It’s time to cap off our position rankings by looking at the top designated hitters. This is a fun list to do; only offense matters on this list. Since this is obviously limited to players in the American League, we’ll limit this list the top five designated hitters. Who are they? Let’s take a look!
#5 Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics
Projected Stats: .245/.328/.527 (.855 OPS) 44 HR 20.4 OFF Value
There a few hitters as consistent as Khris Davis. The 31-year-old has had a .247 batting average in each of the past four seasons, while his OPS has stayed within .828 and .874. Davis has some clear weaknesses; his on-base percentage was just .326 last season, and he cannot play defense. However, he’s a prolific slugger with a .534 slugging percentage and a .287 Isolated Power (ISO) over his three seasons with Oakland. To take it one step further, he’s eclipsed 40 home runs in each of those three seasons and continues to improve. In 2018, he set career highs in OPS (.874), weighted runs created plus (135 wrc+), home runs (48), and hard contact rate (45.3%). He also decreased his strikeout rate and ground ball rate this past season, and his .261 BABIP suggests that more improvement may come next season with better luck. He may be a one-dimensional slugger, but that’s all he is required to do as a designated hitter, and certainly has earned a spot on this list.
#4 Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
Projected Stats: .280/.358/.543 (.901 OPS) 26 HR 22.8 OFF Value
When the Angels signed Japanese sensation, the belief was that he would end up being just a pitcher; most experts believed he wouldn’t be able to hit well in the major leagues. The 24-year-old proved the doubters wrong, however, posting a .925 OPS with a 152 wrc+. His 10.1% walk rate was impressive for a rookie, while his 43.1% hard contact rate helps validate his success. Plus, after Ohtani officially giving up pitching due to a UCL, he finally got comfortable offensively. He had a 1.049 OPS over the last two months of the season, and also posted a .333 ISO in that span. While his outlook as a two-way player looks to be in jeopardy, Ohtani projects as both an elite slugger with tremendous on-base skills. He’ll provide more than enough value for the Angels no matter if he pitches again, and as a designated hitter in 2019, he should thrive. If he does, he’ll move up on this list for sure.
#3 Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees
Projected Stats: .272/.358/.571 (.929 OPS) 47 HR 35.15 OFF Value
With a staggering 6’6” frame with tremendous raw power, it always seemed inevitable that Giancarlo Stanton would establish himself as one of the top players in baseball. He seemed to finally accomplish that feat in 2017, in which he had a 1.007 OPS with 59 home runs, easily winning the NL MVP award. The 29-year-old was expected to continue to dominate heading into this past season as a member of the Yankees. Instead, he fell back to his old, usual ways. His OPS dropped to .852, his wrc+ dropped from 159 to 127, and he hit 21 fewer home runs. Notably, Stanton’s strikeout rate (29.9%) and walk rate (9.9%) went in the wrong direction, as did his GB/FB ratio (1.23) and his chase rate (30.9%). Plus, a .333 BABIP suggests that his production may be bound to continue to dwindle next season. When Stanton is at his peak, he’s one of the top hitters in baseball. However, he cannot seem to find a middle between his peak and his floor, and since he has shown no consistency over his career, I’d feel uncomfortable ranking him any higher than #3. That trade to send him to New York went from looking like a steal for the Yankees to looking like a mistake; he’s under contract through the 2027 season.
#2 Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins
Projected Stats: .275/.361/.532 (.893 OPS) 37 HR 26 OFF Value
Unlike Stanton, Nelson Cruz constantly brings stability to his team. The 38-year-old has had an OPS of at least .850 in each of the past five seasons and has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite a low .264 BABIP, he still managed to post a .850 OPS and a 134 wrc+, with a .252 ISO. Considering Cruz’s 42.3% hard contact rate was actually a career high, his BABIP should bounce back in 2019. With that better luck, Cruz’s production is his first season with the Twins should off the charts. There are few signings better than the one that brought Cruz to Minnesota on a one-year deal; the Twins are acquiring the type of slugger that the lacked last season, and Cruz will be a huge part of a playoff push this season. Though his peaks may not rival Stanton, there’s something to be said about constantly knowing what you’re going to get from a player, and Cruz’s reliability pushes him to #2 on this list.
#1 JD Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Projected Stats: .311/.384/.632 (1.016 OPS) 42 HR 38.7 OFF Value
Speaking of outstanding free agency signing, the Red Sox made the best one of the 2017 offseason when they signed JD Martinez to a five-year contract. In his first season with the team, the 31-year-old posted a 1.031 OPS and a 170 wrc+, and was arguably the best hitter in all of baseball. Martinez continued to do hit the ball with an incredible amount of thump with a 44.9% hard contact rate, and dramatically increased his line drive rate to 22.6%. He also decreased his strikeout rate to 22.5%, and there is nothing to suggest any sort of regression in 2019. There’s not much to say other than Martinez is a flawless hitter, will continue to dominate, and is easily the best designated hitter in the MLB.