Part of the recent proposal for the resumption of play submitted by MLB includes adding the designated hitter for National League lineups. Since 1973 the DH has been one of the few differences between the National and American Leagues, with the latter utilizing an extra hitter instead of a pitcher as their 9th batter. The National League has resisted such a change in nearly 50 years, but it’s becoming more inevitable that they will adopt the DH.
The first major impact will be a minimization of double switches and utility infielders with light sticks (e.g. Daniel Descalso) become less valuable. Position-less players or players without a clear starting role who have an impact bat such as Jake Lamb, Kevin Cron, and Seth Beer become more valuable as now there is a spot to house them in a lineup and completely hide their defensive shortcomings. While we’ll miss games such as Zack Greinke bombing the Padres into oblivion, it will allow the team to replace a .134/.186/.319 triple slash hit by starting pitchers with at least a league-average bat.
As mentioned before, the team has three options to fill in at the DH with Lamb, Cron, and Beer. Cron and Beer are two players who would be primarily DH, while Lamb would rotate with Christian Walker and Eduardo Escobar at the corner infield spots. The team would need someone to fill in at least the minor half of the DH platoon if the team utilizes Lamb, with Cron, Trayce Thompson, or Ildemaro Vargas being candidates. Let’s take a look at the three major candidates and why they should be considered as the top DH option.
The case for Jake Lamb
Lamb has the best track record between the three candidates, putting together a .249/.332/.509 slash (114 wRC+) between 2016-17 with 59 HR. Lamb offers the most defensive flexibility, as he can give the team starts at 1B and 3B, whereas Cron and Beer are 1B/DH types. Based on both Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo’s comments in Spring, it appears the team has some sort of plan to utilize Lamb in a semi-regular role. The flip side is they’ll have to find the right-handed half of the platoon, which could also open the door for Vargas, Cron, or Thompson.
The case for Kevin Cron
If the team would prefer a younger, cheaper option than Lamb’s $5.5MM salary they can opt for Cron for about $600k. Cron had his ups and downs at the MLB level, showcasing his elite power but also some of the discipline issues he had at the plate. Cron is pretty much an all or nothing hitter at the plate with a high number of home runs and strikeouts, but with the downside of a low walk rate. Part of that had to do with sporadic playing time, as 24 of the 39 games he appeared in were as a pinch hitter. More playing time would give Cron a better look at pitchers and make better adjustments. If he can put up a .260/.335/.500 slashline, he’d be good enough for 2.0 WAR on offense alone.
The case for Seth Beer
Beer presents another MLB-ready option from the minors at the DH spot. Beer bats left-handed, which would give him at least the major half of the platoon, and has better contact skills than Cron with less raw power. Beer hit a bit of a speed bump after being traded to Arizona at the deadline, but recovered in the Southern League championship series and put up a respectable showing in the Arizona Fall League. He’s pretty much in the same boat as Cron, although to get to a 120 wRC+ I’d think we’d need to see a .275/.340/.495 slash from Beer.
If the DH comes to the NL for 2020, who would you prefer get the bulk of the playing time?
This poll is closed
Whether or not the D-backs have to employ a designated hitter in 2020 or not, the team will still have to make important roster decisions with these players. Cron and Lamb seem likely to end up starting the year in Arizona while Beer is likely ticketed for AAA. The change will likely result in more offense across the National League and a change in roster construction.