankings headed into the spring, as well as the best in the game today to put a “particular set of skills” on display nightly.
1. Victor Martinez, Tigers: He narrowly avoided what could have been yet another serious knee injury this offseason, but is likely to be ready for Opening Day now. And considering the way that he stepped up last year, which is a godsend for the retooling Tigers. V-Mart finished second in the American League MVP vote after posting career bests in batting average (.335) home runs (32) and hits (188). Most remarkably however is that he was so efficient in his production that he joined none other than Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds as the only players ever aged 35 or later to hit .300 with 30 home runs, while striking out 45 times or less (42) – all in 641 plate appearances.
2-year average: .317 average/.876 OPS, 23 home runs/94 RBI/185 hits/78 runs scored/34 doubles
2. David Ortiz, Red Sox: The ageless Papi continued to be a top-tier run producer a year ago. He reached the 35 home run plateau for the first time in seven years –and eighth time overall – while also posting the sixth most RBI in the AL. With the retooled Red Sox lineup surrounding him this year, yet another high productivity year should be on deck for Ortiz as he creeps closer and closer to 500 home runs.
2-year average: .286 average/.916 OPS/32 home runs/104 RBI/148 hits/72 runs scored/32 doubles
3. Nelson Cruz, Mariners: He made the absolute most of his one-year redemption deal in Baltimore, making a huge impact by leading the Majors with 40 home runs. He also tacked on a career-best 108 RBI as well, and parlayed it all into being the Mariners’ major addition this offseason. He will return to an AL West where he averaged 27 long balls a year from 2009 thru 2013 for the Rangers.
2-year average: .269 average/.848 OPS/34 home runs/92 RBI/138 hits/68 runs scored/25 doubles
4. Adam LaRoche, White Sox: Steady as ever, LaRoche ran up over 80 home runs in his four year stint with the Nationals and in the process became one of the most dependable middle of the lineup options in the National League. Now as he takes his game to the American League, he should be fed a healthy diet of fastballs to allow him to transition nicely into his bat-only capacity on the South Side.
2-year average: .248 average/.776 OPS/23 home runs/77 RBI/124 hits/72 runs scored/19 doubles
5. Steve Pearce, Orioles: He was the biggest unsung contributor in the Oriole offense a year ago, whose emergence made it possible for the club’s offense to thrive in light of some of the serious injuries it had to endure. Pierce made the most of his first crack as a full-time option, connecting for 21 home runs and sporting a superb .373 on-base percentage as well.
2-year average: .284 average/.891 OPS/12 home runs/31 RBI/65 hits/32 runs scored/16 doubles
Runners Up: Alex Rodriguez, Billy Butler, Evan Gattis
To catch up on the entire Top 10 rankings series, stay locked here at CSP. To get the words in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan